You may have been thinking about starting a mushroom garden where you live to round out the selection of vegetables and fruits you grow. There's nothing more delicious than covering your burger or pizza in mushrooms sauteed in buttered. And deep-fried mushrooms have been a pub favorite for decades. Best of all, they're easy to grow just about anywhere and at any time of year.
Although many people think of mushrooms as vegetables, they're an edible fungus. Mushrooms make up over 14,000 different individual plant species, and as of this writing, scientists have identified roughly 10 percent of the potential mushroom species.
Packed With Nutritional And Medicinal Value
Edible mushroom species are not only low in calories but also filled with nutrients. Rich in B vitamins, niacin, riboflavin, and pantothenic acid, they also come with a healthy dose of potassium, copper, and selenium. Mushrooms have proven promising in boosting the immune system, in anti-cancer therapy, and promoting heart health.
They contain high levels of beta-glucans that stimulate immune cells. They also produce an antioxidant called ergothioneine that can help lower inflammation throughout the body.
Growing Your Own Mushroom Garden
Some outdoor climates are less hospitable than others. If you live in an area that's either too hot, too cold, or too dry, you may need to start your mushroom garden indoors. Edible mushrooms grow best in temperatures between 55 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with humid conditions.
Start your outdoor mushroom garden in the spring. The mild weather and copious rainfall make for the perfect conditions to grown your mushrooms.
The Mushroom Growth Cycle
Before you begin, you should understand the life cycle of your mushrooms. Mushrooms don't grow randomly, as some people believe. They grow from a dense network of root-like cells called "mycelium." In nature, these small threads of white mycelium will grow in all directions in a constant search for nutrients and water. In soil, under leaves, and in the bark of dead logs, they will spread anywhere while feeding through the tendrils of this network.
When they find a suitable environment, or when the mycelium feels threatened by environmental factors, it will sprout a very tiny button-like growth about the size of a pinhead resembling a small egg. This button is covered in a crisscrossing layer of mycelium tendrils.
As the network becomes larger, a rounded cap with gill-like membranes on the underside will separate from the stalk. As the new mushroom matures, the membranes will develop and release millions of tiny spores into the wind to germinate and begin the mycelium cycle again.
If you can recreate these environmental factors on a carefully managed mycelium network, you can produce unlimited amounts of delicious mushrooms for use at your own dinner table.
The easiest of the mushroom varieties to begin your mushroom garden with are oyster mushrooms. They are the easiest to cultivate and will reproduce faster than most other types. One advantage of the oyster variety is that they will readily accept used coffee grounds as a growing medium.
Mushroom Garden Medium
Even though we prefer starting a mushroom garden with oyster mushrooms and a medium of used coffee grounds for the reasons discussed above, you can use other types if you prefer. As you become more proficient in mushroom gardening, you may want to branch out to more exotic kinds of mushrooms that require different types of medium to thrive. These are the most commonly used types of medium for mushroom gardening.
Loaded with nutrients, coffee grounds are an excellent growth medium where mushrooms can thrive. Another plus is that the normal brewing process has already sterilized the coffee grounds. This means that the germs and other living micro-organisms that your mushrooms may have to compete with for nutrients in other mediums, such as raw wood or straw, have been eliminated.
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Compost will take the longest to prepare, but it will be bursting with nutrients and makes an excellent medium for your mushroom garden. You can use anything from leaves, weeds, and lawn clippings to egg shells, coffee grounds, and vegetable peelings for composting.
After a few months of heat and moisture, these discarded organic odds and ends will break down. In time, they will become rich, soil-like material that makes excellent fertilizer for your mushroom garden as well as your regular house and garden plants.
You can use clean, chopped straw as the substrate soil-substitute and find it well suited for your mushroom garden. Because it may contain impurities and micro-organisms that can be detrimental to your mushrooms, you'll need to sterilize the straw. The quickest way to accomplish this is to put it in 150-degree water for at least an hour to kill the bacteria and other impurities.
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Remove it from the water and allow it to drain. Once it has reached room temperature, place it in a thick plastic bag with your mycelium. Cut several holes in the bag and then allow the mycelium to grow. After the mycelium has sprouted mushrooms, you should open the bag to expose them to the air.
Mushrooms that grow best in a woody material besides oyster are shiitake, maitake, reishi, and lion's mane. Ordinary wood chips can have several issues, including micro-organisms, treatment chemicals, or even parasites that can damage or kill your mushroom garden. Fortunately, you can buy pre-sterilized wood chips that serve perfectly well for growing your mushroom spawn.
Horse manure is famous for growing mushrooms. It usually works best when composted and mixed with clean, sterilized straw. Simply place the spawn on manure straw mix and (wearing rubber gloves) rub it into the surface of the manure.
Be sure not to water this medium for at least four weeks. There will be enough moisture in the compost to keep it in good shape for propagating your mushrooms. Sterilized horse manure is available at gardening shops and online.
Regular Potting Soil
While it is possible to use ordinary potting soil to grow your mushroom garden, you must remember to fortify it with additional organic material nutrients for your mycelium to feed on. Add used coffee grounds or even raw coffee beans that have been cut in half and left to soak in warm water for at least 5 minutes. This will fortify your potting soil and make it more nutritious for your growing mushrooms. You can also add some vermiculite to help aerate the soil.
Setting Up Your Mushroom Garden
Mushrooms require very different growing conditions than typical green plants do, but you can grow them easily in almost any suitable container. For your container, you can use almost anything that will support a moist and warm growing medium.
If you are starting your mushroom garden, you may wish to use a plastic bin until you have developed your skills. Available at almost any department store, these bins are inexpensive and very easy to move from place to place as needed. They are leak-proof and easy to clean, making them ideal starter containers.
Preparing The Medium
Make sure any medium you use is sanitary. If not, it could harbor micro-organisms that are either harmful to your mycelium or will grow and compete with them for nourishment. Since mushrooms are incapable of photosynthesis, they extract their nutrients from whatever medium they find themselves in. As mentioned earlier, used coffee grounds are rich in these nutrients.
Fill your container with an amount of medium based of the amount of spawn you plan to add. If using coffee grounds, your best chance for success will be if you start with a very high spawn to coffee grounds ratio. Usually a ratio of 500 g of spawn for every 2.5 kg of coffee grounds.
You may need to research other formulas if you plan to use different types of medium. In the beginning, place the container with the growing medium on a heating pad. The idea here is to maintain a minimum temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit until the composting process takes over and generates internal heat.
Be sure to occasionally add warm water to your growing medium to keep it moist and humid. And till the medium with a small rake to ensure that it contains an adequate amount of oxygen throughout.
Adding Your Mushroom Spawn
Mushrooms do not grow from traditional seeds. They propagate by releasing microscopic spores. A single mushroom may be capable of producing some 16 billion spores. If all goes right, your chances of propagating your mushroom garden will be very high.
To sell mushroom mycelium for cultivation, horticulturists produce "mushroom spawn." This is an organic substance inoculated with the mycelium to help transfer the spores to a new location.
You can purchase spawn for a wide range of mushroom varieties online. They come in plugs or blocks, and you'll be surprised at the low cost. You can also purchase grain spawn for broader distribution.
Once you have your container and substrate set up, sprinkle your mushroom spawn on top of the growing medium liberally.
Where to Place Your New Mushroom Garden
Keep your newly spawned container somewhere that will get the least amount of sunlight. A closet or dark area of a basement is perfect for this purpose but be sure that you can access your mushrooms easily to maintain your medium as well as for ease of harvesting.
Here they come!
Once you notice that your spawn begin to root, you should lower the medium temperature to somewhere between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. You will soon notice mycelium filaments spreading through the growing medium. This should take about three weeks.
When you see your mycelium spreading, add an inch of garden soil to cover your spawn and then place a damp, lightweight cloth over the soil from edge to edge inside your container. Make sure the cloth is damp, but not too wet. This cloth will keep the medium moist and supply the necessary humidity to encourage your mushroom garden to grow.
And there they are!
Oyster mushrooms are ready to pick when they go from concave to convex. This occurs about three to five days after you first see mushrooms forming. Some oyster mushrooms grow in clusters, and for best results, harvest the whole bunch when the largest one is ready.
Enjoy Your New Mushroom Garden
Once you have assembled a satisfactory growing medium and created the right conditions, you should have no trouble maintaining a steady production of delicious mushrooms for years to come. And because you have grown them yourself, you know they are always fresh.
Growing your food is very satisfying, and a mushroom garden can prove to be one of the best gardening investments you can make. Soon, you can add other varieties to your garden such as button mushrooms, portabellos, and shitakes. If you have any handy tips you've picked up on growing mushrooms, please add them in the comments below. We'd love to share your growing tips with our readers.