Those Finicky Mushrooms

Growing mushrooms can be a rewarding activity. Next to seeing the fruits (and vegetables) of your garden labors, it is also a delightful treat to see beautiful shiitake, portabella, or king stropharia mushrooms sprouting from the depths of the mushroom bed we’ve created. Like all organisms, mushrooms require a food source. Yet mushrooms will not eat just any food source. Unlike with a vegetable garden, where you can throw food scraps into a compost pile, let them decompose, then mix them into the soil for your fruit and vegetable crops, mushrooms requirements are a bit more specific. Some mushroom species can grow on a wide variety of carbon sources – wood chips, sawdust, coffee grounds, agricultural waste, etc. Others will only grow on a specific substrate, such as wood chips, and some will only grow on a specific species of wood.

So what do the various mushroom species like to eat?

Enokitake – prefers to grow on wood and plant debris. In the wild, they grow on stumps of the Chinese hackberry tree (or enoke in Japanese), but they can also grow on mulberry and persimmon trees.

King Stropharia – grows best on wood chips, but will also grow on soils that have been supplemented with chopped straw.

Lion’s Mane – In the wild, Lion’s Mane is usually found on dead and decaying hardwood logs, most often in the fall throughout North America. For home growth, it thrives best in hardwood sawdust supplemented with wheat bran at 10-20%. It will also grow when spawned in rye grain, however, it has a tendency to fruit well before the fungus has fully colonized the grain. When using rye grain spawn, it is necessary to shake it often to make sure that the fungus completely colonizes the grain.

Maitake – Also known as hen-of-the-woods, ram’s head and sheep’s head, maitake will grow only on oak trees or in a bed made of oak wood chips.

Oyster – Oyster mushrooms are probably the least finicky of cultivated edible mushroom species. Straw is the most common medium used for growing oyster mushrooms, however, the fungus also grows successfully on sawdust, cardboard, coffee grounds and other byproducts of agriculture such as sugarcane bagasse and cotton waste.

Portabella – Commercial portabella mushroom growing kits usually use horse manure as the growth medium. Home growers, however, can put together a mixture of about 10 pounds of finely ground corncobs with 10 pounds of straw. This mixture is then allowed to stand for a few days. Gypsum can then be added, and the entire mixture can then be allowed to decompose. After this, add 2 pounds of leaf mold, 2 pounds of peat moss, and either 2 pounds of granite dust or greensand. You can also add some previously made compost to improve the composting process. Lastly, add 3 pounds of sand. This mixture is then allowed to decompose and cool off before inoculating it with portabella spawn.

Reishi – grows best on rye and other grains.

Shiitake – grows best on hardwoods – either in hardwood logs or blocks of hardwood sawdust.

So to be successful in growing mushrooms, you have to feed them what they like, not what you like

Your Garden’s Second Act

This time of year is when many vegetable gardens peak, and then begin to wane. The cucumbers have produced their little plant hearts out, and now the plants are beginning to die off. Lettuce is beginning to bolt in hot weather. For most people, this is a sign that harvest time is beginning and soon, it will be time to start cleaning up the dead plant debris and putting the garden to bed for the winter. But not so fast! There are still at least three months of garden-tolerable weather ahead of us, so don’t quit on your garden now. It’s time for your garden’s second act, a.k.a. the fall vegetable garden.

Now is the time to plant a second crop of lettuce. Root crops such as carrots, turnips, and rutabaga, can also be planted at this time – and these can be left in the ground over the winter to harvest for a delicious hot stew. There’s even time to plant a crop of wax beans. And as late as October, you can plant storage onion bulbs and cloves of garlic for verdant crops of both next spring and a bountiful harvest in the summer. So don’t throw in the trowel just yet. There’s still time to grow more crops beyond what you originally planted in the spring.