Understanding mushrooms should be our starting point. For our purposes, mushrooms can be divided into three groups: edible, medicinal and poisonous.
Edible mushrooms come in many varieties. These have been used through the centuries as food. Edible mushrooms include oysters, button, shiitake, milky cap mushrooms, pholiota mutabilis amongst others.
Medicinal mushrooms are edible mushrooms with known medicinal qualities. They are used both as food and in the management of various health conditions. Shiitake, maitake, enoki and reishi are some of the mushrooms with medicinal value.
Poisonous mushrooms. There are many varieties of mushrooms which are poisonous. This is the reason why once you decide to grow mushrooms, be advised to acquire spawn – mushroom seed – from laboratories and other spawn suppliers who stock spawn of known varieties of edible and medicinal mushrooms. Poisonous mushrooms include amanita phalloides, boletus satanus and entoloma lividum. Never use wild mushrooms for food or as a source of seed unless you are well versed with the different varieties.
Steps of Growing Mushrooms
Mushroom growing can be looked at as a six stage process:
Organic material is composted into a substrate that is conducive to the growth of mushrooms.
Substrate is pasteurized to kill off unwanted fungi and other organisms. The resultant substrate is ready for inoculation mushroom substrate with spawn of the selected mushroom variety.
Spawning and incubation
Spawn is introduced into the cool, pasteurized substrate and spread on the surface. The containers are placed in a dark place and covered with plastic sheeting for 3 – 4 weeks. During this time, the spawn spreads throughout the substrate to form a white, cotton-wool like mass. This is known as mycelium, a network of threadlike strands from which mushrooms will grow.
When colonization of the substrate is complete, move the containers from the incubation space to the growing area. This can be any space available which can be shielded from direct effects of rain, hail, wind or sunshine. While, mushrooms may grow wherever decomposing organic matter is found, successful growing will be achieved by ensuring that they are planted in a protected space. It is also worth noting that over 70% of the final fresh mushrooms is water. To achieve growth, mushrooms require constant watering every 2-3 hours. This is done using a normal watering can, a hand-held sprayer or a knapsack sprayer.
When watering, direct the streams of water away from the mushrooms. Aim to spray the walls, floor and the ceiling.
3-4 weeks after planting, pinhead like protrusions will be visible on the surface of the mycelium. These are miniature mushrooms which grow into the mature mushrooms within 3-7 days.
Mushrooms mature in flashes. Depending on the variety grown and your preference, mushrooms are harvested as buttons or when the veils have opened. Use a clean, sharp knife to cut the grown mushrooms at the base.