FAIRBANKS — It is not difficult to grow mushrooms, especially outdoors. Just look around the woods in the fall — the woods are filled with mushrooms. A mushroom patch can become part of a gardener’s plan for producing food.
One of the easiest mushrooms to grow outdoors is the wine-red Stropharia (Stropharia rugosa-anulata). It is sometimes referred to as the Giant Stropharia, because it can grow up to 16 inches across. With its nutty flavor and meaty texture, it has been compared to the Alaskan Bolete, the most commonly collected mushroom.
You can grow Stropharia in a low mound or bed of wood chips and/or straw. The mushroom naturally lives on decomposing woods. A close water source is a must since these mushrooms live in high humidity. A shady spot helps.
Spring is a good time to build a mushroom bed. Start by clearing a spot of the vegetation and mulch down to mineral soil. You can make a box or bed measuring 4 feet wide, 8 feet long and 7 inches deep.
Fill with 4 inches of fresh wood chips 1 to 4 inches in diameter. Sawdust does not work as well because of less air. If straw is used, be sure there is no mold. Choose bright yellow straw. Chop the straw with a garden shredder into 1- to 4-inch pieces. It is important that the bed be made from fresh materials so it will grow the right mushrooms.
Wet the bedding material and allow it to sit for several hours until the moisture has had time to distribute. Seed the bed with mushroom spawn. Spawn comes in clear plastic bags that contain the white fungus mycelium and bedding material. The spawn can be purchased from garden supply stores or mushroom growing companies.
Break the spawn block into small pieces and distribute evenly across the 4-by-8 bed. The spawn will grow toward each other, forming a continuous mat of white mycelium throughout the bed. Spread 2 to 3 inches of wet chips on top to keep the bed from drying out. The bed must be kept moist for a week or two while the mycelium grows.
Once the bed is filled with mycelium, cover the bed with 1 inch of garden soil spread over the chips. Some growers like to plant a crop of rye grass in the garden soil to keep the bed shaded. If you live in a dry climate like Fairbanks, moisture loss from the grass may be more a problem than help.
The bed should be watered each day. This is an important step. Install a rain gauge or soup can in the bed and be sure to add at least 4 inches of water daily. It may be helpful to cover the bed with a permeable garden fabric that breathes. The fabric will help to keep out bugs. Mushrooms will form in two to three weeks.
Harvest when mushrooms get to the desired size. A young mushroom will be tender and have less chance of being attacked by bugs. Grab the mushroom toward the base and slightly turn while pulling. Using this method you will be able to remove the base. It is important to not leave part of the mushroom in the soil to attract bugs. You should be able to harvest all summer.
In milder climates, it is easy to overwinter the bed. It is more challenging in Alaska. Cover the bed with impermeable material such as polyethylene. Top that with several inches of closed cell foam. The snow will add additional insulation. If overwintering is successful, the same bed will produce mushrooms for several years.
The public is invited to a workshop on growing edible mushrooms for home or commercial production March 13 at the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge. Glenn Coville of Wild Branch Valley Farm in Vermont will be the instructor; read more about him at http://wildbranchmushrooms.com.
For information or to register for the workshop, visit www.uaf.edu/ces/ah/sare/conference, call
474-2422 or email temai firstname.lastname@example.org.
Michele Hébert is director of the Office of Sustainability at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and former agriculture and horticulture agent for the Cooperative Extension Service. Extension is a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, working in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Hébert can be reached at 474-5070 or email@example.com.