Are mushroom plants from another planet?
Mushrooms have always seemed other-worldly to me. So it was with mixed feelings that I purchased the oyster mushroom kit that was on my husband’s Christmas list.
It is true he has taken me out to collect wild mushrooms, morels in particular, and we ate those and survived. Not only that, but they were yummy.
However, it seems that every mushroom has an evil twin. Even many that are edible just look poisonous to me.
At least in the wild, the mushrooms we found were already fully formed. We could just compare them to the guidebook. Eat this one. Do NOT eat this one. So we went home with a pillowcase full of what looked like to me to be pitted, soft, rotting wood. That’s probably why they are hard to see.
A mushroom kit arrives for Christmas
When the oyster mushroom growing kit arrived, we put the box in the garage refrigerator. All my years of reading science fiction hounded my mind with visions of aliens waiting to be born once we opened the box. A few days after Christmas, he was ready to start and see if all the online videos had been right.
My husband, the non-gardener in the family, agreed to an interview of his mushroom experiment:
Me: You aren’t the gardener. Why mushrooms?
Hubs: I like the concept of growing things. I like eating. I like gathering things in the woods like mushrooms. I have enjoyed picking (the mushrooms we have in the woods) , but it seems a bit risky. Plus, it’s hard to get the dirt, soot, and grit cleaned off of them. I would have asked you to grow them, but they just don’t grow in the garden the same way.
Me: What research did you do beforehand?
Hubs: I have looked at mushrooms off and on over the years several times. Also, some friends of ours were growing them and we talked about it. The timing was just right for asking for it to be on my Christmas list.
Me: You let me pick the variety!
Hubs: I probably would have picked differently, but I’m happy with these. These are probably a better choice for starting.
Me: What would you have picked?
Hubs: Probably Lion’s Mane, based on what is available. They are more unique. But these (oyster) mushrooms seem to be very good.
Me: How did you prepare yourself to know how to grow mushrooms?
Hubs: 90% of it was watching YouTube videos. Only a couple of videos weren’t growing a kit.
And there were the kit instructions, which were pretty straightforward – keep them out of direct sunlight, spray them once in a while, like a couple times a day, to keep up humidity.
One video said to put them in a container with saturated perlite in the bottom to maintain humidity. I used vermiculite because that’s what you had on hand. You might be able to just put water in the bottom. They are on a plastic stand anyway. We live in a dry environment.
A lot of people in the videos say to sterilize everything and wipe everything down with alcohol. I didn’t want to bother with that, so I didn’t.
Me: How did you set up the bin? Did you cut the lid?
Hubs: I drilled holes in the side of the container – they need air. I cut the lid so it fit on the inside ledge, where the plastic flares out about an inch from the top for the handles, so that any dripping went inside. It was not a tight fit.
Me: You have removed the lid now…
Hubs: Once they get going, they need more air. The kit comes in a bag (that you could just leave everything in) and then you open it to air. I know it is not as humid as they would like, but they needed more air and more room! I have been spraying them more. They need more water because they are getting bigger and they are in the open.
Me: How long was it until they sprouted?
Hubs: 3 days to see things starting. They didn’t look like mushrooms then, just bulges.
Me: When will you harvest them?
Hubs: The caps look like lilies right now. As they mature, they start to flatten out. They should be ready in a couple of days. One video said start to finish took 8 days, and then maybe they were a little over ripe. For me, it looks like it will be 9 days.
They have less than ideal light and less than ideal humidity. They were by my desk, away from a window. Now they are in the dining room, still away from direct light, but it is brighter.
Our friend’s idea was to keep them in their bathtub. That would be more humid because of the regular use of water there.
Me: But our bathroom has a lot of bright light, doesn’t it?
Hubs: Yes, but it is indirect. The curtains are always closed. I thought about buying a humidifier, but for a first time, I didn’t want to go overboard buying equipment. Then our friend told me she tried using her humidifier and it broke it. Of course, it may have been old and worn out or just cheap.
I would have put the humidifier on a timer. I don’t want mold in the house and mold is one of the main enemies of mushrooms.
Me: These are not supermarket button mushrooms. How will we eat them?
Hubs: I’ve only barely thought about that. Last night I watched 2 videos – they were both deep fried as an appetizer. Both called for almond milk in the place of buttermilk. Do we have buttermilk?
Me: How long will they keep producing?
Hubs: I can harvest another batch in about 2 weeks. You can expect about 4 harvests. Even after that, you could put the remains on a new medium, but it you are really set on that, you should probably do it after 2 harvests. You might be able to prepare some grain, saturated and sterilized, or straw or hard wood chips. Some people do it on stacked logs. Pine is not good. I didn’t investigate it thoroughly. People do go to extremes to prepare mediums!
Me: What about their own spores?
Hubs: There is too much contamination from outside – mold and things are competition. It would be hard for us to properly collect the spores to have only mushroom spores. People who do that are said to have special expensive equipment.
And there are mushroom mites. They cover the mushrooms and you can’t get them off.
Me: Like aphids on broccoli?
Me: What next? Will you grow them again?
Hubs: They require a lot of babysitting – 2-3 times a day. And they should probably be rotated for even light. They are more work for the same space that would be in the garden. It is too soon to say.
I have even thought of scaling up, though, if it really tastes good. I will splurge once, but I like value. I may well be inspired to try Lion’s Mane mushrooms.
It also depends on how many harvests I get. I might consider just buying inoculant instead of a kits as another step in independent mushroom growing.
However, there is not a lot out there about how to build from scratch due to the complications of isolating spore.
It wouldn’t be a lot more effort to grow more at once, but then what would I do with them? I don’t see myself driving around in a car selling them to restaurants. I don’t know what laws there are about selling things you grow, either.
Me: Thanks for letting me interview you!
Two days later: Mushroom appetizers for dinner!
This evening we ate deep-fried, homegrown oyster mushrooms. They had a mild, pleasant taste with a soft, but solid texture. In short, they were delicious. I look forward to the next harvest!
Addendeum: The day after
I have now learned that some few people are very sensitive to a substance found in small amounts in oyster mushrooms: arabitol. I am apparently one of those people.
My husband ate about 3-4 times as much in fried mushroom pieces as I did that evening. I only ate a slice on one medium sized mushroom. He also had some mushrooms for breakfast. Then he had some in mushroom soup for lunch. He is absolutely fine.
But he will not be feeding me oyster mushrooms again. Not after taking care of me all night while my body worked very hard to expel them.
I read in several places that an alcoholic drink can exacerbate a reaction. I did have one with dinner, but so did my husband. Also, arabitol and other sugar alcohols are used quite a bit to sweeten processed foods, including chewing gum. It is a good thing I cook mostly from scratch!
It is disappointing. It was so much fun to watch the mushrooms grow! There was no reason to be truly suspicious, in spite of the title of the post, which I wrote before my reaction. I was just having fun with the varied reputation of mushrooms.
I have eaten other varieties of mushrooms many times, including the morel mushrooms I mentioned. I have frequently eaten stuffed mushrooms in restaurants are one of my favorite appetizers. However, my chef-daughter has now warned me to NOT order WILD mushrooms in restaurants, as these are usually oyster mushrooms.
I guess the moral of the story is that if you are trying oyster mushrooms for the first time, eat one small piece, then wait several hours. Also, do NOT drink any alcohol that might make a reaction more intense.
A fun thing to grow in the winter
Even with all of this, mushrooms seem like a fun thing to grow, especially in the winter when many gardeners are longing to grow something. They aren’t green, but they are edible – for most people.
But if you are just going to go out and look for them, take something like this guide: