Yesterday we were very excited to find our recently ordered mushroom spawn in the mailbox. We had ordered five different varieties from a company in the UK. Today we got around to planting two of the varieties, King Oysters and Wine cap mushrooms, also called Garden giants.
Planting is not really the right word for the process though, as mushrooms are not plants at all but fungi that live on decaying plant matter, absorbing nutrients through very thin roots-like structures called mycelia.
We have been thinking about growing mushrooms for a couple of years but getting the right size logs was difficult in it self, then drilling holes and filling them with inoculated dowels before sealing them with wax seemed like a daunting prospect. We decided to buy the latest book from James Wong recently, called Grow for Flavour. We are so very happy that we did. It is as always written with firm enthusiasm and a solid tried and tested foundation for the tips and tricks described on how to grow a whole range of crops. Quite a few evenings have been spent since we got it, dreaming up new places to try out exciting crops and making some changes in the garden to improve the once we already have. We can highly recommend the book to anyone with a wish to grow even a small portion of their own food.
When reading the section about mushrooms we discovered that there are many ways to grow them in the garden, without having to inoculate logs. We had to pollard a couple of big old ash trees when we moved into the cottage as they were partially rotten and could potentially fall on the house in a storm. A lot of the twigs ended up in piles and now after a couple of years they were starting to decompose. We realised that we had the means to grow a lot of tasty mushrooms, already present in the garden. We followed Mr Wong’s advice to some extent, but also decided to do some experimenting.
Our first colony to set up this morning was for King Oysters. We started by putting down cardboard boxes from the supermarket in an overlapping layer on the shady side of our hedge. We then mixed up our bought spawn with some sawdust and a bit of sugar to kick it into action. We put down a layer of barley straw, followed by the spawn and some old leaf mould. Oyster mushrooms are considered easy to grow as they like a range of different growing mediums.
We added a second layer of straw and watered the whole bed liberally with rain water as treated tap water could potentially disturb the sensitive process. As it is still quite cold for mushroom colonies, we put down some black plastic over the top. This will prevent any light frost that we might have in the West of Ireland to harm the colony and also keep it nice and dark. When the weather warms up in March we are planning to take it off.
Our second colony today was for Wine cap mushrooms, which need slightly different growing conditions.
We started off in the same way with a layer of cardboard. The spawn was mixed with sawdust, sugar and a little water to make it easier to sprinkle across the entire cardboard area. We used 60 grams of spawn for 4 square meters. As we had some oak branches we decided to put them down whole on top of the cardboard in places. We then added ash branches and twigs across the whole area and finished up with some ash hard wood chips as filler between the larger pieces. The book recommends a layer of just hard wood chips but we thought it would be interesting to use some thicker pieces of wood as well, that the fungi can colonise over time.
Our paths in the garden need redoing after three years of use and the old thatch we put down on them is now perfect to use as a weed free mulch. We put on a bit of this across the top of the bed as a final layer. Around the edge we added some straw to hopefully keep the weeds at bay and a layer of black plastic.
We are very excited about the prospect of growing mushrooms and in a couple of days we will write about two more ways of setting up mushroom colonies, suitable for yellow Oyster, Lions Mane and Shiitake mushrooms. Hopefully we will see some results of our efforts when the weather warms up.