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Growing Mushrooms at Home

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Natural culture is the cultivation of mushrooms outdoors. After mycological landscapes are constructed and inoculated, the forces of Nature take over. I also call th;s "Mssez-faire" cultivation —in other words the mushroom patch is left alone, subject to the wt ims of Nature; except for some timely watering. The mushroom habitat is spec'fically designed, paying particular attention to site location and the use of native woods and/or garden by-products. Once prepared, the cultivator launches the selected mushroom species into a constructed habitat by spawning. In general, native mushroom species do better than exotic ones. However, even ihose obstacles to growing exotic species are easily overcome with some forethought to design, and the helpful suggestions of an experienced cultivator.

Every day, gardeners, landscapers, rhododendron growers, arborists, and nurseries utilize the very components needed for growing mushrooms. Every pile of debris, whether it is tree trimmings, sawdust or wood chips, or a mixture of these materials will support mushrooms, Unless selectively inoculated, debris piles become habitats of miscellaneous "weed" mushrooms, making the likelihood of growing a desirable mushroom remote.

When inoculating an outdoor environment with mushroom spawn, the cultivator relinquishes much control to natural forces. There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to natural culture. First, the mushroom patch is controlled by volatile weather patterns. This also means that outdoor beds have the advantage of needing minimum maintenance. The ratio of hours spent per lb. of mushrooms grown becomes quite efficient. The key to success is creating an environment wherein the planted mycelium naturally and vigorously expands. A major advantage of growing outdoors compared to growing indoors is that competitors are not concentrated in a tight space. When cultivating mushrooms outdoors you have entropy as an ally.

The rate of growth, time to fruiting, and quality of the crop depends upon the spawn, substrate ma tenais, and weather conditions. Generally, when mushrooms are fruiting in the wild, the inoculated patches also produce. Mushrooms that fruit primarily in the summer, such as the King Stropharia (Stropharia rugoso-annulata) require frequent watering. Shaggy Manes (Cop, 'mus comatus) prefer the cool, fall rains, thus requiring little attention. In comparison to indoor cultivation, the outdoor crops are not as frequent. However, outdoor crops can be just as tense, sometimes more so, especially if one is paying modest attention to the needs of the mushroom mycelium at critical junctures throughout its life cycle.

While the cultivator is competing with molds indoors, wild mushrooms are the major competitors outdoors You may plant one species in an environment where another species is already firmly established. This is especially likely if you use old sawdust, chips or base materials. Starting with fresh materials is the simplest way to avoid this problem. Piles of aged wood chips commonly support four or five species of mushrooms within just a few square feet. Unless, the cultivator uses a high rate of inoculation (25% spawn/substrate) and uniformly clean wood chips, the concurrence of diverse mushroom species should be expected. If, for instance, the backyard cultivator gets mixed wood chips in the early spring from a county road maintenance crew, and uses a dilute 5-10% inoculation rate of sawdust spawn into the chips, the mushroom patch is likely to have wild species emerging along with the desired mushrooms.

In the Pacific Northwest of Nonh America, I find a 5-10% inoculation rate usually results in some mushrooms showing late in the first year the most substantial crops occurring in the second and third years, and a dramatic drop-off in the fourth year. As the patch ages, it is normal to see more diverse mushroom varieties co-occurring with the planted mushroom species.

I am constantly fascinated by the way Nature re-establishes a polyculture environment at the earliest opportunity. Some mycologists believe a pre-determined, sequence of mycorrhi"al and saprophytic species prevails, forinstance, around a Douglas fir tree, as it matures. In complex natural habitats, the interlacing of mycelial networks is common. Underneath a single tree, twenty or more species may thrive. I look forward to the 21st century, when mycotopian foresters will design whole species mosaics upon whose foundation vast ecosystems can flourish. This book will describe simpler, precursor models for mixing and sequencing species. I hope these concepts will be further developed by imaginative and skilled cultivators.

In one of my outdoor wood chip beds, I created a "polyculture" mushroom patch about 50 x 100 feet in size. In the spring I acquired mixed wood chips from the county utility company— mostly alder and Douglas fir—and inoculated three species into it. One year after inoculation, in late April through May, Morels showed. From June to early September, King Stropharia erupted with force, providing our family with several hundred pounds. In the late September through much of November, an assortment of Clustered Wood lovers (Hypholoma like) species popped up. With non-coincident fruiting cycles, this Zen-like polyculture approach is limited only by your imagination.

Species succession can be accomplished indoors. Here is one example. After Shiitake stops producing on logs or sawdust, the substrate can be broken apart, re-m( ';stened, re-sterilized, and re-inoculated with another gourmet mushroom, in this case, I recommend Oyster mushrooms. Once the Oyster mushroom life cycle is completed, the substrate can be again sterilized, and inoculated with the next species. Shiitake, Oyster, King Stropharia and finally Shaggy Manes can all be grown on the same substrate, increasingly reducing the substrate mass, without the addition of new materials. The majority of the substrate mass that does not evolve into gases is regenerated into mushrooms.The conversion of substrate mass-to-mushroom mass is mind bog gling. These concepts are further developed in Chapter 22.

The following list of decomposers are wild mushrooms most frequently occurring in wood chips in the northern temperate regions of North America. In general, these natural competitors are easy to distinguish from the gourmet mush room spec.'es described in this book.Those that are mildly poisonous are labelled with *; those which are deadly have two **.This list is by no means comprehensive. Many other species, especially the poisonous mycorrhizal Amanita, Hebeloma, Inocybe & Cortinarius species are not listed here. Mushrooms from these genera can inhabit the same plot of ground where a cultivator may lay down wood chips, even if the host tree is far removed.

Some Wild Mushrooms Naturally Found in Beds of Wood Chips

Ground lovers

Agrocybe spp. and Pholiota spp. The Sweaters

Clitocybe spp. * The Inky Caps

Coprinus atramentarius*, C. comatus C. disseminatus C. lagopus C. micaceus & allies The Vomited Scrambled Egg Fungus

Fuligo cristata The Deadly Galerinas

Galerina autumnalis & allies ** Red Staining Lepiotas Lepiota spp. ** The Clustered Woodlover

Hypholoma capnoides The Green-Gilled Clustered Woodlover

Hypholoma fasciculcre * The Chestnut Mushroom

Hypholoma sublateritium The Deadly Ringed Cone Heads Pholiotina filaris and allies** Pholiota terrestris and allies

The Deer Mushroom Pluteus cervinus Black Spored Silky Stems

Psathyrella spp. The Caramel Capped Psilocybes Psilocybe cyanescens & allies The mushrooms in the Galerina autumnalis andPholiotinajUvrisgroups are deadly poisonous. Some species in the genus Psilocybe contain psilocybin and psilocin, compounds which often cause uncontrolled laughter, hallucinations, and sometimes spiritual experiences. Outdoor cultivators must hone their skills at mushroom identification to avert the accidental ingestion of undesired mushrooms. Recommended mushroom field guides and mushroom identification courses are listed in the Resource section of this book.

Mushrooms can be cultivated through a variety of methods. Some techniques are exquisitely simple, and demand little or no technical expertise. Others—involving sterile tissue culture—are much more technically demanding. The simpler methods take little time, but also require more patience and forgiveness on the part of the cultivator, lest the mushrooms do not appear according to your time-table. As one progresses to the more technically demanding methods, the probability of success is substantially increased, with mushrooms appearing exactly on the day scheduled.

The simpler methods for mushroom cultivation, demanding little or no technical expertise, are outlined in this chapter. They are: spore mass inoculation, transplantation and inoculation with pure cultured spawn.

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