They’re tasty, they’re nutritious, they’re the fungus among us! Because mushrooms are a delicious and commonly-used ingredient in the kitchen, we think they should be included in every gardener’s homegrown repertoire. Mushrooms are relatively easy to grow in a small space, either indoors or out, and are actually the “flower” or “fruit” part of a fungus. Since they grow from spores instead of seeds, mushrooms will require different cultivation techniques than herbs, fruits, and veggies, making them a great experiment for the adventurous home grower.
Agaricus bisporus is one of the most widely cultivated edible fungi in the US. This fungi’s fruit is sold on the market as three different mushrooms, each corresponding to a different stage of growth. When small, immature, and white, they are called Button mushrooms; when small, juvenile, and brown, they are called Criminis; and, when harvested at full maturity in all their glory, they are called Portobellos. You can time your harvests depending on which type you prefer.
Seed: Does not grow from seed.
Vegetative: Propagated by spores or mycelium cultures.
Germination Soil Temperature: 55–60°F
Days for Germination: 3–4
Sow Indoors: In areas of low light, such as basements or cupboards.
Sow Outdoors: Up to a year in advance: inoculate hyphae in dead logs and allow to spread. Expect fruiting the next season.
Different from most other edible plants, fungi don’t care for sunshine; instead, they prefer low-light, cool, and moist environments. A basement is ideal for spawning mushrooms, but if one isn’t available, a closet or cupboard will suffice as long as it’s well ventilated. Fungus loooove humidity, so when growing indoors, growing media is often covered in plastic to enhance air moisture.
Soil: Mushrooms are grown from compost media that are extensively prepared prior to growing edible mushrooms. This will require combining manure and organic material with gypsum and allowing the mixture to sit in the sun—first in the open air and then under a tarp—until there’s been significant decomposition of the materials. The compost must then be pasteurized and tested for contamination until it’s ready to be used. Sterilization of the media is important; otherwise, bacteria and other impurities may infringe on the proliferation of the mycelia. You can cover the inoculated medium with a layer of potting soil once the mycelium begin to grow into larger hyphae networks and begin showing as white fungus-looking spots.
Starting mushrooms using a homemade medium can be extremely difficult, so you may want to consider purchasing a starter kit or mushroom substrate to get started.
Water: Mist entire media up to twice daily. Proper moisture (and temperature) is key!
Nutrients: A casing or layer of well-rotted manure or compost and loamy soil can be applied on top of visible mycelium growth. Apply about 1–1 1/2″ thick to stimulate the formation of mushrooms.
Harvest: May be harvested when caps are open. Cut stalks with a sharp knife to avoid destroying the surrounding fungi.
Storage: Place in paper bags and keep in refrigerator for up to a week.
Fun Fact: Although one may assume the mushroom to be the body of the organism, it’s actually only the “fruit” or “flower” of the fungi. Its main body lies under or on top of the soil in a web of mycelium. Unlike plants, fungi use oxygen to grow and “exhale” carbon dioxide, leading some to argue that they’re more like humans than plants!
Preserve: May be dried or frozen, but the button/portobello varities are best eaten raw. To dry, add to a dehydrator set to 130–140°F. To freeze, cook the mushrooms first by steaming or sautéing in butter and packing in bags or containers.
Prepare: A versatile food item, mushrooms can be eaten raw, sautéed, baked, stir fried, or grilled. Grilling is especially popular for portobello mushrooms and makes a great alternative to hamburgers.
Nutritional: High in potassium (more than bananas!) and riboflavin. Mushrooms also contain fiber, protein, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Interestingly enough, if mushrooms are (briefly!) exposed to UV rays, they will produce vitamin D, making them one of the few food sources from which humans can get vitamin D.
Medicinal: Has been shown to contain various properties that can reduce the risk of certain cancers, such as breast.
Warnings: Be wary of rogue spores! Make sure to properly identify your mushrooms before eating them.
For an easy summer dinner, fire up the grill for these Grilled Portobello Caps.