Edible Landscaping

Edible of the Month: Two Simple, Beginner Mushrooms

Portobello mushrooms are one of the easiest mushrooms to grow indoors from kits or using your own production method.

Wine cap mushrooms are easy to grow outdoors, yielding large caps similar in taste and texture to portobellos.

November is usually a down time in many gardens. But for intrepid gardeners who need some winter projects to keep their passion fed, why not try growing mushrooms? It’s easy, fun, and tasty. There are a variety of mushrooms that can be grown in the garden and indoors. While I could talk about shiitake, morel, and oyster mushrooms, I'm going to focus on two of my favorites, which also happen to be the easiest to grow; portobellos (Agaricus bisporus) and wine caps (Stropharia rugosoannulata).

We’re all familiar with portobello mushrooms from restaurants. They taste great grilled, sauteed, and sliced in a veggie burger. The big caps with a meaty flavor are a meal onto themselves. Plus, they're easy to grow. Portobellos are actually brown crimini mushrooms (related to the white button mushrooms) that have been allowed to unfurl their 4- to 6-inch diameter caps. Wine cap mushroom are bigger than portobellos (caps can grow to 1 foot across) and have a brown, almost burgundy color, when mature. They grow easily planted in beds outdoors. Here are two simple techniques for beginning mushrooms growers to try, one for indoor growing and one for outdoor growing.

Grow Portobellos Indoors

The simplest way to grow portobello mushrooms is to buy a handy kit. These kits sell for less than $50 and come ready to go. All you have to do is open the box, mist regularly, and place them in a cool, dark location. In a few weeks, mushrooms will begin sprouting. But if you're a gardener you might want a little challenge, right?

You also can buy portobello mushroom spores. Spores are how the mushrooms get started. If you buy the spores, then you'll have to create the medium or bed for the mushrooms to grow in. This is best done indoors where you can control the environment. It's a great winter project.

For growing portobello mushrooms indoors you'll need a growing tray. The tray should be about 8 inches deep to hold compost, peat moss, and the spores. Partially decomposed compost is best. You'll also need to find a dark room where you can keep the temperature between 65 and 70 degrees F.

Purchase portobello mushroom spores on-line. You'll need about two cups of dried spores per 6 to 8 square feet of tray. Fill the tray to within 2 inches of the lip with compost, then sprinkle the spores onto the compost and press down firmly. Keep the tray moist and in the dark until you start to see white webbing (mycelium) appear in the compost. Then cover the tray with a 2-inch thick layer of damp peat moss and a layer of newspaper. Keep the newspaper misted daily for about 1 to 2 weeks and keep the temperature around 55 degrees F. Check after a week to see if any white pin heads of young mushrooms are forming. If you see them, remove the newspaper, keep misting daily, and let them grow into full-sized mushrooms. Harvest when they're about 4 to 6 inches in diameter. You should get two to three flushes of portobellos over a period of a few weeks.

Portobello mushrooms are actually brown crimini mushroom that have been allowed to mature to their full size.

Growing Wine Caps Outdoors

For those gardeners that want to grow mushrooms outside, wine caps are a snap. Although not as well-known as portobellos, wine caps are large, flavorful, meaty mushrooms that grow well in outdoor beds. The risk of inoculating an outdoor bed is contamination from other fungal spores in the atmosphere. However, if you're sure of your mushroom identification and only eat the wine caps, you should give this a try. You can grow a large area of mushrooms outdoors and even get them to "naturalize" in your yard under the right conditions. While they will grow whenever the soil is above 50 degrees F, in most areas the time to inoculate beds is in late winter or spring Here's how.

Create a raised bed border with rot-resistant wood, cinder blocks, stone, or brick. Fill it 6 to 8 inches deep with a mix of fresh wood chips and partially decomposed compost. Sprinkle the spores on the bed as described in the indoor cultivation method. Cover with a 2 inch thick layer of compost. Keep well watered until the mycelia run and fill the bed. Keep well watered. After a few weeks your mushrooms should be up and ready to harvest. Allow some mushrooms to open their caps and spread spores around the yard. You never know where they will turn up next. I once grew wine cap mushrooms outdoors and had them popping up in the shrubs and perennial garden for months after the main bed had finished. Once the main bed is finished producing, add a layer of fresh wood chips and hopefully, it will produce more mushrooms.

More articles on growing mushrooms:

Grow your Own Gourmet Mushrooms
How to Grow Winecap Mushrooms
North American Mycology Association

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