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Grow it Garden in Maryland

Growing mushrooms with cardboard

image of mushroomMushrooms. Lots of people love them, but few know how easy it is to grow them. What's more, you can incorporate some recycling into this gardening project and turn old newspaper, cardboard, and egg cartons into delicious dinners.

Before you grow your own mushrooms, we first need to go over some basic terminology and definitions. Mushrooms are the fruiting body of fungus and are actually more closely related to humans than plants and bacteria. Typical edible fungi go through several life stages: spores, mycelium, and mushrooms. Spores are kind of like seeds that are produced by the mushroom, which is the fruiting body of the fungi. In between the spore stage and a mushroom is the mycelium; these are a web-like structure of pale tendrils that grow like roots through the earth or whatever the fungi is growing in. The trick to cultivating mushrooms is getting the mycelium to grow happily for a while, and then changing conditions so that the fungi will fruit and produce delicious mushrooms. If done right, you can harvest your mushrooms again and again.

Oyster mushrooms are recommended for beginners because they grow fast and grow well. You can use wild oyster mushrooms that you find yourself, or you can order some oyster mushroom spawn from a supplier. (Fungi Perfecti (fungi.com) is one reputable company.) Mushroom spawn are mycelium-infused dowel rods, sawdust, or grain. You can order mushroom spores and grow mycelium from scratch, but this is much more complicated than starting with spawn or whole wild mushrooms. Once you have your mycelium, what you'll want to do next is inoculate your paper products with it.

You'll need a plastic container (such as a bucket with some holes drilled into it) and a stack of clean cardboard and shredded paper. If you're using wild mushrooms, you can use the butt of the mushroom to actually grow mycelium—just sandwich the stem butt in between two soaking wet pieces of cardboard. This same approach can be used with the ready-to-go mushroom spawn.

Soak the cardboard and paper in water for an hour or so, and then stack the cardboard, spawn, and shredded paper in alternating layers inside your bucket. If you can, store your bucket in a cool, humid place with a temperature between 65-75 F. Keep an eye on it, and continue to add water when the bucket appears to be drying out.

In a few weeks, the cardboard should be completely covered with white mycelium. At this point it's time to encourage fruiting.

Putting your bucket outside and keeping it moist will help. Oyster mushrooms normally fruit when exposed to cool, nighttime temperatures. You can also reserve some of the inoculated cardboard you created and make more inoculated cardboard! You should be able to continue to grow the colony as long as you keep adding water and more cardboard/shredded paper for the mushrooms to grow on.

Once you get good at it, you can start experimenting with other mushroom species and other growth materials. Sterilized coffee grounds, sawdust, wood chips, and corncobs are all potential materials, and the mycelium will happily turn your woody garbage into delicious dinner.

Not sure what to do with the fruits of your labor? Try our Recipes section for great dishes such as Oyster Mushroom Pizza, Spinach and Mushroom Quiche, and more.
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