Become a Maine mycophile by growing or foraging your own mushrooms
By Sarah Cottrell
You’re not alone if you’ve noticed that mushrooms are featured everywhere, from foodie blogs to dedicated foraging groups on Facebook. According to Produce Business, an international newsletter for produce grocers, mushrooms have catapulted in popularity in recent years and are expected to bloom into an $86.5 billion industry by 2027. And with all the incredible varieties available at the grocery store, you might ask yourself if mushrooms could be easy to grow at home. The answer is a resounding yes!
Mushrooms are fungi that serve a vital function as decomposers in healthy forests, which means they break down organic matter like fallen trees, dead plants, leaves, etc. Not all mushrooms are edible; some are deadly to consume or even touch. But trying your hand at cultivation can be hugely rewarding for the mushrooms that are safe to eat. Growing mushrooms can be a unique and fun way for backyard gardeners to blend mushroom foraging and cultivation.
TYPES OF MUSHROOMS
“Maine is abundant with wild mushrooms and doesn’t get the credit it deserves compared to the Pacific Northwest and other places,” said Chris Kucsma, a formally educated herbalist and owner and CEO of Agaric Alchemy LLC.
Kucsma is a co-founder and admin for a popular Facebook group called Maine Mushroom, where he and other enthusiastic mycophiles share resources and education on how to forage and enjoy mushrooms safely.
A few great starter mushrooms for backyard gardeners include oyster, shiitake, pioppino, and lion’s mane. Each of these can be grown in Maine.
HOW TO GET STARTED
Mushrooms can grow inside or outside, depending on what time of year you begin and your harvest goals. A straightforward method is to build a mushroom bed by creating a space in your yard and layering it with wood chips, straw, and mushroom spawn (similar to seeds). Each variety of mushroom may like a specific environment in its bed, so be sure to Google how to build a mushroom bed based on the type you plan to grow.
For those who want to try mushroom growing without a dedicated space in their yard, you can also buy a kit that you can grow indoors.
“For basic and easy mushroom growing, it can be as easy as buying a pre-colonized ‘ready to fruit’ kit, which can be as simple as putting a small box on your counter, opening it up, and cutting a small hole to let air in and force the mushrooms to grow from that,” Kucsma said. “I’ve been selling lion’s mane grow kits and had plenty of people set them in a pie plate or Tupperware container on their kitchen counter and a month later have a nice 2- to 3-pound lion’s mane ready to cook.”
FORAGING IN THE WILD
A fantastic way to get up close and personal with how and when mushrooms grow is to seek them out in the wild. A bit of caution, though. Only touch or eat something you find in the woods if you know with certainty what it is.
“Make sure you are 100 percent on the identification of any wild mushroom before considering it as edible, as some have poisonous look-alikes that need to be avoided,” Kucsma said. “We have the Jack-o’-lantern mushroom (Omphalotus illudens), which is highly toxic and can be confused with the Golden Chanterelle (Cantharellus cibarius group), [which is] a popular edible species.
“We also have Galerina marginata, which is commonly known as the ‘funeral bell’ mushroom and can be confused with the choice edible Enoki (Flammulina velutipes). Both grow here in similar environments on dead or dying hardwood trees and stumps.”
To learn more about growing and foraging mushrooms in Maine, check out Kucsma’s Facebook group, Maine Mushrooms, or visit your local library.