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I’ve been hearing more and more about homesteaders and farmers growing mushrooms and was curious to find out what all the fuss is about. Though I love to eat mushrooms, I hadn’t seriously considered growing my own until I read Mycelial Mayhem by David and Kristin Sewak. Now, I feel like I have really been missing out by purchasing mushrooms from the supermarket as there are so many interesting and delicious types of mushrooms beyond the white button and portobellos typically found in grocery stores. Besides, with unregulated, gene edited mushrooms coming on the market, I’d rather grow my own!
From a young age, David picked wild mushrooms with his grandfather and now he has been cultivating them for more than 15 years. After composting mushrooms and incorporating used mushroom mulch in his garden, David realized that mushrooms can help to improve soil as well as enhance the flavor and nutrition of vegetables. For example, David and Kristin credit wine cap stropharia in their garden for improving the taste of their kale and subsequently better sales. Kristin’s interest in mushrooms extends to their medicinal properties – she makes supplements, reishi tea, and even a mushroom facial cream. For more information and to connect with David and Kristin, visit the book website and blog at www.mycelialmayhem.com.
The book includes the following sections which are named after different parts of a mushroom:
- Section I: Mycelia includes mushroom purposes, their physical structure/components, and how mushrooms benefit humans as well as the environment. Did you know that mushrooms are used to shrink tumors, help with dementia, lower blood pressure, clean up pollutants in the environment, and create compostable packaging material?
- Section II: The Stem includes instructions for cultivating different types of mushrooms (from purchasing spawn to knowing the right time to harvest), collecting and purveying wild mushrooms, and using mushrooms for companion planting and sustainability. Indoor and outdoor growing techniques, the degree of difficulty for growing different types, materials/supplies needed, growing mediums (such as wood/wood chips, straw, rope, and cotton seed hulls), and instructions for pasteurizing straw are discussed.
- Section III: The Fruit of Your Labor covers culinary and nutritional benefits of mushrooms, guidelines for harvesting, storing, and processing mushrooms, and recipes. Nearly 70 pages are devoted to launching, managing, and marketing a mushroom business. In the appendices, there are lots of sample marketing and communication materials.
- Section IV: Spreading the Spores – If you’re not already convinced, David and Kristin’s concluding statements will likely inspire you to grow mushrooms!
Getting Started Growing Mushrooms
In a helpful “Assessment Checklist” David and Kristin outline key considerations and supplies you’ll need to start growing mushrooms. How much land you have, the species of trees on your land, and your access to water, shade, and substrate/growing mediums will impact which growing techniques and types of mushrooms will be most successful. Be prepared, you’ll either need to know how to use a chainsaw or find a lumberjack who can help you cut logs!
Wine Cap Lasagna Method
I plan to start with growing wine cap stropharia using David and Kristin’s “wine cap lasagna” method, which doesn’t require cutting logs and can be placed in your garden under the shade of kale plants. Essentially, this involves layering 1-2 inches of hardwood (they use oak, maple, and beech) mulch, then a layer of straw (should be natural, uncolored, and untreated) with wine cap spawn sprinkled on top, another layer of hardwood chips, more straw and spawn, and a third/final layer of hardwood chips. Then, water thoroughly and keep it moist. David and Kristin use drip hoses in the evening for about an hour. A 5.5 lb. bag of wine cap spawn can inoculate a 20-inch row. If you start these this spring, you should have mushrooms by fall!
Janie Hynson is an aspiring homesteader in North Carolina. She recently moved back to her hometown after living in Boston for six years and then traveling across the U.S. working on organic farms. Janie works in public health and sustainable agriculture and is interested in how health can be improved through homesteading.