What you need to know about mushrooms
Height: varies according to species
Climate: ideal temperature range is between 14–25˚C, depending on type.
Soil: generally supplied.
Position: out of direct sunlight. Full darkness is not required.
Fruiting: first crop should be ready 3–5 weeks after growth has started.
Feeding: none required
Watering: surface needs to be kept moist, but never wet.
Appearance and characteristics of mushrooms
Mushrooms are just indispensable in the kitchen, whether you use them raw in salads, throw them in a pot or grill them whole on the barbie. From a home-growing perspective they are actually very, very simple to grow, as you’ll find them available seasonally in kits. The kits will contain a variety that is suited to the time of year, and you’ll find a temperature range stamped on the pack. Once you get your kit home, it’s simply a case of following the instructions and in just a few weeks you’ll be harvesting your first crop.
You can grow your own without a kit, but for most home gardeners a kit is the easiest option.
Mushrooms are unusual in that we see very little of the actual organism itself. The most visible part, the mushroom, is in fact only the flower, and ultimately the fruiting head. The rest of the fungus exists below the ground, making them a bit like nature’s living icebergs. The most common mushroom we use in the kitchen is the white agaricus mushroom, Agaricus bisporus. This species shows us three main growth stages. When you buy your mushrooms you’ll often see buttons, cups and big flats side by side. These are in fact the same species at different stages of growth. The button is a newly emerged mushroom while the flat, with the “gills” clearly visible underneath, is just short of fully mature, and if left longer would start to produce spores.
This also raises an interesting point about fungi—they don’t grow from seeds, but from powdery spores.
Uses for mushrooms
Mushrooms are grown purely as an edible crop, but they do make an awesome learning exercise with the kids, too.
How to plant and grow mushrooms
Mushrooms prefer the following conditions:
Low light is best, although total darkness isn’t necessary
Avoid any direct sunlight.
Temperature must be within the correct range. Check the pack when you purchase.
Must be kept moist and humid. Humidity is easily maintained by misting the growing media surface.
When you get your kit, read the instructions first. They’re pretty simple to follow, but they’ll help you understand your mushroom kit’s requirements.
Open the kit and pull the plastic liner down to hold the box flaps down.
The specialised compost in the kit is inoculated with your fungus or mushroom spores. When you open the kit you should see white-coloured threads across the surface. This is the mycelium, the main “body” of the fungus.
Spread the pack of casing evenly over the surface of the compost, but don't compress it. The purpose of this material is to keep the mycelium moist and humid.
Position your kit in an appropriate spot where the temperature will be stable. Avoid placing near any air-con vents or drafts.
Keep your kit moist and humid, but don’t overwater. Use a small, clean garden sprayer to mist the surface regularly. Don’t let the surface dry out—it should feel like the surface of a damp sponge.
The first mushrooms should be ready for picking within 3–5 weeks. After this, there will be another crop every few weeks for around 12 weeks, with each crop getting smaller until production drops off.
When your mushroom farm has finished its last crop don’t toss the contents of the kit out. Mushroom compost is excellent as a soil additive or for blending in with the compost heap.
Diseases and pests
Mushrooms are not prone to any particular diseases or pests, though you may notice the following occurring:
Towards the end of the life of a kit you may see small black flies. These do not cause any problems beyond being a nuisance.
Likewise, you may also see various coloured moulds appearing. This is another indicator of the end of production.
Your mushrooms are very unlikely to be bothered by any other pests or diseases.
Mushrooms are propagated from spores and require very particular types of compost to grow on. You can grow your own by purchasing all of the separate components, including spores, but for most of us collecting spores for regrowing and assembling a mushroom farm is too complex an exercise.
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