Most gardeners tend to focus on the plant kingdom. Animals get a bit of favorable attention, particularly bees and chickens. Fungi on the other hand are viewed by many gardeners as either neutral bystanders or foes in the process of gardening. It takes a long time for some of us to consider growing mushrooms. Think of the difference in the way you might look at a toadstool in the lawn or powdery mildew on garden sage; that’s what I’m talking about. In truth, there’s more to it.
The Light Bulb
My very recent interest in growing mushrooms started with a podcast interview that Chris Blanchard recorded with Tradd Cotter about his mushroom farming and research operation at Mushroom Mountain in South Carolina. Blanchard’s “Farmer To Farmer” podcasts are always a great listen, offering ideas and information from organic farmers, but this episode was especially poignant because mushrooms had been so far off my radar. It shed light on why some of the things I already do actually work; and why some things I hadn’t considered could make backyard gardening far more effective in terms of efficiency and productivity. If that’s not enough reason to take a listen, the medical and environmental research that is happening at Mushroom Mountain absolutely blew my mind.
More Than Disposing of Waste
It’s no secret that mushrooms help to dispose of vegetative waste. Who hasn’t stopped to admire their colorful caps on rotting logs in the woods? It turns out, logically, that they can be harnessed to help create great compost too. By saving and preparing certain garden waste for this purpose, you can enjoy your own harvest of edible mushrooms, as the fungi cleanup your debris and create a fantastic soil amendment to feed the garden. Because traditional composting encourages various types of bacteria to do the work and generally excludes fungi, growing mushrooms in a part of the garden increases opportunities for greater soil microbe diversity.
Take a look at our Wild Mushrooms Gallery for photographs of mushrooms growing in the woods in our area.
Closing a Loop
Growing mushrooms has the power to help close, or secure a strong feedback loop. When the garden is humming along well; soil is in good shape, weeds are non existent (or at least under control), fertility is improving and yields are good; growing mushrooms can add to your success while increasing the harvest. Mushrooms bring another dimension to garden ecology. When diversity matters, why not explore new territory. As gardeners, we seek to replicate and enhance natural processes in our controlled environment. The toughest thing to replicate is the abundance of natural diversity which includes all kingdoms and phases of matter fulfilling their individual roles whether understood by, or mysterious to gardeners. Including fungi makes good sense in this regard.
5 Places to Grow Mushrooms in Your Garden
Keeping in mind that mushrooms need consistent moisture and only indirect sunlight at most, it is possible to find places to cultivate them within your existing garden or landscape. Before diving in, be sure to pair your chosen mushroom species with a favorable medium (hardwood log/stump, conifer log/stump, straw, etc.). Here are a few possibilities with links to sources around the web.
- Create a straw or hardwood wood chip bed exclusively for mushrooms. This method works for the broadest number of mushroom species. After the mushroom crop is exhausted, the bed may be rejuvenated for more mushrooms or converted for vegetable gardening.
- Grow elm oyster mushrooms in your garden mulch around vegetable plants. Evidence suggests that elm oyster mushrooms may have a beneficial symbiotic relationship with cole crops in particular.
- Plug portabello or shitake mushroom spawn into a freshly cut log or tree stump. It’s a good way to get rid of an unwanted tree stump in an understory location. Use the mushroom infused logs as borders around beds or along pathways in the garden.
- Introduce blewit mushrooms into your compost pile.
- Grow mushrooms in buckets, flower pots, hanging baskets or other containers.
There will undoubtedly be a litany of questions to be answered going forward. For starters: How do mushrooms fit in the crop rotation? Are there beneficial mushroom companion pairings or garden pairings that should be avoided? Will I have to move toward “no till” gardening to get the most benefit, or does tillage stimulate mushroom growth/production? Logic only takes us so far, time to get growing!