Discover a simple way to grow wine cap mushrooms in your garden this spring and summer.
Mycelial Mayhem (New Society Publishers, 2016) is a no-nonsense resource for aspiring mushroom growers. Authors and avid mushroom growers David and Kristin Sewak have selected regionally appropriate species for the home garden, farm-scale production or edible landscaping. The following selection shares one of the most effective ways the Sewak’s have found to grow wine cap mushrooms.
Growing Wine Caps Outdoors: Easy
Growing Wine Caps Indoors: Moderately Easy
You will hear them referred to as the wine cap, garden king, king stropharia, burgundy, and holy shit...is that thing for real? When allowed to grow to its full maturity, it is a 3–4 pound specimen, a foot or more in diameter, with grey gills and thick stalk, that will wow you and your farmers market customers. (Note: A wine cap this large is no longer tasty, so you could just use it for display purposes.) Stropharia is a hardy mushroom that travels well, has the traditional mushroom appearance, and offers a mild taste.
There are many ways to grow this beauty. Here, we offer one of our favorites.
Although wine cap lasagna from the oven would be great too, here we offer a gardening recipe. For best results, you should first look long and hard at your garden. Stropharia likes a rich substrate of woody debris, a shaded locale and moisture. In our garden, we found that spot in our vegetable beds. The most in-demand product we were growing was kale (red Russian to be exact). The shade provided by the plants was just what the stropharia wanted, so we grew it in between our eight 28-foot-long rows of kale. To establish the colony quickly and have mushrooms in the fall, we installed a “lasagna” of substrate and stropharia spawn in the early spring when the kale was planted.
1. Start by mulching a thick 1"–2"-deep layer of hardwood mulch. (We made our own mulch. As we cleared a spot for the chicken yard and the greenhouse, we cut down the trees and saplings and fed them into the chipper/shredder. We always tried to separate out the black cherry, which we had other uses for, so we’d be left with chips of oak, maple, and beech. If you don’t have the capability to generate your own wood chips, store-bought mulch works just fine too. Or you might look around for local sources of hardwood chips. Just remember: you want natural, uncolored, untreated mulch.)
2. After you lay down a row of hardwood mulch, add a layer of straw.
3. Sprinkle your spawn on this straw layer.
4. Add another layer of hardwood chips, another layer of straw and spawn, and top off with hardwood chips.
5. Water generously, keeping it constantly moist after the first thorough wetting. We used drip hoses down the rows on fresh beds to allow a slow drip. We would let them drip before sunset for approximately an hour.
If you till your garden the following spring, do not be alarmed that you will ruin your “lasagna.” Just remember to add a new layer of mulch. Once established in your garden, stropharia will continue for years, as long as you add fresh substrate each year.
Dave developed this method because the spawn can run (“run” refers to mycelial growth, which includes consumption of substrate for energy in preparation for fruiting) fairly quickly through the easily “digestible” straw, depleting its food source too soon. But you can grow stropharia on just wood or straw. Growing on wood chips takes longer for the spawn run, but produces bigger, thicker mushrooms for a longer period of time. Straw-grown stropharia will run and fruit quickly, but the mushrooms aren’t as robust, and the fruitings will not last as long. By employing the “lasagna” method, you’ll get the best of both worlds. If you establish your bed in early spring, you should have mushrooms in the fall — if Mother Nature blesses you with the right weather and conditions. If you don’t get fruiting the first fall, be prepared for them in the spring.
Stropharia only get their rich burgundy color when they are shaded. When they are exposed to sunlight, they will take on a buckskin or tawny look. In April or May, before our garden has taken off, the wine caps will often pop up with burgundy/red caps that soon fade to the buckskin color. Stropharia are very tasty mushrooms. We prefer them in the button stage, which sometimes means we have to act fast. They will grow to maturity quickly, and once the veil breaks open (cap separates from stem and spreads out flat), the spores will start to mature, rapidly turning to a grey color. Once they hit this stage, we find them bitter. When conditions are right, you can walk out in the morning, gather a bag of buttons, and then collect more again in the afternoon. You’ll also see the ones you missed. Their caps will be lighter in color and flattened out, with the gills turning grey. In the fridge, protected in a brown paper bag, your wine caps will last for a while, probably close to a week.
Reprinted with permission from Mycelial Mayhem: Growing Mushrooms for Fun, Profit and Companion Planting by David and Kristin Sewak, published by New Society Publishers, 2016.
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