By Joshua Burman Thayer | Illustration by Charmaine Koehler-lodge
I first got turned on to growing oyster mushrooms years ago when I was installing raised beds at several community gardens. I realized that mushrooms could thrive in dappled shade near trees and other shrubbery, where full-sun lovers like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant won’t do well. I also felt pleased by the sheer joy the community members experienced as they learned how to tend this mysterious food. Oyster mushrooms are an especially 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).
Acquire your mushroom spawn
You’re supporting a local, family-run business when you buy your oyster mushroom spawn from Far West Fungi. Their SF Ferry Building retail store sells items grown on their Monterey Bay farm. Another place to buy spawn is Fungi Perfecti, the website of Paul Stamets, 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 his site.
Acquire your growing substrate
A clean garden bed, where you know what you’ve planted, helps ensure 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 of wood chips to lay down as your mushroom bed substrate. These mostly inert materials reduce the worry about contamination you might encounter if you plant right in native soil.
Plant your patch
You can dedicate a whole raised bed to growing oyster mushrooms, but there may be a smaller space in your yard that looks just right. A dappled-shade spot will help the substrate 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 may find you can harvest as much as a pound of mushrooms per square meter per week. 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. ♦
Permaculture designer and educator Joshua Burman Thayer is the author of a new book, Food Forests for First Timers. A regular contributor to Edible East Bay and Mother Earth News, he offers valuable gardening advice monthly in Edible East Bay’s e-newsletter (subscribe here). Learn more about Joshua’s work at nativesungardens.com, and follow him on Twitter @nativesungarden.