My Dear Lovely Assistant:
The flowers are done, the warm-weather veggie crowd has gone home, and the leaves are starting to turn brown. What is a girl to do who likes to see something growing all the time? With the weather cooling down, it is time to think about growing mushrooms again! Let's talk about my favorite indoor October/November crop. Oyster mushrooms! This family likes our mushrooms super fresh and super flavorful. How do we as a family in Kansas City accomplish this and be as self-sufficient as we can be in the suburbs? When the house indoor temperature naturally lingers in the 60s, we purchase ready-to-spawn mushroom blocks and grow them ourselves. (Actually, the indoor temperature is great for this twice a year, in the spring and in the fall, but we only do this in the fall, as spring is full of other growing activities.)
Yes, we supplement our meals during other parts of the year with fresh enoki, shimeji and king oysters as well as dried shiitake oysters from our favorite Asian market. In addition, we cook with packaged cremini and the occasional white button mushroom from our box store grocery retailer, but when we can grow them ourselves, we do!
We have tried all sorts of ways to grow mushrooms outside in Kansas City, but none of them have really worked for me. Yet. I am still trying, though. It has become a running joke in our family that growing mushrooms outdoors is my own personal Waterloo of gardening. I get groans all around when I propose...once again...that I want to try a new type or method of growing outdoor mushrooms. (It seems that I will never learn.) We have tried drilling oak logs with shiitake spawn. No go. We have tried multiple times to get wine caps to grow in our flower beds on wood chips in multiple places in our garden. We got a whopping three mushrooms to eat out of three different seeding attempts in three different years. So far, outdoor mushrooms have been a complete waste of our money and time. I think that the weather gets too hot for too long here in the summer, but I could be wrong. We DO get some mushrooms when we place spent oyster grow blocks outside on straw. We consider it just an added bonus to the wonderful delights we grow indoors.
In September, I place my oyster blocks order for a mid-October delivery, as the house is too warm for effective mushroom spawning before then. I have been purchasing an eight-block of spawn from Field and Forest in Wisconsin for a few years now. (Nope, I am not getting any reimbursement for mentioning them.) The blocks I want to fruit, I place in a south-facing window or on a lit rack of my sprouting rack and cut X's on the block sides per the vendor instructions. The other blocks go into the spare refrigerator until I am ready to fruit them. The first year we fruited oyster blocks, I was so excited to give them a go that I fruited ALL the blocks at one time, resulting in mushroom overload. This was a delightful problem to have, yet still it was a problem. I also write the date I put them in the window on the plastic somewhere, so I know when they were put out. They can be fruited multiple times. Each time I try to fruit a block, I write another note on the block. Above is a picture of what the blocks look like on my grow rack. I start a small humidifier next to the blocks to keep the air around the blocks moist. I find the humidifier to be MOST important, as the mushrooms need LOTS of humidity to fruit. Kansas City air is extremely dry at this time of year, and we need to compensate for that dryness. Besides, we generally need more humidity in our house, anyway. I like using the humidifier to keep the whole room humid instead of using a humidity tent and spraying with a water spray bottle several times for my little babies. Remembering to go by several times to day to spray the blocks can get OLD pretty quickly, and I can enjoy the view in the window or on my grow racks much better.
I will turn the blocks one quarter turn each morning to allow all sides to activate to the light. The blocks generally start to pin in less than a week, and I will have mushrooms for the dinner table in 2-3 weeks, max! (Pinning is what we call a group of baby mushrooms. You will know them when you see them.) Pull or cut the clumps off when they are ready to go according to the directions and cook immediately or put them in a paper bag and then into the refrigerator for when you are ready to use. The sooner you cook your 'shrooms, the more of the stem will be pliable and edible.
When the block seems to have exhausted its current fruiting cycle, wrap up the base of it in saran wrap and put it back in your fridge and bring out the next one to put into the window or rack area. Rinse and repeat. Setting the block aside (without wrapping) into a drier area of the room and waiting until it starts pinning again before moving it back into the humid area also works well for us. After about two to three fruitings, my blocks appear to be spent and need to be disposed of. Toss the block into your garden at your convenience when you are finished fruiting them! We also crumble them into bits and include the crumbs in our potting soil to help jump-start mycological activity in our plant starts. I am no soil scientist, but it does not appear as if our little seedlings have suffered from the practice.
P.S. Remember to follow all directions that your mushroom block supplier gives you! One important thing I should add….do NOT let your mushrooms hang out too long on your fruiting block before picking them! Eventually they will release spores, to which some people can react. These spores (think seeds) also might find a nice place to grow in your home. Remember that mushrooms break down what is around them to eat it for their dinner. What is your wooden house made of? Cellulose! Oyster mushrooms will eat your home if you give them a chance. Beware! Eat them first! I pick my mushroom clumps right before the heads completely flare out to avoid spore release. Remember to follow all directions that your mushroom block supplier gives you.
P.P.S. We are also attempting to grow lion's mane mushrooms indoors this year. We have made our own blocks using a kit, once again from Field and Forest. The jury is still out on that one, but, so far, the outcome is looking promising. (Another Waterloo defeat in the works??? We hope not.)