Mushrooms, with their fat-free attribute and numerous health benefits, are preferred by health conscious people, the world over. Be it pizzas, steak, or a simple vegetable preparation, you add them to any dish and it becomes lip smacking delicious. People who keep vegetable gardens prefer to cultivate mushrooms in them, because of their high nutritional value and the ease with which they can be grown.
There are many types of edible mushrooms and the procedure of cultivating them will depend on the variety that you want to produce in your garden. Here is a general step by step guide.
Step 1: Prepare the Soil or Growth Substrate
For cultivating mushrooms, instead of just using the regular soil, mix it with special soil, prepared specially for cultivating them, available with most nurseries, and then use it. This soil has a high amount of organic matter and it is very conducive for their growth. You can use a growth medium prepared at home, too. But be very careful while choosing a growth medium. Some varieties like the Agaricus and the button, flourish on compost. While others like oyster, Lion's Mane, and Maitake, flourish on woody materials such as wood chips, sawdust, or straw. It takes a couple of weeks to make the growth medium ready for harvesting. Compost is considered ready for harvesting only when it is full of white actinomycetes bacteria. Woody materials take lesser time to mature. You may buy ready-made kits from the market, which provide an already prepared growth medium. You just have to mix the raw materials and wet them with water. Be sure that the water is used in the right quantity, as surplus water can hamper the germination of the spores.
Step 2: Sterilize
Before introducing the spores to soil or cultivating material chosen by you, it is very important to sterilize it properly. If you are using compost, for sterilization, heat it up to a certain temperature, removing the harmful bacteria, yet retaining the beneficial microbes. You may use a pressure cooker for sterilization. If you are using woody materials as the growth medium, provide them with a heating treatment, like hot water steeping, to remove the harmful micro organisms from the organic material. Introduce the spores to the cultivating medium only after it has cooled down.
Step 3: Sow the Spores
Once the cultivating medium is ready, sow the spores in it. The depth at which you will sow the spores in the cultivating medium, varies from one variety to another. If you are not sure about the depth at which the spores should be sown, consult somebody who is already cultivating them at home, or refer to the mushroom cultivating kits that are available in the market. In case spores are not available, don't panic as shrooms can also be produced without spores by using the tissue culture method. Some growers use this method so that they can have a mushroom strain genetically identical to the one they desire.
Step 4: Provide the Right Temperature
For growing mushrooms, the surroundings have to be cool and dark. So when you are cultivating them outside, make sure that is it not exposed to direct sunlight. Also the temperature of the growth medium should be in the range of 60-70 degrees Fahrenheit. Sprinkle little water over the growth medium now and then, so that moisture is maintained. But remember not to overdo it.
Step 5: Harvest at the Right Time
It takes approximately 6-8 weeks for the mushrooms to be ready for harvesting. This too, may vary from one variety to another. But remember to reap only those which have matured. For the rest, apply the 'wait and watch' policy. Harvest them as and when they are ready.
Growing mushrooms can be quite a challenge, especially for a beginner. So it is recommended that you buy a kit from a commercial grower. A kit contains already prepared growth medium and has a step by step procedure manual on the same. A kit will make the cultivation hassle free and you will be able to enjoy the process.