Growing your own food is an enjoyable and rewarding experience, but with mushrooms, the growing activity is sprinkled with an extra bit of magic. Here's how to produce your own crop of mushrooms at home.
How mushrooms grow
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Unlike other garden edibles, mushrooms don’t begin life as seeds. The individual spores from which they grow are invisible and the fruits of your labour usually appear overnight, sometimes immediately ready to be picked and eaten.
In order to grow, mushroom spores need to mingle with nutrients—these can be found in things such as sawdust, straw, coffee grinds, grain and wood chips (gardeners may often find fungi appearing from patches of wood chip in their garden).
This mix of spores and nutrients is known as spawn, which enables the "roots" of the mushroom (known as mycelium) to get a foothold in its growing medium before the crop bursts forth.
Different types of mushroom prefer different types of growing medium in order to thrive (keen foragers will note how some fungi only appear on or at the base of certain types of trees) so mushroom growers will need to make sure they match their chosen variety with the right medium.
How to begin growing mushroom
There are two main ways to start your own mushroom patch. The easiest option is to buy a mushroom growing kit. These are available from several popular seed companies, or mushroom specialists such as Merryhill Mushrooms (above) which will not only kick-start your mushroom growing hobby but can also be used as an unusual gift.
In most instances, you’ll be provided with a medium that already has the spawn or mycelium up-and-running and all you’ll need to do is provide the right growing environment. Usually, that means indoors where it’s warm and can be easily kept damp without danger of drying out.
The other common method for mushroom growing is to plant mushroom plugs. These small plugs contain mushroom spawn which needs to be placed into its preferred growing medium—often holes drilled into a specific type of wood.
The majority of these mushrooms are grown outside and will include more weird and wonderful varieties than their kit counterparts.
How to harvest mushrooms
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Mushrooms grown indoors from kits are often ready to harvest after a few days and can continue to crop over three or four more weeks.
The more unusual outdoor mushrooms, depending on variety, are likely to take much longer and are often seasonal, so you could be waiting for up to ten months for them to appear—although once established you’re much more likely to benefit from repeat harvests over the next few years.
To harvest your mushrooms simply simply sever them at the base with a sharp knife so as not to uproot the mycelium that will produce your subsequent crops.
Three varieties to try
Image via Monaghan Mushrooms
An easy, reliable and tasty cropper that can be grown indoors from kits.
Get yourself a windowsill kit and you’ll have something fresh and posh to go with your breakfast eggs
Lion’s mane mushrooms
Stick a plug in a freshly cut hardwood log and in summer it should sprout a deliciously edible, pink-tinged, fungal beard.
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