An increasing number of gardeners are growing mushrooms in vegetable patches to improve soil quality and grow food in small spaces.
The mushrooms are now grown in the kitchen garden at Kew Gardens in southwest London, and visitors are keen to see how they can grow their own. Hélèna Dove, lead kitchen gardener at Kew, says: “Mushrooms have seen a huge rise in popularity and we’ve seen a great deal of interest from visitors since we installed our mushroom beds in the Kew Kitchen Garden this fall.
“A lot of the interest comes from growing food in space that isn’t normally used—the shade under a tree or even a shed. For those who don’t have a garden, mushrooms can easily be grown indoors, and since pre-inoculated groups are so easy to grow, they are a hit crop for those who don’t. They have green toes yet.It is relatively difficult to find a variety of mushrooms in stores, while growing your own opens up a world of options.
“Awareness is also growing about the potential risks that foraging from the wild can pose to fragile ecosystems, and growing your own can help reverse this trend,” says Dove.
Next year, the Royal Horticultural Society will create a fungus show at the Chelsea Flower Show for the first time. Lauren Caley, who founded her mushroom-growing company Caley Brothers in 2018, will be showing off her oyster mushrooms at the Great Pavilion in May after more and more people showed interest in growing the fungus.
Unable to find the more exotic varieties in the local supermarket, she and her sister, Judy Brian, began growing mushrooms at their home in Sussex. “In 2018, we really couldn’t get the gourmet mushrooms we wanted to eat. We changed our diet because our dad was bad. And we wanted to expand from the button mushroom,” says Kaley.
“We saw these online and started growing our own. But we had such a demand, people’s curiosity forced us to start making our own batches. Then in lockdown everyone we supplied with fresh mushrooms wanted their own batches to grow at home. It was phenomenal. I mean.” The direction we are taking is beyond anything we can imagine.”
The sisters use coffee grounds as a substrate and also grow fungi from the wood. Although it may not have the colorful look of a dahlia, or the pearly petals of a crocus, pansies add interest to the garden and benefit the soil, too. “You can take your kit and put it in the garden where it will give you more nutrients to the soil,” Cali said. “At Kew Gardens, we installed an outdoor mushroom bed, which is nine different types of mushrooms that can be grown in seven different mediums. So mushroom beds, totems, logs, hay bales. We were trying to encourage people who had space outside to get outside, but you could also Put a few woodcuts on your balcony. Or if you have a small apartment like me, you can grow them in your kitchen, too.”
Soil health consideration is also popular and fungi are essential for this. The mushroom caps are only a small part of the organism. Under the ground, fungi create a living network called mycorrhiza. “This prepares the soil. It breaks down the waste on the ground and brings it out into the soil and that helps enrich it,” says Kali. “You get a lot of worms. It also aerates the soil and creates the conditions it needs for soil biodiversity.”
Mushrooms grow at home
Mushrooms can be grown at home in many different ways, from purchasing a simple homemade kit, which can be found online or at some farmers’ markets, to experimenting with a vegetable patch. Indoor cultivation tends to yield the best results because outdoor conditions have an impact on the success or failure of the mushrooms growing in the beds.
For varieties that have coffee grounds as a substrate, this compost substitute can usually be obtained for free from a local coffee shop. You can buy mushrooms online to grow in beds or bins filled with manure or compost. Or you can buy a kit that usually includes publishing and reproduction media.
If you have logs handy, you can drill holes in the logs and place “plugs” for the spores to grow from. Once planted, you need to keep the dwelling moist. It can take up to 18 months for mushrooms to appear in logs, but those in the substrate can appear within weeks.
For starters, oyster mushrooms are your best bet (and delicious, too). They are easy to grow and come in different colors: blue, pink and gold. They love all kinds of substrates, including ground coffee.
Shiitake mushrooms have a delicious taste and long shelf life and can be grown on logs in a shady location outside or in sawdust indoors.
The lion’s mane mushroom is amazing to look at with its shaggy hats. It grows quickly, bears fruit easily, and has many health benefits.