Whether it’s on pizza, or in a salad, stir fry, or soup, mushrooms are a powerful tool for any cook’s arsenal. If you can’t get enough of these nutritious fungi, it may be worth it to try growing your own mushrooms. Not only will you never run out, but there is just something satisfying about eating something that you grew yourself.
The thing about mushrooms, though, is that they aren’t as simple to grow as, say, a tomato. The process is a bit more involved as mushrooms do not simply grow from seed. That being said, it is one of those things that gets easier with a bit of practice. With that in mind, grab your favorite mushroom and get growing. We’ll show you how.
Why grow your own mushrooms?
There are three main ways you can get mushrooms. You can buy them from a store, forage for them in the wild, or grow your own.
Buying mushrooms from the store is certainly the easiest route. It is also the costliest, especially if you are after a more expensive variety such as a morel. And you are often stuck with whatever types the store has on the shelf. That may be fine for some, but if you are trying to make a certain recipe with portobellos or shiitakes, white button mushrooms simply won’t do.
Then there is foraging. This can be a fun and challenging hobby, but it does have its drawbacks. For one, you can only find the types of mushrooms that grow naturally in your area, so you will find yourself eating the same varieties over and over. Also, once an area is picked clean, you may have to wait until the next year’s crop to get more. This can be especially frustrating during morel season as many enthusiastic mushroom hunters will pick up all the morels they see, leaving none behind for anyone else.
Another significant drawback to foraging for mushrooms in the wild is that you need to be completely certain that the mushroom you are picking is the type you think it is, and not a look-alike. Many mushrooms are similar in appearance to others, and while one type may be edible, it could have a close cousin that is poisonous. If you are not confident in your ability to identify the type of mushroom you are hunting, it is best not to risk it.
When you grow your own mushrooms, however, you know exactly what you are getting. You are not in competition with anyone (except, perhaps, your own family), when it comes time to harvest and eat the mushrooms, and you can grow the specific varieties that you like. Growing your own mushrooms is cost-effective, safe, and it’s actually quite fun, as well.
Benefits of mushrooms
As if you needed more reasons to grow your own mushrooms, consider the health benefits of regular mushroom consumption.
For one, mushrooms are loaded with antioxidants. These antioxidants not only help decrease the presence of free radicals in your body helping to ward off cancer, but they also protect your brain from age-related health problems such as Alzheimer’s. The antioxidants contained in mushrooms are good for your skin, too, helping to prevent wrinkles.
Mushrooms are also a heart-healthy food. They add a salty flavor to food without actually having to add salt, and they can easily take the place of red meat in dishes such as pasta or even burgers. Additionally, mushrooms are high in Vitamin D and several of the B vitamins, leading to stronger bones, better moods, and increased energy.
Commonly grown mushrooms
If you decide to grow your own mushrooms, the first thing to decide is what variety to try first. Let’s take a look at some of the more common options.
Shiitake mushrooms are popular both for their taste and their nutrition profile. They are low calorie and high in flavor, making them a favorite among calorie-conscious mushroom lovers. They are usually a tannish color and are native to East Asia, although they are currently grown around the world in agricultural settings.
For more information on growing Shiitake see: “A Guide To Growing Shiitake Mushrooms”
Portabellos are one of the most versatile mushrooms for cooking and are often used as a meat substitute. They account for roughly 90% of the mushrooms produced in the United States and they have gained significant popularity since the 1980s. They are usually brown in color with firm, spongy caps that can easily be sauteed or grilled.
Maitake mushrooms have a fairly distinct, earthy taste. It tends to be one of those foods that you either love or hate, so make sure you fall into the “love” category before you try growing your own. They are tan in color with very thin caps and they are said to have many health benefits, including the ability to stabilize blood pressure, minimize the effects of chemotherapy, and even lower cholesterol.
This is a mushroom that you wouldn’t necessarily want to add to your salad or pizza. Reishi has a bitter taste that many people cannot tolerate on its own. That being said, there are many documented health benefits of ingesting reishi mushrooms, particularly for those with depression or cancer. If you opt to grow your own reishi, you will likely want to dry the mushrooms and turn them into a tea.
Oyster mushrooms are one of the more popularly grown mushrooms worldwide. They have thin caps that are usually white or grey in color and they have a very mild and unobtrusive flavor. Oyster mushrooms are commonly added to stir-fries and pasta and are generally much tastier cooked than they are raw.
Lion’s Mane is another type of mushroom that is much better cooked than raw. Raw lion’s mane is quite bitter. Still, it is well worth the effort to consume these mushrooms as they are widely regarded to provide a multitude of benefits including decreasing anxiety and depression, boosting the immune system, and fighting inflammation.
Said to be one of the tastiest varieties of mushroom out there, morels are a favorite among mushroom enthusiasts. They have long, porous caps that resemble a natural sponge or honeycomb and thick stems. Morels are often sauteed and served either on their own or mixed in with pasta or soup.
Another popular variety of mushroom, chanterelles can be orange, yellow, or even white in color. They are known to emit a fruity smell as they grow although their taste is often described as either earthy or even spicy.
How to grow your own mushrooms
To grow your own mushrooms, you will first need to collect spores from an existing mushroom. To do this, you will need to take a spore print.
The exact process for this can vary depending on the type of mushroom you choose. In general, though, it will involve applying a drop or two of water to the mushroom’s cap and then placing the cap on a piece of paper. Cover the cap with a glass and allow it to sit for up to one full day. This paper now has your spore imprint.
If the mushroom does not have a traditional style cap (morels would be one example,) you may need to create a slurry with water and molasses. Put the mushroom in the slurry for a day or two and then strain out the mushrooms. The resulting mixture contains the spores.
Once you have your spores, you can apply them to a substrate. If you are growing your mushrooms outdoors, that substrate may simply be a shady patch of dirt near a tree. Indoors, however, you will likely use a mixture of a few different things– coffee grounds, sawdust, and wood chips are all popular. Some people also prefer to use a piece of log or even cardboard. Essentially, you are looking to create a porous material that can provide nutrients and water to your spores. Again, it really depends on the variety of mushroom you choose.
Before adding the spores, you may need to sterilize your substrate. This can be done by heating the substrate up to kill any unwanted bacteria. You can submerge the substrate in boiling water or use a pressure cooker. After sterilization, rehydrate your substrate with water.
Spread your spores on your substrate. If you used the slurry method, you can simply brush the liquid onto the substrate. If you used a spore print, you may just need to wipe the paper on the substrate’s surface. Then, place the substrate in a warm, dark place to allow the spores to incubate. In time, the mycelium will form.
Mycelium are white root-like structures. Once mycelium forms, you can move the substrate to an environment with indirect sunlight. Mist the substrate with water once or twice per day, and in time, mushrooms will begin to form.
When the mushrooms are easily removed from the substrate, it is time to harvest. Pick your mushrooms and then decide how you want to preserve them. Some mushrooms are best dried, which you can do either in the oven or a dehydrator, or cooked fresh. If you are cooking your mushrooms fresh, store them in a cool, dry location and use them as soon as possible to avoid spoilage.
It may be possible to re-use your substrate, as well. The mycelium should still be present after your initial harvest. If you keep the substrate in indirect sunlight and continue to mist with water regularly, it will likely bear fruit at least one more time.
If you would like to try an easier route for your first mushroom batch, you may want to consider buying a mushroom growing kit. One great option is the Organic Mushroom Growing Kit from Back to the Roots. You simply place the box in indirect sunlight and spray it with water twice daily. For other kits, see our guide to the Best Mushroom Growing Kits For Beginners.
Growing your own mushrooms is an involved process and it may seem daunting at first. It is well worth it, however, when you harvest your first batch of home-grown mushrooms.