Growing gourmet and medicinal mushrooms is a great way to have the brilliant taste and health benefits of a variety of different edible mushrooms at your fingertips!
With many different flavours, shapes and textures prolific throughout the edible fungi kingdom there are countless mushrooms that can add an extra dimension to your favourite food with exceptional health benefits.
Edible mushrooms naturally grow in forests, fields and on decomposing wood, however, with the right equipment and right conditions you can easily cultivate them at home as well!
Different Types of Edible Mushrooms:
There are a range of common and well-known gourmet and medicinal mushrooms available nowadays, many of which are perfect candidates for growing at home.
Many edible mushroom species are both gourmet AND medicinal, however, some are notably more medicinal than others. Mushrooms such as oyster, chanterelle, porcini & blewits are some of the more famous gourmet mushrooms in the world, while shiitake, turkey tail, reishi, and lion’s mane classify more as medicinal.
Cultivating these mushrooms at home requires a unique set of conditions for each species, but generally speaking, most mushroom species require minimal light, good humidity, controlled temperature and a healthy growing medium.
Why Grow Mushrooms?:
Gourmet and medicinal mushrooms have been used in various human cultures for many thousands of years, not only for flavour and nutrition but also countless health-promoting benefits such as increased immunity, brain function, skin health, digestion and cardiovascular performance.
With the recent explosion in popularity of mushrooms in general, the market value of mushroom cultivation is currently growing by 4 per cent annually - and is estimated to reach over 20 percent by 2025!
These fast-growing trends & increasing awareness has made it far easier to procure high-quality mushrooms, as well as cultivate them at home.
Here are a few great advantages of growing gourmet and medicinal mushrooms that can impel you to start your own cultivation:
- Fungi are natural recycling organisms that feed on everything from fallen trees to industrial waste. They help in the natural cycle of breakdown as well as helping to deal with unwanted and potentially harmful waste.
- As nutritional powerhouses, fungi are some of the most potent sources of antioxidants, vitamins D, B, C, magnesium, calcium, copper, selenium, zinc, and many other key building blocks. Aside from nutrition, many are known to help boost immunity, combat free radicals, reduces the chances for chronic disease and improve overall well-being.
- Mushrooms form mycelium networks in the soil that interact with the roots of plants and crops to help them absorb key nutrients such as phosphorus that can improve soil quality, nutritional value, and the overall health of the entire ecosystem.
- Edible mushrooms can be a brilliant 'cash crop'. Growing mushrooms in a controlled environment allow for a larger harvest in a limited space that can generate a significant income.
How to Grow Mushrooms?
Mushroom cultivation is quite different from growing common garden plants but once you know a few key tips and tricks - it isn't all that complicated. Below we run you through all of the major points and principles:
1.) Choose A Reliable Location
The first step involves making sure you have a great location and the right conditions available to grow your mushrooms. Most species like a dark, cold and humid environment, but each has its own set of requirements.
As long as the right conditions are met - you can cultivate easily both indoors and outdoors. Generally speaking, you should look to maintain a constant temperature of around 15 degrees Celsius (or 60 degrees Fahrenheit) and if growing indoors, make sure the area is well ventilated to account for spores. Some species such as Enoki thrive in a colder environment.
2.) Choose Your Variety
You can grow almost all species and varieties of wild mushrooms if you have the right conditions.
Most species require a different growing medium - for instance - Shiitake, Maitake, Reishi, and Lion’s Mane all grow on logs, however, each species prefers different wood types. Shiitake preferentially grows on oak logs, while Lion’s Mane prefers maple or beech. Reishi typically prefers plum, and Turkey Tail grows best on hardwood.
Gourmet Oysters favour straw, cardboard, sawdust pellets and coffee grounds and are one of the easiest to cultivate. In determining what species to grow, choose one that suits your experience level and availability of the growing medium. We recommend starting with Shiitake and Oyster and then progressing into more difficult species such as Reishi and Maitake once you’re a pro.
3.) Prepare The Compost
Once you've selected your species you'll need to look up the specific growth parameters and production techniques for your substrate, but the general process is as follows:
- Mix and wet the compost ingredients such as composted wheat, rye straw, peat moss and horse bedding straw.
- Combine these materials inside a turner with either horse manure, coffee grinds or synthetic composts. Spread nitrogen and gypsum over the top of this blend and mix thoroughly.
- Composting occurs with the activity of microorganisms, heat and humidity. With frequent watering and turning at the right temperature, composting takes 6- 14 days depending on the ingredients used.
You can also purchase ready-made composts that are suitable for many species at most nurseries.
4.) Pack Your Compost Trays
Once you've established a health and thriving compost mix - pack it into wooden trays and move it to your growing location. This can be in a room with controlled settings or outdoor location.
5.) Start Spawning
After filling the trays, distribute the mushroom spawn or 'mycelium' on the compost and mix it well.
This mixing of the mycelium with the sterilized grains like rye, wheat or millet initiates the growing process. To increase the yield, you can add protein or lipid-rich supplements at this stage.
6.) Casing The Compost
Covering your compost with a layer of peat moss after spawning can help act as a water reservoir that reduces evaporation and supplies water for the growth of the mycelium.
If you’re growing mushrooms in small quantities in trays, you can also keep the soil moist by covering with a damp cloth and spraying water as it dries. You can also add extra nutrients at this casing stage to increase the yield.
'Pinning' or 'fruiting' refers to the stage in the process where you start to see the first mushroom structures or bodies.
In this phase, temperature and humidity play a crucial role as changes in climate can affect the growth. Low temperature and humidity will produce more pins, but typically smaller in size. Higher temperatures and humidity generally yield fewer but larger mushrooms.
Your crop is ready to harvest when the cap of the mushrooms open and start to turn over.
Mushrooms such as Buttons and Oysters are usually ready to harvest 3-5 days after you see the first pin, whereas species such as Shiitake can take 1-2 years to get to harvest stage, but can yield for 4-6 years.
Whichever variety choose, make sure to maintain a proper environment and healthy substrate and more often than not, you'll get a number of repeated harvests or 'flushes'.
What's The Best Mushroom Growing Guide?:
We've touched on all of the major cultivation points here in this article, however, the most comprehensive guide available is undoubtedly 'Growing Gourmet And Medicinal Mushrooms' by Paul Stamets.
Available for both Kindle and on paperback, this 'fungi bible' takes you through the unique growth parameters for thirty-one different mushroom species. With more than 500 photographs, illustrations, and charts - Paul Stamets will comprehensively walk you through gardening tips, state-of-the-art production techniques, realistic advice for laboratory and growing room construction, tasty mushroom recipes, and an invaluable troubleshooting guide.
Paul Stamets is widely recognised as one of the most respected and knowledgeable mycologists in modern history. Paul has many decades of experience and accolades to his name, having written and been featured in more seminal books, university lectures and scientific journals than can be listed here.
Among many other founder and co-director positions, Paul is also the founder of Fungi Perfecti - responsible for super high-quality and widely sought after Host Defence medicinal fungi extracts such as Reishi, Chaga, Lion's Mane, Turkey Tail and many more.
Click here to head over and see if 'Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms' by Paul Stamets is currently available
What Are Magic Mushrooms?:
We wanted to include this one as the final topic to finish up this article as a lot of people get confused about the difference between 'medicinal mushrooms' and 'magic mushrooms'.
Magic mushrooms are specific fungi species (Psilocybe cubensis) that are famous for their psychoactive properties.
With huge amounts of research now being undertaken on magic mushrooms and their main active component psilocybin, it's becoming widely recognised that magic mushrooms also have a large range of medicinal properties, and could in fact be thought of as a medicinal mushroom.
This of course does not mean that all medicinal mushrooms are magic!
So, to state it clearly - medicinal mushrooms are not the same as magic mushrooms, however, magic mushrooms do have medicinal properties!
Growing gourmet and medicinal mushrooms at home is not only a super fun and rewarding process, it's a great way to produce your own amazing food and medicinal extracts!
By experimenting with many different species and types, you can take on a near-endless run of variety to keep you fascinated and well-fed for an age. Each species is a new challenge and offers its own unique medicinal properties.
Further to that, a tiny amount mycelium in a well-controlled environment can produce staggering amounts of mushrooms. With a big enough grow shed there is nothing stopping you producing enough to take to your local farmers market and sell as a high-value, locally-grown cash crop.
Take the tips from this article and dive a bit deeper with this comprehensive guide to get cultivating!