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Making a wood chip mushroom garden

July 10, 2013 | Mushroom Cultivation, Mushrooms | 40 comments | Author:

1307 mushroom garden - 01

A mushroom garden is a low cost, DIY way to increase the diversity of your home-grown produce, as well as your overall resilience. It’s also surprisingly simple to do, once you understand the basics of how and why.

Recently Nick was over in the US doing some training with Paul Stamets at Fungi Perfecti, and one of the many techniques they covered in the the myco-remidation training was making simple mushroom gardens with king stropharia mushrooms… 

King Stropharia growing in woodchip in Stamets' forest. Not a bad little meal there.
King Stropharia growing in woodchip in Stamets’ forest. Not a bad little meal there.

Stropharia rugosoannulata are known as King Stropharia, Wine cap mushrooms or Garden Giants. They are a tasty addition to any garden and grow up to 30cm across.

King Stropharia are native to the Northern Hemisphere but are a hardy fungi that will do well with the right growing conditions, which is mainly woodchips, with partial shade. A simple mushroom garden is a great way to grow them.

1307 mushroom garden - 04

Step 1: dig your hole in a shady place: A shallow semi-circle is dug around the base of a tree (in this case an alder) to provide the fungi with shade, and some scrap cardboard is laid down.

1307 mushroom garden - 05

Step 2: add your woodchips. These woodchips had been soaking (and therefore fermenting) in the barrel in this pic for a week prior to draining for use in this garden.

Soaking the woodchips in this was is a lo-fi way of semi sterilizing them: all the aerobic spores/bacteria die off during the soak, and the anaerobic spores/bacteria die off once the woodchips are drained. It’s not perfect, but it’s quick and it’s simple and it works.

As with cultivating any mushrooms, you are trying to provide your chosen mycelium with a neutral substrate (in this case the woodchips), so the mycelium can feed on said substrate and grow you many mushrooms without having to compete for supremacy with whatever spores or fungi might already be in residence.

1307 mushroom garden - 06

1307 mushroom garden - 07

Step 3: take your bag of spawn (in this case King Stropharia grown on sawdust) and break it up, ready for application.

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Step 4: sprinkle that spawn good. All over your woodchips. Many mushrooms will you grow.

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Step 5: top with more semi-sterilized woodchips. And that’s your mushroom garden done. You can water it occasionally if the weather is dry, or let it fend for itself, if you’re trying to cultivate the most resilient strain for your location possible.

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Step 6: in due course, the woodchips will be fully colonised and one morning after rain, you’ll be able to harvest the first of your delicious mushrooms. And eat them with herbs and butter and lemon. Or whatever else you like with them.

The actual timing after setup that this harvest occurs will depend on your site, the garden’s aspect, relative humidity, soil temperature, rainfall and a heap of other factors. So dont watch it like a kettle, go and make another 10 mushroom gardens while you wait.

Once you get the hang of this technique, you can make your mushroom gardens here, there and everywhere.

Some will produce faster than others. Some might not work. Some will be amazing. It’s a great way to enhance your garden’s overall offerings while introducing a touch of mystery and drama into your planting plans…

If you’d like to learn comprehensive mushroom cultivation, we run awesome Mushroom Cultivation Courses in Sydney and beyond…

>> More posts about Mushroom Cultivation at Milkwood.net

Big thanks to the crew at Fungi Perfecti for being world-class legends and for continuing to innovate in mushroom cultivation techniques of all types and at all scales. With these folks around, Mushrooms might just infact save the world.


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  • Meg McGowan

    Great post! Do you have a link for where I can buy the spawn?

    • https://www.facebook.com/ErynnHeller Erynn Heller Brown

      Fungi.com is Paul Stamets websites. We just actually bought some Pink Oyster Mushrooms from them! They were very pretty and very tasty. I recommend that site as a good place to start. Mostly because you know you can trust the mycelium that they sell. Plus they have a really good guide on what areas different mushrooms thrive in, their grow difficulty level, and their humidity levels and such. Good luck!!! 😀

      • http://positive3neg.wordpress.com positive3negative

        Thanks Erynn, I’ll have a look at that web site. I’m very interested in the health benefits of mushrooms because I have cancer. I notice that you can get a ‘mushroom extract’ pill at the health food shop now that claims to help boost your immune system but I would much rather eat real food than take a supplement (and my oncologist strongly advises against anything except vitamin D while I’m having chemo!). I think there are all sorts of things happening with live food that just don’t translate into supplements, particularly with something as complex and fragile as a mushroom. Also, they’re so tasty!

  • Susan

    I know there are many poisonous mushrooms and I do not know how to tell them apart. What concerns should I have of some wild poisonous mushrooms also growing in with the mushrooms I planted?

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      Susan you should familiarise yourself with how to confidently ID the edible mushrooms. It’s not hard to do and your ancestors have (by indication of your existence) been getting it right for thousands of years. It’s just educating yourself as to what constitutes positive ID.

      • http://adam.shand.net/ adamshand

        This is the tricky bit. I did almost exactly this with some oyster mushrooms, and when they fruited a couple weeks ago suddenly realised I didn’t know how to positive ID them! I didn’t really want to do it from a book and by the time I found somebody who could ID them they’d rotted. :-(

        I definitely recommend sorting out how you are going to ID them before harvest time! Made me very sad to see them rot, especially knowing that they were 99% safe to eat.

  • Shane

    soaking makes so much sense! I run a cafe and keep all our swiss brown boxes in a heap in my back yard we collect 2-3 boxes a week im hoping the pile eventually will grow a patch ive just added some well rotted manures and straw xing fingers spring time ill have a feed. the amount of spores on the boxes is pretty amazing with all this wet weather it should really give it a good kick. Thanks for the post you just gave me some ideas.

    • http://positive3neg.wordpress.com positive3negative

      Shane,
      I’ve had great results just burying a swiss brown box under my garden mulch. I bought the box full of mushrooms at the local farmers market and noticed all of the spores in the bottom of the box. I just ripped it up and tucked it under the mulch (delivered by the truck load from the guys that prune back around the power lines) and I had swiss browns for three years. Sadly we renovated recently and that garden is gone. Time to get another box!

  • speedy

    Stroparia rugosa-annulata grows wild in Aust. and NZ.
    I’ve found it on woodchip piles in NNSW…
    specimens aren’t as big as the ‘Garden Giant’ strain
    in Nth America, but they’re there though.
    They fruit in late summer/autumn.
    get some virgin spawn from the wild

    or

    http://www.fungi.net.au/
    sometimes have kits with spawn and woodchip
    all in a plastic pail (10 or 15litre?)

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      good to know Speedy, ta :) – and yes I’d forgotten about that crew’s woodchip buckets!

  • Diamond Lawrence

    Might you know of any native Australian edible mushroom species that might work with this or other techniques?

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      Sadly the vast majority of the knowledge bank on Aussie edible fungi largely died with it’s custodians, and there hasn’t been a large amount of research done since. Start with what you can source that you can definitely eat and move outwards from there, i say…

  • Jeff

    Really interesting post, thanks.
    I really like the idea of thoroughly soaking the woodchips first.
    I have done it before in 250 litre wheelie bins –
    I was mainly thinking along the lines that it would help remove some of the natural preservative toxins (like tannin), so the chips could decompose a lot faster.
    But I would also really like to try this mushroom cultivation, by soaking.
    I only have tree lopper woodchips, and there are usually lots of leaves mixed in – hopefully this wouldn’t stop the intended fungi growing.
    I do occasionally see patches of mushrooms in untreated chips that have just been spread around on my garden.
    When I have soaked woodchips in the past, the water becomes pretty foul smelling and mosquitoes love it for some reason.
    Maybe I left them soaking a bit too long !

  • David Trees

    Sounds like a great way to get super locally grown, super fresh mushrooms.

    Can’t beat a nice side of onions and mushrooms with a bit of white pepper.

    Nice onions too. Like… Cipolini’s, so they are sweet and caramalise real nice… :) Yumo! Especially when it sits next to a nice big lean 1/4 pounder of your favourite burger type. Fresh home made organic spelt flour bread rolls…

    Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm!! Who is coming to my place for a BBQ when we return from the UK later this year?

  • http://pohjoinenpermakulttuuri.wordpress.com pohjoinenpermakulttuuri

    Hi guys, great post, thanks! Just what we did a few weeks ago but forgot the mushrooms 😀 Would you know about how different mushroom species survive in the cold, I mean would they overwinter in a place like Finland..? Or perhaps it’s another thing to “sow” in the spring and harvest in the autumn hmm.

  • Ying Tee

    where does Milkwood get their spawn from ?? cheers

    • http://milkwood.net milkwoodkirsten

      Ying these days we’re making it from mushrooms, cloning them and then taking that through the process of agar plates, up to spawn…

      • Margaret Scheidler

        How does the backyard gardener get their spawn? Do you sell it? Thanks.
        Margaret

  • Shane

    why half a circle?

  • http://gravatar.com/jay9cobb jay9cobb

    To have a continuous supply would you need to repeat this every year or would the mushies be self sustaining? I’m trying to reduce my inputs, so I am happy to get this started, particularly because I have an old rotten tree about to be chipped. Interested to hear your thoughts.

  • ingliska

    Half a circle for the shade, maybe?

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  • http://www.survivalinfo.co.uk jeannine

    Thanks for this post, i am looking forward to doing this one day, what trees are the woodchips from, are they all good to use, i have often wondered when considering mulch, if woodchips were acid , alkali and it’s good to know they are neutral- is it the same as sawdust? -from a ‘future gardener’

    • https://www.facebook.com/niels.corfield Niels Corfield

      Woodchip needs to be predominantly hardwood in origin. And fresh!

  • Andrew Greenwell

    Hey, I have a theory on the soaked wood chips. Not to submiss your idea but, I don’t think your sterilizing the wood chips when you soak them in the water or “ferment them” (wood fiber does not have sugars present to act as food for yeast in order to consider the chips to be fermenting). I believe a more through explanation of what you could be doing is softening and adding moisture to your substrate therefore encouraging and easing the hyphal penetration. If you do decide to take a microbiological stance on the issue, it is more likely that you are encouraging the growth of bacterias, yeast, algae, and other fungi which have some what of a beneficial interaction with the fungi than the organisms on the wood chips, pre-soak (the wood chippers which make mulch have a reputation for wide spread contamination especially of fungal species). While this interaction between the water and microbes is conceivable, if you are worried about the sterility of your substrate during the critical early phases of mycelium colonization I would go with the chemical pasteurization process seen in this video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sfpkPJw32f0
    (they play this really funny song over and over in it, cracks me up). However, the more effective way to cut down on microbes in the soil and wood chips would be to: dig out your bed, place in a thick layer of wood chips, soak them with the hose for a good ten or twenty minutes, and then place two or more layers of black trash bags down and stake them; leaving them covering the bed for a few days. The black bags will act as a heat sink increasing the temperature roughly 20+ degrees from air temp, per layer, effectively heat sterilizing the mulch. Anyone that has tried to make wine or beer will tell you that lot of nasty things are capable of growing in water, but you add a little heat and they all die, the good and the bad. However, in all truthfulness, if you are buying non-bulk (aka mulch in bags) your changes of fungal infections are low. You would likely get the same results if you did not do the soaking step in the beginning (however watering during colonization would be a smart action) or the trash bag idea because of the overwhelming amount of your target growth fungi you are adding to the mix which has the ability to fight off other species as well as the fact that this is an outdoor grow, meaning that wild species will interact with the target species and decrease its growth efficiency. I don’t know much about this species of fungi but, from what I know about other outdoor grows, there is a lower chance that these will fruit every season and when you expect them to as compared to an indoor grow. This is partially because of the competing organisms and partially because of the varying conditions from year to year. So, all I’m sayin is, if you wanted to go out and do this project the same day you got your supplies you could, or you could do the sterilization process while your waiting for you mycelium to arrive, for those who think ahead.

    Any question, feel free to ask

    About the author: Senior biology student at Truman State. For my hobbies I have made wine, done an indoor shiitake grow, and generally nerd out on anything to do with fungi

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  • mike

    how can i determine what mushroom i can eat when i go in the bush camping or hunting ?

  • Alex

    I don’t know for sure why the half circle under the tree, but my guesses would be a. for the shade aspect. and or b. only doing half, allows the trees shallow feeder roots to breathe. and or c. they only had enough cardboard and wood chips for half . hahahha.

    does ANYONE HAVE KING STROPHARIA MYCELIUM ???? where can I get it or have it shipped to Perth WA. ???

  • https://www.facebook.com/dga1952 Debra Anderson

    I AM AMAZED AT HOW EASY IT IS TO RAISE MUSHROOMS. BUT TWO QUESTIONS—ANY CRITTERS UNDER GROUND I NEED TO WORRY ABOUT THAT MIGHT EAT THEM? AND, HOW MANY VARIETIES (LOVE MORELS & PORTABELLAS) CAN I GROW THIS WAY?

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  • Bryson VanCleve

    I’ve seen this often, with the use of laying cardboard down first. Cardboard contains carcinogens and can pollute water that comes in contact with it. Can someone explain why this would be safe and how the mushrooms wouldn’t get contaminated by the cardboard?

    • Laura@FirelightHeritageFarm

      The cardboard WOULD contaminate the mushrooms. I am always surprised because experts KNOW that mushrooms draw toxins out of their environment and concentrate those contaminants in their fruiting bodies (in other words, the mycellium draws out the toxins and contaminants from the soil and sends them up into the mushrooms when they flush) and then those same experts recommend using relatively “dirty” substrates for mushrooms they intend to eat! At the same time they tell you not to eat mushrooms grown beside highways!

      It would contaminate the first few crops, at least. After that, I think they would be safe to eat, because most of it would be drawn out and cleaned up.

      Purchasing mulch is also risky, because it has often been treated with pesticides, and even fungicides (and may not be labeled as having been treated). You need good clean woodchips or sawdust which has not been treated in any way, otherwise it will hinder the growth of the mushrooms, or contaminate them at least in the first few crops. Not something I’d mess with.

  • BRAD

    Hi I’m thinking of doing the Byron Bay course, I don’t have much in the way of a garden but I have an old garden shed, can I grow mushrooms in that or will it be too dark and too hot for them (gold coast)

    • Kirsten

      ‘It depends’ :) – if you can keep it cool-ish (or do it seasonally) you should be fine

  • Christine

    Thank you for this demo! I am in Savannah, Georgia and will have my own bed very soon. : )

  • john

    Brilliant brilliant development and brilliant article! This semi-sterilization using water+patience is remarkable. I plan to try this here in Pennsylvania USA.

    – What can you say about the ideal and acceptable seasons for ‘planting’? After danger of frost is past or – ?

    – The discussion on cardboard leads me to ask, have you tried without the cardboard? Is its only purpose a weed barrier? Would a layer of sawdust work as well?

    – How are you succeeding with your breeding program? I have read that Stropharia does grow wild in Australia, so perhaps it’s not a huge step to naturalize, maybe here too.

    Great, great work – thanks for sharing!

  • Will Cotterill

    Great tips – i’ve the perfect place on the farm for a few mushroom gardens!

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