Growing Mushrooms at Home - January 27, 1999
Jeff Schalau, County Director, Agent, Agriculture & Natural Resources
Arizona Cooperative Extension, Yavapai County
When living in the Pacific Northwest, I was introduced to wild edible fungi. Many species were under the canopies of the cool, moist coastal forests. Chanterelles were my favorites because it an easily recognized species and they were plentiful under the stands of Sitka spruce.
As most people know, wild mushrooms can be very toxic and should not be eaten or collected without some knowledge of mushroom taxonomy/identification. This article is not about harvesting wild mushrooms. Instead, we will discuss how delicious gourmet mushrooms can be grown in your own home or garden.
Mushrooms reproduce through spores. In fact, the mushroom itself is the spore producing body. In nature, fungal spores are virtually everywhere. Isolating a pure culture of a desirable species is usually done in a sterile laboratory. However, an inoculation room can be created within your home at a modest expense.
A mushroom consists of several fungal cell strands that grow together forming a mycelium. Pure fungal strains are isolated and cultured on Petri dishes and later in jars containing a mixture of sawdust or bran to produce "spawn". This spawn can be purchased commercially or, with some capital investment and knowledge, grown on-site. Once the spawn is cultured, the method of growing mushrooms varies by species chosen.
Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinus edodes) are grown on hardwood logs or sawdust/bran blocks. Shiitake mushrooms are very pungent and their production accounts for 10% of the world's cultivated mushroom production. They are also prized for their medicinal properties.
Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus spp.) produce well on pasteurized straw. These are milder tasting mushrooms and should be harvested when small to retain a soft texture. When I ate them, they tasted like chicken (or rattlesnake).
Morels (Morchella spp.) are most easily grown outside in shady sawdust/ash beds. Most wild mushroom hunters consider these the most prized find. I cannot vouch for this since, regrettably, I've never eaten them. They are supposed to be very good.
The Chinese Ling Chi (Ganoderma lucidum), also known as the Japanese Reishi can be grown outdoors on logs buried in sawdust. This is also considered a medicinal mushroom. In the Orient, it is used treat migraines and headaches, hypertension, arthritis, bronchitis, asthma, anorexia, gastritis, hemorrhoids, constipation, lupus, hepatitis, cardiovascular problems and cancer including leukemia.
Chicken-of-the-Woods (Polyporus sulfureus) can be grown on dead tree stumps, as can many other gourmet species. Although I have never tried them, a knowledgeable colleague on the University of Arizona campus told me this is his favorite mushroom.
Lastly, the classic white button mushroom (Agaricus spp.) fruits on horse manure/straw compost. It is the most common one found in grocery stores and I think most of us know what this mushroom tastes like.
Aside from tasting good, certain mushrooms are known to stimulate the immune system and lower cholesterol level while recycling wood and agricultural byproducts. Best of all, they can be grown by anyone given the right environmental conditions.
Many other species and varieties of mushroom spawn are available from suppliers. This is not meant to be an advertising endorsement, but one of the most prominent mushroom culture suppliers is Fungi Perfecti, P.O. Box 7634, Olympia, WA 98507, (800) 780-9126. Their web site is www.fungi.com . If you visit this site, you will be amazed. Be sure to check out the bioluminescent fungi (yes, it really glows in the dark).
The University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has publications and information on many garden crops. If you have other gardening questions, call the Master Gardener line in the Cottonwood office at 646-9113 or E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and be sure to include your address and phone number.
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