Mushrooms, A House Guest That Actually Grows on You
Last spring, I grew some great shiitakes in our spare bedroom.
Before you think I’ve gone off the grid and have a pile of logs heaped in a corner, let me explain. My mushroom “farm” consisted of a compact shiitake mushroom kit purchased from Field and Forest Products located in Peshtigo.
After a brief overnight soak in water, my spawn-inoculated hardwood sawdust block checked into my spare room for an extended stay. The unassuming guest took up residence on a cozy corner table where it received just the right amount of light. A clear plastic bag covering and some daily sprays from a water bottle was all it took to turn my unassuming compressed block guest into more than one pound of fruiting beautiful, edible shiitakes. And the whole process took less than two weeks.
GET FUNGI EDUCATED
Whether you live in a large wooded area, have a small backyard garden or just a spare bedroom, growing your own delicious fungi is within reach. But before you start setting up your mushroom-fruiting area, take some time to educate yourself on these magical edibles.
A good place to start shopping for mushroom-growing paraphernalia is Field and Forest Products. Husband and wife team, Mary Ellen Kozak and Joe Krawczyk, started their company more than 30 years ago.
“We started the company in 1984, one year before we got married,” explained Kozak. The thriving fungi company now ships around the world, carrying all the equipment and mushroom spawn needed to start growing delicate fungi at home.
A mushroom kit like the one I set up in my spare room works well for a novice mushroom grower. These compact kits are inexpensive and provide quick results. Field and Forest Products sells tabletop kits for a variety of mushroom types including shiitakes, oyster, king trumpet and reishi along with the more common white mushroom and crimini.
“We create all of our own kits with the exception of white mushroom and crimini which are made by River Valley Ranch out of Burlington, Wisconsin,” Kozak said. “Everything is certified organic and made of resources that recreate the woods.”
“All you need is a mushroom kit, a dinner plate and a plant misting bottle. The easiest mushroom to start with is the shiitake. They will grow in 7 to 10 days. You can usually get two fruitings from one kit.”
BACKYARD & GARDEN MUSHROOM CULTIVATION
For those ready to venture to the next level of fungi growing, the company also offers a variety of mushroom species plus tools and supplies to cultivate mushrooms outside. With all the mushroom varieties available, picking a specific species to grow can be daunting. Become familiar with the cultivation methods and seasonality of each species. Many mushrooms also have different strains from which to choose.
A substrate of some kind will be needed. Substrate is the carrier on which the mushroom species grow. It can be a wood log, straw or compressed compost. Some species grow only on certain carriers.
“A lot of people think you can use a dead piece of wood,” Kozak continued. “Your wood has to be from a hardwood and from a healthy but dormant tree. Oak, maple and even basswood work well.”
Finally, select your spawn. Spawn is simply a carrier to hold a specific mushroom mycelium until you, the cultivator, transfer it to the substrate. The spawn can be purchased in sawdust, grain, dowel plugs or pegs.
And where should you place your outdoor mushroom garden? The main requirement for growing mushrooms outside is shade. “A shade garden is the ideal area for a few mushroom logs,” Kozak said. “Plus, the fruiting logs look beautiful.”
The best way to learn about growing mushrooms is to attend a workshop. Since spring and fall are the best times to start mushrooms, most workshops are offered right before the particular season begins.
Field and Forest Products offers workshops and seminars throughout the state. The company also offers a daylong workshop at their Peshtigo location each spring. As an added bonus for participants at their Peshtigo workshop, you’ll go home with your very own inoculated log ready for a backyard home. Workshop and seminar dates and times are listed on the company’s website.
LOCAL FUNGI SHOPPING MADE EASY
Don’t have the time or the desire to grow your own mushrooms? There are several local options to get savory mushroom varieties into your kitchen.
Nestled at the end of a meandering drive on the outskirts of downtown Neenah rests a simple hoop house on a small farmstead. The unassuming façade houses a 7,500-gallon aquaponics system that enables the company, Grow Local, to produce sustainable organic products from micro greens and lettuce to chard and, yes, mushrooms.
Aquaponics enables fish waste to naturally fertilize plants. The three owners of the business, Alex Fehrenbach, Calvin Anderson and Steve Catlin, started the company in 2011. Their sustainable year-round operation offers organically-grown products to various restaurants from Oshkosh to Door County.
“We do a few different varieties of mushrooms,” explained Catlin. “Right now we have a couple of different oyster mushrooms plus king trumpets. Maitake mushrooms are currently in the research and development phase.”
The mushroom-growing process begins with substrate that is made on site, then inoculated with spawn from Field and Forest Products.
“We usually have about 90 blocks going at a time. A lot of mushroom growers use straw as a substrate but it’s pretty limited on what can be grown on them,” Catlin said. “Hardwoods have specific medicinal compounds in them. Mushrooms produced on native woods will be more nutritious, have added flavor and last longer in storage.”
The inoculated blocks spend about two weeks in the 75-degree growing chamber. After they become fully colonized with the mushroom mycelium, they are moved to the larger growing chamber in the main hoop house. Here, the trout and bluegills do their work in the aquaponics system, creating byproduct that is used as food for the various produce grown by the company.
Staying with the sustainable theme, the hoop house is heated solely from a wood furnace nestled beside the hoop house. “We work with a guy down the street that works with a dead tree service to get the wood,” Fehrenbach said.
HOW TO ENJOY LOCALLY GROWN MUSHROOMS
You may have already enjoyed some Grow Local products at one of the many area restaurants the company services. Grow Local also offers a unique subscription service where the general public can sign up for a weekly program.
“It’s similar to a CSA but is offered year-round,” explained Fehrenbach. “The major difference is our product comes out weekly all year long whereas CSA’s are seasonal. The consumer also has more control over what product goes into their subscription.”
In the summer months, both Grow Local and Field and Forest Products have booths at various area farm markets. Grow Local products, from greens to mushrooms, can be found at the summer Neenah farmers market and Oshkosh farmers market.
In the Green Bay area, lucky fungi shoppers can browse a variety of wild mushrooms at the Saturday downtown Green Bay farmers market. Mushroom varieties vary weekly depending on what’s available.
“We like to try out different spawn strains before we sell them,” Kozak said. “The resulting mushrooms are often sold at the Green Bay farmers market. Most folks are excited to see such an unusual display of mushrooms.”
Button mushrooms move over. There’s a whole world of exotic mushrooms waiting to hit your skillet. Whether purchased at a farmer’s market, specialty food store or grown in your spare room, there’s a multitude of mushrooms awaiting your culinary ingredient line up.
And if you decide to turn that spare room into a makeshift mushroom farm, just make sure your overnight guests don’t mind sharing a corner with a little fungi.
ED NOTE: While this column was written for purchasing mushrooms from a reputable source, anyone foraging for mushrooms should take caution and properly identify thosethat are safe to eat.