How to grow and utilize mushrooms in your garden: beginner’s guide
Title photo: Large, reddish-brown reishi mushroom with a white stem and a fan-shaped cap with a smooth, shiny surface.
Mushrooms are remarkable. Not only have they been used for many centuries as food and medicine, but they also play a crucial role in the health and future of our planet. Growing mushrooms in our own gardens is a way for us to partake in this cycle while benefiting from a deeply nutritious food source.
Mushrooms provide many ecological benefits including breaking down organic matter, recycling nutrients, and contributing to soil health. This article will explore the power of mushrooms and show you how to start growing them in your garden.
3 ways to grow mushrooms outdoors
Growing mushrooms may seem daunting at first, as many modern techniques involve specialized equipment and sterile procedures for indoor cultivation. Many people don’t know that you can grow mushrooms outside with much simpler techniques – all you need are some basic materials and a bit of patience.
To grow mushrooms outdoors, you can use different methods such as making mushroom beds, growing on logs, or growing on straw bales. Each of these methods has its own advantages and requirements, but they all have one thing in common: they don’t require the same level of technology and cleanliness as indoor methods.
For example, with mushroom beds, all you need is some cardboard, mulch, a bag of sawdust with mushroom spawn, and water. You layer the cardboard, spawn, and mulch to create a bed and let the mushrooms grow over time. For logs, you simply drill holes in a log, add mushroom spawn, and wait for the mushrooms to grow. With straw bales, you can create a similar setup by layering straw and spawn, then waiting for the mushrooms to fruit.
So, if you’re interested in growing mushrooms but are intimidated by indoor methods, don’t be! There are many ways to grow mushrooms outdoors that are simple and accessible to anyone with a little bit of space and time.
How to Make Mushroom Beds:
This method involves creating a layered bed of mulch and mushroom spawn, similar to the lasagna method of garden sheet mulching. The layers are alternated, with each layer of spawn sandwiched between layers of mulch. Mushrooms can be grown in paths or beds, and the mulch should be kept moist to encourage growth. I very much prefer this method because I’m able to grow vegetables and mushrooms together. If you choose to grow within your garden beds, be sure to amend with a layer of organic matter prior to inoculation.
How to Grow on Logs:
Another common method is growing mushrooms on logs. This involves drilling holes in a log and inserting myceliated wooden dowels or sawdust, then sealing the holes with wax. The logs should be kept in a shady area for incubation before being installed in a bed or used as a border. Stacking the logs can help regulate soil temperatures and provide additional moisture for the mushrooms. It also allows you to work vertically. Alternatively, keeping the logs flat will allow you to plant within them, as some people will use them as raised beds to grow their vegetables.
How to Grow on Strawbales:
This method involves placing spawn on straw bales that have been soaked in water.
Once you have your spawn, soak the straw bales in water for several hours (preferably warm) to ensure that they’re thoroughly saturated. Then spread the spawn throughout the bales with a pry bar, garden fark, or tool that will allow you to split part of the hay bale open. Keep the bales moist and in shade throughout the growing process, as most mushrooms require a humid and semi-dark environment to thrive.
Choosing the right type of mushroom for your garden
There are several types of mushrooms that can be easily cultivated in a home garden. It all depends on your climate and temperature. Some of the most popular varieties include:
- Garden Giant, aka Wine Cap (Stropharia raguso-annulata): These mushrooms thrive in rich, organic soil with a pH range of 6.0 to 7.5 and require temperatures between 60°F to 80°F to fruit. They prefer shade to part sun and are more sun tolerant than many other varieties, making them ideal for incorporating into the garden.
- Oyster: Some of the easiest to grow at home and have a mild flavor that works well in a variety of dishes. They also come in many colors like white, grey, or pink. Always keep the substrate moist and in a warm, humid location with temperatures between 65°F to 75°F. They prefer a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0, making strawbales a great option for inoculation.
- Shiitake: These mushrooms have a meaty texture and a rich, earthy flavor great for soups and stir-fries. Shiitake require a bit more effort to cultivate than oysters but are still a great option for home gardeners. They do best on hardwood logs or sawdust that have been sterilized and inoculated with spawn. Shiitake require a cooler environment with temperatures between 55°F to 70°F and a humid location. They grow best at a pH range of 6.0 to 6.5.
- Lion’s Mane: Lion’s mane has a unique, stringy texture and a sweet, slightly nutty flavor. They’re more challenging to grow than some other mushroom varieties, so level up to these after you’ve mastered Garden Giants and Oysters. They grow best on hardwood sawdust or logs and require a warm, humid environment with temperatures between 70°F to 75°F. They prefer a more acidic pH range of 5.5 to 6.5 and require regular misting and good ventilation during growth.
- Reishi: Reishi mushrooms are prized for their medicinal properties, including their potential to support immune function, reduce inflammation, improve heart health, alleviate stress and anxiety, and even have anti-cancer properties. They need to be inoculated on hardwood sawdust or logs, and require a cool, shaded, and damp environment with temperatures between 60°F to 75°F. Similarly to Lions Mane they need a pH between 5.5 to 6.5 and require proper ventilation to prevent mold growth.
- Turkey Tail: another excellent medicinal mushroom with immune-boosting, and anti-inflammatory. Turkey Tail thrives in the wild and can be found easily* depending on where you live. However, you can still innoculate them outdoors in a garden setting as they prefer hardwood logs with spawn in a shaded, humid location with temperatures between 60°F to 70°F and a pH range of 5.0 to 5.5.
RECOMMENDED: The leather alternative made from mushrooms
Starting your mushroom garden from spores or spawn
When it comes to starting your mushroom garden, you have a few options for getting started: spores or spawn. Spores are like the mushroom equivalent of seeds, while spawn is more like a plant cutting or seedling.
The decision of whether to start with spores or spawn depends on a few factors. If you’re a beginner, you may want to start with spawn as it is easier to work with and has a higher chance of success.
Spores, on the other hand, require more skill and attention to detail to get started but can lead to more genetic diversity in your mushrooms. Additionally, some types of mushrooms are better suited for spore cultivation, while others do better with spawn. Do some research on the specific types of mushrooms you want to grow to determine which method is best for you.
Harvesting and utilizing your mushrooms
So, you’ve done the hard work and grown your mushrooms to their first fruit. Congrats! Now comes the exciting part – harvesting them and incorporating them into your meals and/or medicine cabinet.
In terms of timing, you want to wait until your mushrooms have fully matured and the caps have flattened out before picking. If you’re not sure if they’re ready, you can always give them a gentle squeeze to see if they’re firm to the touch. Mushrooms that are past their prime will have a softer, almost slimy texture.
When it comes to actually picking your mushrooms, be sure to use a sharp knife or scissors to gently cut them off at the base of the stem. Avoid twisting or pulling them, as this can damage the mycelium and affect future growth. Depending on the success of the harvest, you should be able to continue to pick a few mushrooms at a time while different fruiting bodies mature.
Now that you actually have your mushrooms, it’s time to get cooking. Of course, you can always sauté them up in some butter/alternative butter and garlic for a delicious and simple dish, but there are so many other ways to utilize mushrooms. For example, you can make a hearty mushroom soup, add them to pasta, add them as a garnish on dips, or put them on a sandwich or pizza. You can also experiment with drying or pickling them for later use.
If you plan to use mushrooms medicinally, it’s important to understand that their effects can vary depending on the species and preparation method. Therefore, always educate yourself and seek guidance from a knowledgeable practitioner before preparing and using mushrooms as medicine, as incorrect preparation or usage may cause harm.
Common problems and solutions in mushroom cultivation
Contamination is one of the most common problems when growing mushrooms outdoors and can occur when unwanted bacteria or fungi invade the growing substrate. To minimize the risk, always maintain clean and sterile growing conditions by ensuring that the growing area is free from debris and that all equipment and materials are properly cleaned and disinfected. Using high-quality spawn or spores and avoiding overcrowding the growing area can also help to reduce the likelihood of contamination.
Poor fruiting is often caused by inadequate environmental conditions, such as low humidity, high/low temps, or poor ventilation. Over time as you go, you will learn more about the timing and conditions for your chosen mushroom(s).
Just like us, there are many different kinds of bugs and critters that love to eat mushrooms. While growing outside there are always gonna be critters that find and eat some of the fruit. However, the key is to keep an eye on your fruiting area so that you’re able to pick mushrooms before they become too mature. Additionally, the key to a healthy garden is creating a diverse ecosystem that is able to balance out pests in large numbers.
Harvesting mushrooms at the wrong time or in the wrong way can damage the fruiting bodies or even kill the mycelium. Harvest mushrooms when they’re mature and fully developed and use a sharp knife or scissors to avoid tearing or damaging the growing substrate.
Nutrient deficiencies can occur when the growing substrate lacks essential nutrients, such as nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium. To address nutrient deficiencies, it’s important to use a balanced and nutrient-rich growing substrate and to supplement with organic amendments such as compost when needed.
Frequently asked questions about growing mushrooms in your garden
What kind of mushrooms can I grow in my garden?
There are many different types of mushrooms that can be grown in a garden setting such as garden giants (aka wine caps), oyster mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, reishi, turkey tail, and lion’s mane.
Do I need any special equipment to grow mushrooms?
The specific equipment and materials needed can vary depending on the mushroom species and the growing method used. Typically equipment will include:
- Spawn: This can be in the form of spores, mycelium-infused plugs, or sawdust. Different mushroom species require different types of spawn.
- Substrate: This is the material that the mushrooms will grow on. Examples include straw, wood chips, sawdust, or logs.
- Tools: Depending on the growing method, you may need a drill, wood drill bit, hammer, saw, pitchfork, pry bar, or other tools to prepare the growing area and the substrate.
- Water source: You’ll need a source of clean water to keep the substrate moist during the growing process.
- Shade cloth: This can help regulate the temperature and humidity levels and protect the growing area from direct sunlight if you’re unable to grow in a partially shaded area.
- Logs: If you’re growing mushrooms on logs, you’ll need freshly cut logs of the appropriate type for the mushroom species you’re growing.
- Wax: To seal the inoculation points on logs or other wooden surfaces to prevent contamination.
How long does it take to grow mushrooms?
The length of time it takes to grow mushrooms depends on the type of mushroom and the growing conditions but generally ranges from a few weeks to a few months.
What kind of soil do mushrooms need to grow?
Mushrooms typically grow best in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter, such as compost.
What temperature and pH does my soil need to be to grow mushrooms in my garden?
Different types of mushrooms have different ideal growing conditions, most prefer slightly acidic soil with a pH between 5.5 and 7.5 and a soil temperature between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Test your soil before planting to learn more about its acidity and makeup.
How do I harvest my mushrooms?
Mushrooms should be harvested when they are fully grown but before the caps start to flatten out. To harvest, use scissors or a sharp knife to cut the stem of the mushroom close to the growing surface. Avoid pulling the mushrooms, as this can damage the mycelium and make it harder for future mushrooms to grow.