Check out the time lapse photography my husband put together showcasing the growth of our Indian Oyster Mushroom Kit.
My husband and I walked away from the mushroom kit stand at the Iowa City Farmers Market. I carried a plastic bag full of straw in the form of a brick that had been colonized with mycelium. Holding the large, weighty log, I felt like I was heading off with a new babe in arms, only this one came with a flier full of directions for future Indian oyster mushroom offspring. That’s when I overheard a man next to me whisper with a laugh, “They bought one of those mushroom kits.”
At that moment I wondered about the ten dollars we’d just spent. Was this the farmers market version of snipe hunting? A fool’s errand that all of the locals know is an exercise in futility? Did I just pay ten dollars for a garbage bag full of straw?
Still, this experiment was a long time coming. I’d seen the mushroom kits several times before at the market, and it had been in my thoughts. My growing experience is pretty limited. I’ve never had a full-sized garden of my own, and I’d certainly never grown any fungus – at least not intentionally. (There might have been a few experiments in the refrigerator and sink of my college kitchen, but that was entirely accidental… But I’m getting distracted.) I’d pondered about where I could keep the log without direct sunlight but not in total darkness. I considered where it wouldn’t get too cold or too hot since Indian oyster mushrooms grow in temperatures between 65 to 85 degrees. I decided that the workroom off of my garage would be the best place to keep it, where I could spritz it without worry, it wouldn’t get knocked over, and where the plastic bag beauty that it was also wouldn’t be the centerpiece of the room.
The owner of Mushroom Mills had told us that our kit had gotten a bit cold, and so I should leave it in a closet for a couple of days first. So I left it on its own for two days before moving it to its final destination. I put it on a shelf and covered it in a plastic bag to use as a tent that came with the kit. Two skewers were inserted into the log to allow for more humidity around the fledgling ‘shrooms. Mushroom Mills recommends spraying the colonized log with spring, well, or rainwater several times a day. I used well water, and three or four times throughout the day I’d give it a good, thorough spritz.
After a few days, I could see the mushroom buds starting to form. After a week, it was really taking off. Every time I went down to spray the log, it seemed the mushrooms had grown even more, and each morning the mushrooms were noticeably larger than the day before. Within two weeks they’d reached the size of 2-4 inches in diameter when it’s recommended to eat them. I twisted the mushrooms at their base, and they plucked off easily. By the time I was done, I’d almost filled a freezer bag with mushrooms.
Now round two of mushroom season can begin. Supposedly the second flush gives considerably less mushrooms, and after that I can spread the log amongst wood chips, water frequently, and hope for the best on future growth.
This is an easy project that would be fun to do with kids or in a classroom. It takes a small amount of time and effort, and it was a rewarding process all along the way. I could see children really enjoying watching the quick leaps in growth that the mushrooms make, and it could be a way to get children to try a food that might be new to them.
As for my mushrooms’ culinary end, I started by making garlicky oyster mushrooms in red wine. I cut the ends off of the mushrooms, minced an enormous clove of garlic, and sautéed the garlic in a bit of olive oil. Then I added the mushrooms and covered them until they softened. Once they started to stick, I added a generous spoonful of Earth Balance and a splash of Malbec. After ten minutes, when the mushrooms were purple and golden, I served them with lemony baked tofu with rosemary and roasted delicata squash.
That night for dinner, I used several more of the mushrooms in a stir-fry with garlic, fresh grated ginger, red bell pepper slices, carrots, Anaheim pepper, bok choy, peanuts, celery, fresh basil and cilantro over wide rice noodles. I added tamari and rice vinegar to taste for a spicy and satisfying meal.
With a simple Google search, I’ve noticed that mushroom kits are sprouting up at other farmers markets across the country. For Iowa City locals, the Iowa City Farmers Market at the Chauncey Swan Ramp on the ground level at 410 E. Washington Street will continue through October 30th. Mushroom Mills is usually there on Saturdays when the market is open from 7:30 am to 12 pm.