Gardener’s Notebook by Joshua Burman Thayer
This easy garden project lets you explore the magic of mycelium while you grow a valuable source of vegan protein for your table.
I first got turned on to growing oyster mushrooms years ago while I was running several community gardens in San Francisco. Installing a 3- x 10-foot mushroom bed among the usual veggie boxes was a good use for a dappled-shade space near trees and other shrubbery, since mushrooms can thrive in these corners where full-sun lovers like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant won’t do well. I also felt pleased over the sheer joy the community members would experience as they learned how to tend this mysterious food source.
Acquire your mushroom spawn:
Oyster mushrooms are a good choice for beginning mushroom gardeners because they are easy to grow and easily recognizable (i.e., not likely to be mistaken for some intruding wild mushrooms).
You can buy oyster mushroom spawn (and other mushroom-growing supplies) from John Garrone’s Far West Fungi. In addition to being a familiar retail store at the SF Ferry Building, Far West Fungi is a real farm located in the South Bay. You can’t visit the farm, but it’s nice to know that this company is part of our local farming community.
Another place to buy spawn is Fungi Perfecti, the website of Paul Stamets, who is a well-known global advocate for mushrooms and their ability to heal humans and the planet. Give yourself plenty of time to read and explore at this website.
Acquire your growing substrate:
A clean garden bed, where you know what you planted, helps with the assurance that the mushrooms popping up in your garden are edible. Visit your local nursery for a bale of hay, a block of coco coir fiber, or ½ yard wood chips to lay down as your mushroom bed substrate. When you plant mushrooms in one of these mostly inert substrates, you don’t need to worry about contamination as you might if you were to grow your mushrooms right in the native soil.
Pick your patch:
You can dedicate a whole raised bed in your garden to growing oyster mushrooms, but there may be a smaller space in your yard that looks just right. The space needs to be in dappled shade so it can remain moist on hot days.
Start by clearing away weeds and old leaves. Then rake the soil level and lay down your substrate to make a 4-inch-deep bed. Insert your oyster spawn into the matrix of mulch so the spawn is covered. Soak this patch well and continue to soak it three times per week.
Once your oyster mushrooms have appeared, you could find you are able to harvest as much as a pound of mushrooms per week per square meter. Cut the mushrooms at the base with a knife, rather than yanking them out of the ground, since this will help ensure that the mushrooms come back again and again.
Joshua Burman Thayer offers consulting to help you create a year-round plan for food planting and other garden activities.