Mushroom Farming Update

I am sad to report that my initial mushroom farming attempts had rather dismal results. Despite that, I am very glad to have made the attempt. I learned about mushroom identification, mushroom growing, and mushroom cooking. I tried recipes that I never would have considered otherwise. I also became much more aware of precipitation and temperature cycles. I have never before been so attendant to the atmosphere or weather forecasts.

The farm had three outdoor beds, a compost bed for almond mushrooms, a mulch bed for chestnuts, and a mulch bed for wine caps. The almond bed produced a total of four mushrooms. I think moles may have gotten to the rest of them.

Almond mushrooms
The first almond mushroom!

The wine cap bed never produced anything. The chestnut bed produced a bounty in mid-September. I was so excited. A picture of the chestnut bed is included below. Unfortunately, because of my inexperience, I waited too long to harvest the chestnuts and they were well past their prime by the time I harvested.

A close-up of the chestnut mushroom bed
Close-up of the chestnut mushroom bed

The indoor mushrooms attempts were partially successful. I grew nothing but mold in my first batch of twelve jars. I had better luck with the second batch. Out of thirteen jars, eight fruited into beautiful oyster mushrooms. I was thrilled at first. Then I harvested and weighed the mushrooms—half a pound. Clearly, I will need to increase efficiency if mushroom farming is to be a profitable endeavor.

Establishing the mushroom farm made me keenly aware of the difficult decisions that face conscientious business owners every day. I strive to use as many sustainable practices as possible, but “sustainable” is not clear cut. The decisions to be made around sterilization are instructive.

My indoor mushrooms grow on a substrate of 80% coffee grounds and 20% straw. The straw needs to be sterilized or pasteurized. Sterilization would require heating the straw in water for about an hour. In my home that would mean using natural gas, so I rejected that approach. Pasteurization requires soaking the straw in hydrated lime low in magnesium or wood ash. I rejected the hydrated lime because it is caustic and hard to acquire. Ash was easy for me to acquire because I live on a wooded lot with a fire pit. Ash was the choice for me. However, for someone who does not live within easy access to wood, hydrated lime or even biodiesel-heated water might be the more sustainable choice. The truth is there is no one right way to create sustainable practices. Establishing this mushroom farm from the ground up drove this point home for me in a way that textbooks and lectures alone never could. For that lesson I shall be forever grateful.

I have not yet definitely decided if I will make another attempt at mushroom farming again next year. Right now, I am leaning toward farming only the outdoor beds and some shitake logs. We’ll see what next spring brings.

Wishing you all a reflective dark time of the year,