Try New Things: Adventures in Mushroom Gardening

Mushrooms are rather terrifying. I love them in my salad. Grilled, sauteed, fresh, they're nutritious and delicious. They are also fairly interesting to spot and try to identify in the wilderness. Yet eating the wrong mushroom can kill you and there are so many lookalikes in the mushroom kingdom that it it can be frightfully difficult to distinguish between a safe fungi and its poisonous or hallucinogenic counterpart.

Yet I've also read a lot lately about farmers successfully growing and harvesting their own mushrooms. There's a whole world out there I know little about: mycology.  Interesting blogs and Twitter feeds led to books and fascinating groups. There are entire associations devoted to mushrooms. Some people live and breathe mushrooms. I'm on the other end of the spectrum: I have a tiny knowledge  of mushrooms and a spark of curiosity. This led me to want to know more.

An interesting Facebook event populated my newsfeed. One of my favorite local farms, Eat Your Yard Jax, hosted a Mushroom Combo Workshop last weekend. About 40 minutes from home and fairly affordable, I left the kids home with hubby and drove out for an introductory education in mycology. This was my Mother's Day present to myself and a chance to try something new and interesting, even if the idea of growing mushrooms seemed overwhelming and mysterious.

Nestled among the jungle-like greenery of NE Florida, Organic Farmer Tim Armstrong introduced me and two other ladies to the world of shitake and oyster mushrooms.  Not only are they fabulous for cooking, but shitake and oyster mushrooms don't have deadly lookalikes and are easy for beginners to identify as well as to grow. Armstrong is a wealth of information and shared it freely. I scribbled madly in my notebook, pausing to snap a picture here and there of the incredible fruits and vegetables growing on the farm or the free range chickens jauntily walking about and investigating our lesson.

The Shitake Mushroom spores came on wooden pegs. We chose aged log pieces (not too fresh, not too old... about two weeks is just the right age in our area) and used a specialized drill bit to drill 50 holes in neat rows.  Then, we hammered the spore pegs in place and sealed them with sealing wax.


 My shitake mushroom log will sit in a shady place undisturbed (hopefully) and should produce some mushrooms this fall. I can't wait to see it! Armstrong said that the mushroom log will produce for 3-5 years. I'm looking forward to some fresh mushroom and spinach omelets!

Next, we learned about oyster mushrooms. Armstrong boiled straw (not hay) in a big vat of water, then poured it out over a cooling rack to cool. We put straw into a big bag and alternated between handfuls of straw and oyster mushroom spore/ sawdust.  Tied shut, the bag spent a week in my dark pantry. Then, after pricking holes in it, it needs to stay somewhere out of the direct sunlight to grow. I put it in the garage, where it'll be out of the way and get indirect sunlight. I should see some mushrooms within the month. This is a one-and-done kind of mushroom and will not produce long-term like the shitake.

I learned a lot at this clinic. Knowledge is power and removed the mystique and fear I had of growing mushrooms. It inspired me to learn more. I don't know if I'll try it myself at home, but I'm excited to watch these grow and develop with the kids.  The experience got me interested in learning more about mycology too. We've since picked up some mushroom identification guides and looked up mushroom walks and experts in our area. The kids and I are attending a mushroom identification workshop in Gainesville next month.  It's sure to be interesting.

I love exposing the kids to all kinds of interesting people, places, and ideas. Who knows what will spark their interest and become their passion.  It's easy to forget to try new things ourselves sometimes.  Get out there and try something new, even if it scares you a bit. You may end up loving it. Your life will be fuller and you'll come away with a unique story to tell. It's powerful when our children see us learning and brave enough to try something new. If we want to raise lifelong learners, we need to become one as well.

What's something you've always wanted to try but have not been brave enough to do?

My mushroom starts, ready to go home. 


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