Even seasoned gardeners would rather turn out a prizewinning peony or a mammoth marrow than attempt the humble mushroom: it’s time to rediscover the joy of growing one of the UK’s forgotten native crops.
From morels to lion’s mane, the world of mushrooms is a dazzling array of variety, with exotic and delicious species easily cultivated in even very restricted spaces. The UK has arguably the greatest variety of native mushrooms, yet in stark comparison sit the figures for our consumption: we have one of the least developed diets for fungus in the world- rarely venturing beyond a shitake in our takeaway, or a portabella in a gastropub burger. Unlike our European cousins, we tend to view the ‘fruits of the forest floor’ with suspicion. This is probably due in part to the many poisonous wild varieties that prosper in the UK, which along with a decline in free-growing forests, lack of accessible woodland, and unwelcoming, industrialised rural landscapes, all of which have contributed to the almost complete decline of the foraging that is a staple family activity in Scandinavia, Eastern & Southern Europe. Yet while we’ve fallen out of love with the edible wild mushroom, there remains a world of home-grown fine dining easily within reach of the least experienced gardener.
Because they favour dark & damp environments, mushrooms make a great crop to plant out in otherwise underused parts of the garden, or can be cultivated succesfully indoors.
Two of the strange and surprising ways you can cultivate mushrooms at home:
The ‘under the sink’ method
It might sound hard to believe, but that old copy of the yellow pages can be the perfect growing medium for your mushrooms! A wet book in a carrier bag, exposed to spores, begins to develop a good covering of ‘fur’- which can then be activated by exposure to cold- say a few hours in the fridge.
You will need:
- A book (paperback, medium thickness)
- Warm water
- Cold water
- A watertight plastic bag
- Mushroom spores
- A dark, not-too-hot space (under the sink or in the cellar is perfect)
Method: Soak (but don’t saturate) your book throughout with hot water. Allow it to cool, then sprinkle with spores (available in packets) to thoroughly cover the inside. Place the book in a medium temperature (about 20 degrees) dark space, such as under the sink, and leave for a few weeks. In a month or so the book will be covered in fuzz- ready to produce mushrooms. Next you need to activate the mycelium, which means altering the temperature: a weekend in the fridge will be enough to ‘shock’ them into production. Allow plenty of air to get into the bag, and water regularly. You should start to see mushrooms growing within a few days.
Tip: a book is a great, compact way to get started, however if you want to increase your yield, straw can provide an ideal growing medium for larger mushrooms.
The dowel ‘outdoor’ method
You will need:
- Mushroom spores
- Plastic sheeting
Some fungi favour wood for their nutrients, and wood chips or logs can be perfect mushroom growers. Drill a dowel into a log, inoculate with spores, then water and cover with plastic. Alternatively create or buy hollow pegs cut with dowels and inseert them into wood chip mulch. Remember to keep damp, dark and covered. Logs containing dowels should be kept out of the sun, off the ground and as shaded as possible- many growers prefer to stack their logs to ensure plenty of dark spaces for mushrooms to grow. It will take up to 18 months for mushroom spores to fully colonise a log, after which it can be moved to an area with slightly more (ideally spotted rather than consistent) sunlight.
Whatever gardening project you’re undertaking, check out our range of top quality composts, soil improvers and other fertility-boosting garden helpers to make sure your plants get off to the best start in 2018. Our shop has everything you need, from mushroom compost & manure for sale, to John Innes compost delivered, so why not check it out today!