How to grow gourmet mushrooms in your back yard

On February 20th this year I seeded a 20ft. garden bed mulched with 30lbs of wheat straw with two quarts of Pleurotus ostreatus (Oyster) mushroom spawn. Less than 8 weeks later on April 13th I harvested my first flush of mushrooms, about three ounces. This is how I did it with some notes on you too can easily incorporate tasty mushrooms into your home garden.

Catherine and I found a little Pleurotus ostreatus mushroom growing on a round of tulip poplar in a park down the road from where I live. This was in December, so the strain is probably a cold tolerant variety. I returned to this round in March and discovered a few more oyster mushrooms.

I gathered a native oyster mushroom from a local park and brought it into sterile culture in my home laboratory then expanded it on 400 grams of pasteurized rye berries mixed with a couple grams of gypsum in two quart jars. This previous post explains my process in greater depth. If you would like to seed your own garden with mushrooms buy an oyster mushroom strain suitable to your current season. If its cool outside get a cool variety, if its summer get a warm or tropical variety. I recommend Mushroom Mountain's mushroom spawn for folk living in the Southeast as they tend to sell season-specific spawn that is expanded from native cultivars. Paul Stamets recommends using straw-based or sawdust-based spawn for outdoor cultivation, because insects like to eat grain-based spawn, but I think that the insects are doing us a favor by spreading the mushroom mycelium around our yards to possibly find other suitable habitats to grow and fruit. Use what is available and convenient. Don't become paralyzed if you don't think you have the perfect equipment and supplies. Fungi are alive and want to grow. Perfection is often the opposite of the good.

I established my mushroom bed right in with my vegetable beds. As the plants grow they create a little microclimate for the mushrooms. In the morning, dew collects in this microclimate providing baby mushrooms with much needed moisture during dry days. These plants can also provide shade if you are planting in a sunny area. Our yard is shaded by huge white oaks, so we already have lots of shade. Mushroom gardening is perfect for those of you without sunny yards for tomatoes! We started by sheet mulching our beds and amending them as we usually do. You can simply add a layer of fresh dry wheat straw, bought from your local hardware or garden supply store, to your existing bed or shady area.

1. Mulch your garden bed with 4 inches of dry wheat straw.

2. Crumble your mushroom spawn and be careful not to squash the individual grains if using grain spawn. Older spawn is difficult to crumble, so use fresh spawn!
3. Spread your spawn over the top of your straw in one continuous sheet. This allows the mycelia to coalesce into a single mat which can then penetrate into the straw below. My friend Nicole helped me establish this bed.
4. We then covered the spawn layer with another layer of straw about 3 inches deep.
5. This is the most important step: THOROUGHLY soak the 7 inch deep straw mulch with a hose for about two hours. You can use a sprinkler to do the job for you, but I did it by hand. For the next week you will need to thoroughly water for an hour or so every day, until the mycelia becomes established in the straw bed. Over the weeks, take a peak beneath the surface straw to see your mycelia running. Don't let your bed dry out as this will harm your little mushries.
6. After the 8th week Ryan found mushrooms!
7. The mushrooms pop up between the vegetables and will probably fruit every few weeks depending on weather for the next year.
8. I interplanted the mushroom bed with garlic, kolrahbi, collards, arugula, and sweet peas.
9. My polyculture garden bed provides me with a complete meal, greens, mushrooms, and acorn bread from the white oaks overhead- if I were so inclined to harvest and process them!