Edible Landscaping

Indoor Mushroom Growing

Gourmet blue dolphin oyster mushrooms are easy to grow indoors.

There was a time when eating gourmet mushrooms was a pleasure afforded to people seeking a mind-expanding experience or with sufficient income to frequent five-star restaurants. How times have changed! Over the past 20 years, specialty gourmet mushrooms have become the rage, with more kinds popping up in grocery stores and natural food markets every month. The ubiquitous white button mushroom is still tops in popularity, but interest in other kinds such as oyster, portobello, and shiitake is increasing. Not only do these specialty mushrooms have unique full-bodied flavors, but some, such as shiitake, are also being touted for their health benefits.

The only downside is price. Some fresh mushrooms cost $10 or more per pound at the market, making them no more than an occasional dinnertime indulgence. But if you get hooked on the flavor of these gourmet treats, you have a few options. You can win the lottery and buy all the mushrooms your heart desires — a nice, but unlikely thought. Or you can forage in the wild for some of these tasty morsels, but, of course, you risk a potentially deadly misidentification.

A better option is to grow your own gourmet varieties. Commercial growers have responded to consumers' love of gourmet mushrooms by introducing kits that produce fresh mushrooms at home. Although your supply will be limited to the size of the kit, you can eat fresh, homegrown mushrooms in a matter of weeks. Experimenting with these kits ($20 to $30) is a good way to find out if you want to dive deeper into mushroom growing.

Kits make it possible to grow a wide variety of fungi such as lion's mane, oyster, and shiitake at home.

Mushrooms 101

Although mushrooms are fungi, the edible part is considered a fruiting body. Mushrooms reproduce by spores, which germinate into white masses called mycelia. To grow, mushrooms need a clean food source such as compost, sawdust, straw, or wood that is free from competing microorganisms. Commercial growers inoculate their medium with pure mycelia grown on spawn (mushroom growers' equivalent of a mushroom seed). The mycelia require temperatures of 70ºF to 80ºF, a moist medium, and high humidity. Once the mycelia have spread throughout the medium, fruiting begins as small protrusions called pins. Within a few days, the pins mature into the species of mushroom you're growing. At this point, check the mushrooms daily — they have the best texture and are most flavorful when the caps are open, but not fully unfurled and flat.

Choose Your Fungus

The most widely available and easiest-to-grow mushrooms include white button, crimini, portobello, lion's mane, shiitake, and oyster. The simplest kits consist of a bag of sawdust or grain straw already inoculated with spawn. Kits come with full instructions and for most, you simply open the bag, keep it at room temperature in a bright place but out of direct sunlight, and mist daily to keep humidity high. Some kits even provide plastic tents for humidity control.

Common white button mushrooms grow well from kits.

Most kits start fruiting within seven to 10 days. You can expect to harvest a total of one to two pounds of mushrooms from two or three flushes of growth over one to three months. You can store harvested mushrooms in paper bags in the refrigerator for five to seven days. When fruiting is over and spring arrives, bury the kit in bark mulch outdoors or your compost pile, and fruiting may continue as weather permits. Here are brief descriptions of the most popular types of mushrooms you can grow at home.

White button, crimini, and portobello (Agaricus bisporus). These mushrooms are strains of the same species. One- to two-inch-wide white buttons are the most popular and widely available mushrooms worldwide. Crimini, a brown button mushroom strain, are similar except for the color and a more pronounced flavor. The most impressive of this group are portobellos, which produce six-inch-diameter or larger brown caps with a tender, meatlike texture and woodsy flavor. Portobello mushrooms keep somewhat longer than other mushrooms: seven to 10 days. Growing these mushrooms requires a few extra steps including mixing the spawn with compost in a cardboard box and waiting one to three weeks for the mycelia to run before mushrooms begin to form. Although this type of kit is more work, yields are higher: three to six pounds in three or four flushes of growth over three months.

Lion's mane mushroom kits come in plastic bags that 'sprout' conveniently indoors.

Lion's mane (Hericium erinaceus). These pure white mushrooms consist of multiple strands clumped in a round form, six inches or more in diameter. They have a firm texture and taste a bit like crab or lobster. Growth is a little slower, and they fruit best at room temperature.

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes). Thick, meaty-textured shiitakes are considered the "king of mushrooms." These three- to four-inch-diameter brown mushrooms with white flecks are highly esteemed both fresh and dried for cooking and for their medicinal properties. Researchers have found that they reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, stimulate the immune system, and have anti-tumor properties; they are also being used in AIDS research. Kits fruit easily indoors over a wide temperature range (55ºF to 75ºF), producing two to three pounds of fruits total over two to three months at two-week intervals. They store for up to 14 days. If you really get into shiitake mushrooms you can inoculate logs and grow them in a basement. Although more involved, this method offers a more continuous supply of these tasty treats.

Oyster (Pleurotus). These popular mushrooms are so named because their taste and texture somewhat resemble oysters. All oyster mushrooms like high humidity and must be misted two or three times a day for best fruiting. The blue dolphin (P. ostreatus) has a distinctive pewter coloring and fruits best below 65ºF. Golden oyster (P. cornucopiae) has luminous yellow fruits that are most intensely colored when grown in bright light. The fedora or white oyster (P. ostreatus) is the easiest and fastest of all oysters to grow, fruiting over a wide temperature range (55ºF to 75ºF) and producing mild-flavored white mushrooms.

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