A 100g serving of mushrooms offers a rich source of vitamins, minerals, protein, and vitamin D. They are packed with B vitamins, fibre, and potassium while being low in fat, carbohydrates, sugar, sodium, and cholesterol. Mushrooms can easily enhance any dish with their nutritional benefits.
Mushroom Growth at Home
Many are daunted by the idea of growing mushrooms at home, but with the right approach, it’s achievable. Mushrooms are unique because they don’t need sunlight to grow. They draw nutrients from organic material and flourish in warm, moist settings.
- How they grow: Mushrooms start from spores, not seeds. To grow, these spores need substances like grain, straw, wood, or even used coffee grounds. When combined with nutrients, you get mushroom spawn, essential for the growth process. From this, the mycelium, or mushroom roots, develop, eventually leading to fruiting which can range from a few weeks to over a year based on the species.
- Where they grow: While mushrooms seem to pop up overnight in the wild, their growth is selective. Some species favour manure compost, while others need a log. Oyster mushrooms, for instance, are log-friendly and beginner-friendly. Dark, moist environments, like basements, are suitable for indoor growth, and outdoors, they need a shaded spot. Temperature and humidity control are crucial during the growth process.
- When they grow: Mycelium grows throughout the year, but fruiting is seasonal. Each mushroom type has its fruiting period, and for successful cultivation, simulating the right seasonal conditions is crucial. For example, oyster mushrooms fruit from spring to fall, while shiitake fruits in mid-summer.
The Mushroom Growth Process
- Getting started: Once you’ve chosen a species and the right substrate, introduce the spawn and maintain an optimal environment. Sterility is crucial since mushrooms can be vulnerable to other fungi or viruses.
- Growth milestones: After setting the environment right, the mycelium will form. When they thrive, add a soil layer on top for some species. Tiny pinheads will later appear, which can mature in days. Some mushrooms even double in size daily!
- Harvesting: Harvest when the caps open. Use a knife to avoid harming adjacent fungi. Multiple harvests are possible for most species.
- Spore collection: Experienced cultivators may wish to create spore prints. When the mushroom matures, place its cap on a clean surface and cover for 12-24 hours to collect spores.
Starting with a Mushroom Kit
Beginners can start with mushroom-growing kits available online or in stores. They come with all the essentials but ensure the spawn is of good quality. Some growers also use fresh coffee grounds as an alternative growth medium.
What Time Of Year Do Mushrooms Grow?
Mushrooms can grow year-round in dark, moist conditions, but their fruiting is seasonal and varies by species. For example, oyster mushrooms fruit from spring to fall, while shiitake peak in mid-summer. While mushrooms can be cultivated in specific environments, it’s essential to maintain sterility and simulate the right seasonal conditions for successful growth. Mushroom-growing kits provide a beginner-friendly introduction to cultivation.
- Morels (*Morchella* species): Highly sought after and prized for their flavour. They emerge in spring, often in forests or recently burned areas.
- St. George’s Mushroom (*Calocybe gambosa*): Fruits around the time of St. George’s Day in April.
- Oyster Mushrooms (*Pleurotus ostreatus*): While they can grow in other seasons too, spring is a common time for their natural fruiting in many areas.
- Chanterelles (*Cantharellus* species): These have a unique shape and are a golden-yellow colour, often found in woods, especially with oak, birch, and pine.
- Boletes (*Boletus* species and others): They have a spongy under cap instead of gills and can be found in many forests during summer months.
- Russulas (*Russula* species): Diverse in colour, they are common in woodlands during the summer.
- Fly Amanita (*Amanita muscaria*): Recognizable by its bright red cap with white spots, it’s found in woods during the fall but is toxic.
- Porcini (*Boletus edulis* and related species): Highly prized for culinary use, they appear in woodlands.
- Honey Fungus (*Armillaria mellea*): Grows on trees and stumps in the fall.
- Shaggy Ink Cap (*Coprinus comatus*): Found in grassy areas, they quickly turn to an inky liquid after fruiting.
- Velvet Foot or Winter Mushroom (*Flammulina velutipes*): Found on dead or dying trees during colder months.
- Oyster Mushrooms (*Pleurotus ostreatus*): In milder climates, oysters can continue fruiting into the winter.
Cultivation in Polytunnels and Controlled Environments:
Mushrooms can be grown in heated polytunnels or other controlled environments that allow for the regulation of temperature, humidity, and light. By manipulating these conditions, one can cultivate various species year-round.
- Button Mushrooms (*Agaricus bisporus*): The most commonly cultivated mushroom, it requires specific temperature and light conditions which can be provided in a polytunnel.
- Shiitake (*Lentinula edodes*): Originally grown on logs, they can be cultivated on a substrate in polytunnels.
- Oyster Mushrooms (*Pleurotus* species): They grow well in bags or vertical substrates in controlled environments.
- Lion’s Mane (*Hericium erinaceus*): Known for its unique appearance and potential health benefits, it’s cultivated in bags or on logs.
When cultivated in controlled environments, many of these varieties can produce yields more rapidly and predictably than they would in the wild. Plus, growers can ensure that the mushrooms are free of contaminants and other harmful agents that might be present in wild settings.