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It's worth growing mushrooms at home

It can be hard to have hands-on gardening experiences at this time of year. With garden writers preaching to us to stay off our wet soils to avoid compaction, how is one to beat the doldrums and have some fun? I think I've found an interesting way to brighten these bleak days before we can once again get outdoors without the fear of damaging more than we are benefiting.

I've recently run across the idea of raising mushrooms at home from kits. This intrigues me on several levels.

First, everyone knows that mushrooms don't need much light to grow. This means that gardeners who have trouble keeping houseplants thriving due to lack of proper lighting should have no problems here. Second, I wouldn't think they would take up much room. Third, what could be more fun than having an edible crop of delicious fungi to eat as the end result of one's labors? And, last but not least, here's a chance to produce a quality crop at greatly reduced cost.

Armed with this approach, I began my search for information on growing edible fungi. I should have known what would happen. After a cursory Google search, I soon uncovered a wealth of information and product that I'm afraid I'm irresistibly drawn to like the proverbial moth. Do I really need another gardening avocation or direction to pursue? Definitely not. Will I do so anyway? You bet.

What I found is so appealing, and so fascinating, that I just can't help myself. There are many companies, such as Mushroom Adventures, 11107 State Highway 70, Marysville, CA 95901 (530-741-2437) and Fungi Perfecti, P.O. Box 7634, Olympia, WA 98507 (800-780-9126) that furnish growing kits that are not only attractive and interesting looking, but can provide fungi and spores for growing just about any type mushroom I can imagine, and many more that I had no idea existed. Many varieties can be grown indoors at temperatures between 60 and 70 degrees. Most commercially available kits range in price from $20-$30. Most kits will start fruiting within a week and you can expect a harvest of 1-2 pounds of mushrooms per flush. Each kit will commonly provide 2-3 flushes of mushrooms before the food supply is spent. Finished kits can then be placed on the compost pile where you can sometimes get a bonus flush of edibles.

The types of mushrooms available to home gardeners are varied and have wonderfully exotic names like shiitake, portabella, nameko and the cold-loving enoki. They grow on many different substrates that are carefully selected to provide the environment for the web of mycelia that develop underground. Shiitakes like to grow on hardwood, including sawdust and wood chips, while pearl oysters favor pasteurized wheat straw. The kits contain everything you need to get started producing edible fungus except water.

I also found directions for creating outdoor growing beds that seemed quite simple to follow and could be accomplished with materials that are readily available in Southern Oregon. One can use wood chips, bark and yard debris to create shallow beds (4 to 5 inches deep) that will produce many mushrooms over a two-year period, once inoculated with the proper spores and nutrient mixes. Morels, which thrive in many parts of our valley, can be introduced and nurtured with a good chance of success. And without the risks of stumbling across someone else's valued picking spot!

Perhaps the most intriguing thing I found, however, is the method of cultivating called dowel spawn. Dowel spawn is a wood dowel that has the mushroom mycelium growing inside it. It is used to inoculate dead tree stumps or logs. After drilling a hole in a log and tapping a dowel into it, the mushroom mycelium will grow from the dowel into the surrounding wood. Dowels are 5/16" diameter by 1" long. Most of the mushroom varieties grow best on newly cut hardwood or semi-hardwoods. In this way my old oak stumps could be used to grow oyster, shiitake, maitake, hericium, and reishi mushrooms.

What am I waiting for?

Stan Mapolski, aka The Rogue Gardener, can be heard from 9-10 a.m. Saturday mornings on KMED 1440 AM and seen in periodic gardening segments for KTVL Channel 10 News. Reach him at stanmapolski@yahoo.com.