THERE'S A FUNGI IN MY FRIDGE

So this is in my fridge. In case you can't tell what that is, it's a 5.5-pound bag of slightly moldy-looking sawdust. Makes it all clear, right?

That's a bag of mushroom spawn in my fridge, complete with the directions on top of it because if I don't keep them in there I'm sure to lose them.

It's actually a bag of wine cap mushroom (Stropharia) spawn mixed with sawdust that I picked up over the weekend at the Wisconsin Garden Expo. A few weeks ago, on a dark winter weekend, I somewhat randomly decided that I'm going to grow mushrooms this year.

My interest in mushrooms actually started last spring when I was chatting with garden blogger friend Kenny Point from Veggie Gardening Tips as we passed the time waiting for our flights at the airport. Kenny loves to grow things just for the challenge of growing something different (he also got me hooked on growing culinary ginger and turmeric) and told me that I was crazy not to give mushroom growing a try because, he said, some varieties are dead simple to grow.

Later that spring I went to a talk on growing mushrooms, but that one was centered mostly on using inoculated wood plugs to "seed" logs and seemed to require a fair amount of waiting, something we all know I'm no good at (see name of blog), but I kept remembering that there was a variety Kenny told me was very simple to try. I recalled that a few weekends ago and decided I would officially give wine caps a try.

Here's why I picked that variety:

  1. They can be grown in wood chips or straw.
  2. If I plant them in spring I should have mushrooms by August.
  3. The mushrooms are unique looking so even I should be able to identify them and not kill myself.
That last one sounds like a joke, but it's not. We have a pretty wooded lot and there are lots of mushrooms around. Some, I'm sure, are edible, but there are plenty that are absolutely not. I'm no mycologist, so I don't play around with taste testing things that might make me die. But wine caps are beautiful mushrooms with a lovely merlot-colored cap and gray gills that don't even look remotely like anything I've seen growing here. So I should be able to recognize them and be safe eating them.

Field and Forest photo

I bought the spawn—enough to cover a 50-square-foot bed—from Field and Forest Products, a mushroom supplier in Peshtigo, Wisconsin, and found the staff to be just full of knowledge and more than happy to share. 

I'm still researching the more specific aspects of creating my wine cap bed, but I know where it's going to go: Behind the three big virburnums at the back of the garden in the back/side garden that help block our neighbor's house. That area gets filtered light in the morning and late in the day and does a great job growing creeping Charlie, which the folks at Field and Forest said is a good indication that the mushrooms will do well there. I'll lay down a three-inch bed of well moistened hardwood chips, spread the sawdust/spawn mixture over them and top it with wet straw. Then all I have to do is keep the bed moist but not wet this summer. 

So this will be my big gardening experiment for the summer. Of course I'll take you along on the journey. And don't worry ... I'll do all the taste testing. 

6 comments :

  1. I bought mushrooms at the Expo also. I attended a conference given by Field and Forest on Saturday. I will be using straw bed covered in straw. Going to put them in a 4x4 raised bed that is empty. Hoping for a great harvest of wine caps.

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    1. Please keep in touch and let me know how it goes for you! I love a good garden experiment!

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  2. My kids and I have talked about growing mushrooms. I will be interested in seeing how it goes for you. Do you have a link to the specific product you purchased?

    How has your ginger been growing?

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    1. Here's a link for you (I got the 5.5-pound bag): http://www.fieldforest.net/Wine-Cap-Stropharia-rugosa-annulata-Sawdust-Spawn/productinfo/SSR/

      My ginger great pretty good considering that I had it confined to a pot. Unfortunately I dug most of it and then forgot it outside for a night and it froze and turned to mush. The bits I did eat were delicious. I just think it's a beautiful plant. I grow it in pots to manage the growing conditions but I'm toying with trying it in the ground next year as it really did well.

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  3. This is interesting. I will be curious to hear all about your experiment. There is a nursery fairly near where I live that sells mushrooms that someone in the area grows. I think they grow theirs in an old underground mine area. They are sort of secret about it. I am not sure of the variety they grow. Big white ones that are kind of flat and of course the button mushrooms. They are tasty. Good luck with your experiment.

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  4. That sounds fun. I'd never really thought about it until now, but with all the fungi that grow naturally around here we should have good conditions too. I'm tempted. Will be interested to see how you go.

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