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Best mushroom species to grow at home

ShiitakesIf you're like I was when I got started in mushrooms, you don't even know where to start.  Which species is easiest, tastiest, and best for backyard cultivation?  There's no one right answer, but I'll give you a rundown on the top seven species I've got my eye on or have tried.

Shiitakes are the best known of the mushroom species that can be grown in logs.  We got our start with shiitakes, and while I wouldn't discourage you from shiitakes if you adore them, I've since changed my tune and fallen in love with oyster mushrooms.  After a bit of experience with both and then some researching the topic, I've concluded that people like shiitakes simply because they've heard of them, and that they've heard of them because shiitakes have a longer shelf life than other wood-eating mushrooms.  I hesitate to say it, but maybe shiitakes are the red delicious of the mushroom log world?

Wild oyster mushroomsOyster mushrooms are our new favorite.  We bought some spawn two years ago on a whim, hoping to extend our mushroom season into the spring and fall, and we quickly fell in love with the taste, which we consider equal to or even better than shiitakes.  A nutritional analysis shows that oyster mushrooms have two or three times as much protein as shiitakes and a slightly more balanced set of amino acids, while containing the same amount of vitamins and minerals.  When it comes to cultivation, the species is an even clearer winner --- oyster mushrooms can be grown on "weed trees" rather than on hardwoods and the vigorous spawn will even colonize straw, coffee grounds, and other waste products.  You often see fruiting the first fall after you inoculate oyster mushroom logs while you have to wait until the following year to eat your first shiitake.  And oysters are easy to clone with low tech, home techniques.  Plus, they're native, so you can spread them through your woods with impunity.  Are you sold yet?

Hen of the woodsMaitake would be a good choice if you live in a higher and drier location than we do, where your woods is full of oaks.  Around here, the maitake is known as hen of the woods, but in Japan it is called the dancing mushroom, presumably because you dance with joy when you find a twenty pound hunk of edible fungus.  I haven't tried to grow maitakes, but I have been warned that they're a bit chancier to grow than oysters or shiitakes.

Elm Oyster is not a true oyster mushroom with white mycelium; instead it has brown mycelium.  This distinction is important since brown rot fungi tend to work better when grown in straw as a companion to vegetable plants.  This mushroom would be a good choice to add to your vegetable garden, although I haven't tried it yet, so can't vouch for its ease of cultivation.

King Stropharia is a good choice for mycoremediation (more on that tomorrow.)  I'm not sold on King Stropharia yet since our first experiment with it was only minimally successful, but if you've got a lot of free wood chips and a problem area where coliform bacteria from your cows, pigs, or chickens is running into a stream, you should definitely look into King Stropharia.
Yellow oyster mushroom
And now for some tougher to grow mushrooms with tempting tastes:

Lion's Mane is on our list of must-try mushrooms because it is reputed to taste like crabmeat or lobster.  The mushroom will grow on oak and maple.

Yellow Oyster sounds a bit like a hothouse mushroom (literally and figuratively), but with a taste described as resembling roasted almonds, I think we might have to give it a shot. This tropical oyster mushroom won't grow outside, though, so we'd have to provide it with a warm, moist environment.

As a final note, you might be wondering why I didn't talk about the best-known mushrooms --- portabellas and white button mushrooms (which are actually the same species.)  Although you can buy kits that will produce a few flushes of these mushrooms (we tried it with so-so results), button mushrooms have to grow on an aged and pasteurized mixture of horse manure, chicken manure, and straw.  Most backyard hobbiests will have a hard time coming up with the right substrate, so you won't be able to keep your spawn going once the kit peters out.

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This post is part of our Low Tech Mushroom Cultivation lunchtime series.  Read all of the entries:

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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