I have a confession to make. I do not like mushrooms. When I say this, I don’t mean to imply anything other than the simple fact that by reasons of some quirks in my early upbringing, I just don’t enjoy eating them. But I am getting better about it, thankfully. My wife is a natural foods aficionado, and she is rather adept at presenting these wonderful fungi in a manner which disguises them to a degree that her oh-so-flawed husband can actually eat them.
But why should I care about eating mushrooms? I mean where is the harm in not eating something I don’t like? The truth of the matter is that aside from their role as a pizza topping, mushrooms are a wonderful dietary supplement, and are full of both preventative and curative medicinal properties.
Let’s take a look at oyster mushrooms as an example. Beginning with the most tangible aspects of the oyster, they contain significant levels of zinc, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin C, folic acid, niacin, and vitamins B-1 and B-2. Including the oyster mushroom in a healthy and balanced diet can contribute to meeting your needs where these important vitamins and minerals are concerned. Next, they are chock full of antioxidants, and are therefore important in preventing cell damage which contributes to cancers and the aging process. It has also been shown that benzaldehyde, a compound found in oyster mushrooms, is a very effective antibacterial.
Need more? Not to worry, there is plenty more to commend the oyster mushroom. For thousands of years, it has been used as an immune system tonic. It has been shown to modulate blood cholesterol, due to their high lovastatin content. Finally, oyster mushrooms contain compounds that have been shown to fight colon and breast cancer, stopping tumor growth and supporting tumor regression.
As you can see, not liking mushrooms could have some serious health consequences, and learning to eat them if you don’t already love them can have some big advantages. An unfortunate side effect of the growing popularity of the oyster mushroom as both medicinal and culinary marvel is the cost. As with many “gourmet” or “alternative medicine” products they have become quite expensive. Not to worry, they can be grown rather easily on the homestead, or even in the basement or garage.
Oyster mushrooms will grow on a variety of media, including straw, logs or coffee grounds. Straw is one of the easier methods to use. To begin, you will need mushroom spawn, straw and bags to grow it in. You will also need a metal drum or large pot and a heat source to pasteurize the straw. Spawn is available from a variety of online sources, and a sawdust spawn is easiest to use in this context.
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Once you have gathered your materials, the first step is to pasteurize your straw. This is accomplished by boiling it in your metal drum or pot. Place straw in your container, cover with water and heat it to a boil for at least 15 minutes. A 55 gallon drum on cinder blocks over a hot fire works well for larger quantities of straw. Allow the straw to cool, squeeze out as much water as possible, and pack it into clear plastic trash bags or even old burlap sacks. Use your hands to mix in your sawdust spawn, using about a pound for each five gallons of straw. Punch a large number of holes in each bag using a screwdriver or large nail. Let your bags sit in a cool dark place for 10 days. Following this period, cold shock your gags by placing in a refrigerator for 24 hours. Return the bags to their dark place, and water periodically to maintain humidity. Mushrooms will grow out of the holes in the bags, harvest when they reach silver dollar size. You can get several generations of mushrooms from each such “planting.”
Coffee grounds  are another easy media in which to grow. A buddy of mine is using this method with good results. Pasteurized coffee grounds are placed in shallow roughneck or similar plastic totes and inoculated with sawdust spawn, again with about a pound of spawn per five gallons of media. Cold shocking can be used, or the totes can be allowed to follow a natural seasonality. My friend keeps his totes in a shady spot on the back porch, but any cool dark place will do the trick. As the media is depleted, it can be added to with additional coffee grounds. While production may be lower, this method is very sustainable as long as there are coffee drinkers in the house.
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The most labor intensive media to use is logs. Oyster mushrooms prefer softer hardwoods than shiitakes , such as poplar and willow, but the methods are similar. Cut your six inch or smaller diameter logs to about three foot lengths. Drill holes every six inches around the circumference of the log and every six inches down the length of the log. You can use either sawdust or plug spawn in this method. Sawdust is packed into holes with an inoculating tool and each hole is covered with cheese or bees wax. Plugs are hammered into the holes and waxed. Logs are stacked in a cool dark place, such as a shaded hollow in the woods and monitored for fruiting.
Regardless of the method you use, you will harvest a large quantity of fresh, healthy oyster mushrooms. Your harvest can be eaten fresh in your favorite dishes, and are great camouflaged in sauces (if you are like me and don’t want to be confronted by the mushrooms in your diet!). Anything that will not be eaten within a week can be dehydrated, there is nothing cooler than an Excalibur full of home-grown mushrooms! Dehydrated mushrooms can be soaked overnight to rehydrate, or may be brewed in teas for their health benefits (one note — oysters grown in straw sugar content than those grown by the other methods, and will therefore make better tasting teas).
Despite my culinary aversion to fungal food sources, I consider them an important part of my family’s self-sufficiency plans. The health benefits make them far too valuable to ignore, so I will just man-up and eat my mushrooms.
If you have more normal taste than I do, you might actually enjoy the fruits of your labors!
Do you have any mushroom-growing tips? Let us know in the comments below.