By Julie Christensen
Oyster mushrooms, with their overlapping layers of flesh, are sometimes hard to find in the grocery store, but they can be grown at home without too much trouble. These fungi have a meaty texture and mild flavor that is best used in cooked dishes, such as soups, sautés and casseroles. In fact, oyster mushrooms, like most mushrooms, contain small amounts of toxins that are destroyed in the cooking process, so cooking them is always a good idea. The antioxidants in mushrooms become more available to the body after mushrooms are cooked, as well, advises mushroom expert, Paul Stamets.
Why cultivate oyster mushrooms over other varieties? Oyster mushrooms grow quickly, producing fruiting bodies in both the spring and summer. Unlike button and crimini mushrooms, oyster mushrooms are immune to nematode infestations. They can grow on almost any decomposing, dry material, including straw, dead wood, dry grasses, cotton or paper. (See our other article about growing Shiitake mushrooms.)
Finally, oyster mushrooms are good for you. Several studies, including one from the National Institutes of Health, found that oyster mushrooms can lower cholesterol, boost your immune system and even slow or halt the growth of certain cancers.
Getting Started with Oyster Mushroom Cultivation
For your first venture into the world of mushroom growing, try using a kit. These kits contain growing materials, such as straw or sawdust that are typically inoculated with mushroom spores. Some of the kits claim to grow mushrooms within two weeks, but don’t lose hope if your mushrooms don’t grow right away. Mushroom growth can vary depending on growing conditions and temperature. It might take a month or more for your kit to produce mushrooms.
When choosing a vendor, look for a company that specializes in growing mushrooms. You’ll find many companies on the Internet that sell mushrooms along with other garden products, but you’ll likely have the best success with companies who do only one thing—mushrooms. The company should include detailed growing guides and offer live customer service.
A few companies to consider include:
Grow Your Own Mushrooms kit from Clean Air Gardening. It’s an easy to use oyster mushroom cultivation kit.
Fungi Perfecti, owned by Paul Stamets. This company sells a variety of mushroom kits and ranks the kits by ease of use from easy to difficult. The oyster mushroom growing kit is rated as “easy.” You can also buy just the spores here if you want to make your own kit (see below).
Mushroom Adventures, owned by Don Simoni, started as a one-man hobby business and has grown into a major enterprise. The website includes recipes, experiments and interesting facts about mushroom growing.
EasyGrow Mushrooms is another small company passionate about growing mushrooms. You’ll find kits here as well as spawn.
Home-grown Fun, A DIY Mushroom Cultivation System
You can grow oyster mushrooms without a kit, too. Try this simple method outlined in Fresh Food from Small Spaces, by R.J. Ruppenthal.
- Cut the top off a paper milk carton or sturdy, waxed cardboard box. Wash and dry the milk carton and punch several holes in all sides.
- Make a growing medium by combining 2 cups whole-grain flour or coffee grounds with about 2 cups straw or sawdust.
- Sterilize your growing medium. If you’re using straw or sawdust already inoculated with fungi, skip this step. Otherwise, place your growing medium in a glass, microwave-safe bowl. Cover the material with enough water to moisten it and microwave it for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Combine the growing medium with your mushroom spores and dampen it well. Pack it tightly into your box.
- Place the box in a humid, dark location, such as a basement or closet. Place plastic underneath the box and loosely around it and moisten it frequently. Within a few months, you’ll notice oyster mushrooms growing on the surface. Twist the mushrooms off to harvest them.
Many wild mushroom varieties are extremely toxic, and it’s difficult to tell a poisonous one from an edible one. Never eat or gather wild mushrooms without the help of an expert. Always get mushroom spore from a reliable, knowledgeable source.
To learn more about cultivating mushrooms at home, check out these articles:
Growing Mushrooms at Home from Mother Earth News
Growing Mushrooms from Kansas State University.
This YouTube video shows you a do it yourself method of oyster mushroom growing.