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The Best Mushroom Is at Home

Like Other Crops, Growing Your Own Yields Top Quality

March 03, 2001|JULIE BAWDEN DAVIS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Of all produce, mushrooms probably have the shortest shelf life. They have no skin, so they lose water quickly, which causes them to dry up and darken before you have a chance to eat them. Grow your own, though, and you'll have fresh mushrooms that you can harvest and use immediately.

Available via mail-order, ready-to-grow mushroom kits make growing mushrooms at home easy and simple. Just add water and wait.

There are many benefits to growing mushrooms at home, said Jim Malachowski, owner of Gourmet Mushroom Products Inc., a Northern California mail-order company based in Graton.

"Home-grown mushrooms can't compare to those found in the store. They're fresh and full of taste," he said. "It's like picking an apple off the tree and eating it right there."

If you like gourmet mushrooms such as shiitakes, you can also save a great deal of money growing your own, said Tracy Lee, horticulturist and product development director for the mail-order company Park Seed, which is based in Greenwood, S.C.

"We generally harvest two to four pounds of mushrooms from each growing kit, which is a considerable amount when you consider how light mushrooms are," she said.

Growing mushrooms is also great for those who prefer to eat organic foods, Lee said. "Button mushrooms are the most heavily sprayed vegetable in the produce department. Grow your own and you avoid pesticides."

Most specialty mushrooms such as shiitake, oyster and pom pom blanc are grown on logs. Button mushrooms are grown in a box with a planting medium.

The mushroom is the fruiting part of the plant. The body is made of microscopic parts that live in the log or the planting medium and store up nutrients. When there are enough nutrients and conditions are moist, these small parts fruit, producing mushrooms.

Growing mushrooms at home is easy and quick. Specialty types come on a log in a bag or plastic humidity sleeve.

To trigger growth, mist the log once or twice a day.

They also require air to grow, so poking holes in the bag is necessary.

Place the log in a location with indirect light. The more light, the darker the mushroom will be.

You can often grow them in the kitchen, as long as they're not in front of a bright window. They should begin growing in seven to 10 days.

Button mushrooms are grown differently. They need a dark location with temperatures from 50 to 65 degrees, such as a garage with no windows, a basement or a cool closet.

Buttons come in a box with a planting medium that you mix and mist lightly. They usually begin popping up within a week.

Mushrooms grow quickly and can be eaten at any size. Harvest them with a paring knife.

How long mushrooms fruit depends on the type. Button mushrooms generally last for about five weeks.

According to Malachowski, the shiitake, oyster and pom pom blanc mushrooms usually produce for about three weeks.

To get another crop, let the log dry out for a week to 10 days, which will enable the mushroom body to store nutrients for another flush of growth. At the end of seven to 10 days, moisten the log again, which will reactivate it.

This can be done up to five times, although the last crop is often very small.

Mushrooms require no feeding. The logs and planting media contain all of the nutrients necessary for growth.

Growing mushrooms may cause allergy symptoms in those allergic to mold.

* Park Seed, (800) 845-3369,

http://www.parkseed.com.

* Gourmet Mushroom Products,

(707) 829-7301,

http://www.gmushrooms.com.

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MUSHROOM TYPES

There are a variety of mushrooms available, ranging in price from $14 to $25 per kit.

* Button: These round, white mushrooms are the type commonly found in the store. Their popularity dates to the 1600s, when they were grown in caves. It is believed that the original button mushrooms weren't as white or well formed as they are today, but have been bred over the years to be light in color and uniform in appearance. They are the only mushrooms that require dark conditions for growth.

* Oyster: These mushrooms get their name from their oyster shell shaped cap and unique oyster-like flavor. They are brown or blue.

* Pom pom blanc: Also called the Lion's Mane or Beard mushroom, these pure white, finely toothed, round mushrooms can be sliced or baked whole. They have a firm texture and a flavor reminiscent of fresh crab meat.

* Shiitake: These popular brown, oddly shaped mushrooms have a meaty flavor and can be sauted, broiled, baked, grilled, stir-fried or thinly sliced and eaten raw.

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