WE’RE used to thinking of fungi negatively in gardening – but that really must stop! There are good and bad fungi, separated by a mighty chasm. Yes, mildew, blight and scab are unwelcome, but how about plonking some homegrown chestnut, button, oyster or shiitake mushrooms on your kitchen chopping board? That will impress the domestic god/goddess in your household!
Growing options and materials
Autumn is the natural time to think about growing mushrooms – moist soil and chillier temperatures stimulating their production. But home-growing comes in kit form today, allowing us to force mushrooms into growth at any time.
To get scientific for a moment, while nuisance fungi are parasitic (in other words, they feed on living material), the mushrooms we are discussing here are saprophytic, so they feed on dead material and won’t harm garden plants.
Most break down and feed off lignin and cellulose – the two major components of woody plant cells. These foodstuffs (called substrates) vary, so kits come in various forms (see the next page), and each will support specific edible mushrooms; those mentioned above are the easiest to source and grow.
Encouraging speedy growth
As well as a suitable substrate, adequate and constant moisture is also needed. Many mushrooms also benefit from a chilling period in order to switch from producing the white, fuzzy mycelium that penetrates the woody tissues to the fruiting bodies that grace our frying pan (see my checklist on page 20 for more growing tips). Some suppliers send out kits where mycelial growth has already been induced, leading to quicker results, whereas others ask you to inoculate the substrate on delivery.
Whichever way you choose to grow them, these gourmet harvests are bound to impress. Bring on the garlic!
Lucy’s top tips
Best ways to grow fabulous fungi
Inoculated oyster mushroom kits can yield quickly (between three and four weeks), whereas logs will take many months to bear a harvest.
If using logs, avoid spring-cut wood or logs with no bark. Different tree species vary in their success; oak and birch are often used.
Veg seed merchants will often sell kits, but you should look to specialist suppliers such as annforfungi.co.uk for the most extensive ranges.
Most often, kits will supply inoculated substrate, but some offer liquid cultures injected via a needle and syringe.
Ensure substrates are initially sterile; most kits do this for you. Microwaves or boiling water are frequently used.
Less-common fungi like lion’s mane, chicken of the woods, stropharia and morels can be grown, but require time and skill.
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October 10, 2020