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Magic Mushrooms

Sheila JulsonNo, not those kind. I’m talking about your tasty - and legal, non-hallucinogenic - standard White Button mushroom variety that can be savored in soups, salads, pizzas, and casseroles. I can also say magical, because the growing process is quite engaging.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Eric Rose, owner of River Valley Ranch & Kitchens, in Burlington, Wis. The farm specializes in mushrooms, not only White Button but also varieties such as Portabella, Crimini, Oyster, and Shiitake.

Until then, I was unsure of how mushrooms were grown. I was intrigued to see that they are grown year-round in cool, dim growing houses that are ventilated and temperature-controlled. As we walked in, Portabella and Crimini mushroom’s poked their domed tops out from a combination of 80-percent compost and a mixture of peat moss and limestone.

And the best part was when he told me that River Valley Ranch sells home growing kits. I could grow mushrooms right in my basement!

I picked up a White Button mushroom kit. There were two bags, one with compost and mycelium (a thread-like vegetative part of a fungus), and one with casing soil. I prepared the compost and soil per enclosed instructions. Everything was done right in the box; easy-peasy and very little mess.

After about five days, I noticed a threadlike growth of mycelium on the surface, just like the instructions said. Only slight watering was required; just enough to keep the compost moist.

Growing white button mushrooms

White button mushrooms pop their dome heads from compost in my mushroom kit.

But the real rush happened several days later when pinhead-sized tops developed and rapidly puffed into the mushrooms that I later enjoyed in so many of my vegetarian dishes. Growth happened rapidly once the mushrooms surfaced (they seemed to grow by the minute), and the kit yielded plenty of those White Button beauties for a couple of months.

White Button Mushrooms

These harvested white button mushrooms will soon find their way into my homemade cream of mushroom soup.

Like most gardening and farming, seeing the many stages of food grown from soil to table really does feel like magic. I’ve found the mushroom kits a convenient and economical way to produce food indoors during a harsh winter climate like we have in Wisconsin. With all of the agricultural advancements in recent years to extend the growing season and sustainably grow food indoors, does anyone grow other produce indoors? What methods are used? Window greenhouses? Aquaponics?

11/26/2013 10:16:56 PM

Here is a link to River Valley Ranch & Kitchens, the farm and market that offers mushroom kits like I have: I've also perused this site, but I haven't ordered from them yet: Some small and locally-owned garden centers also have mushroom kits. Good luck with your mushroom kit! The process is quite intriguing.

11/26/2013 10:38:09 AM

Mary from Old Dog, New Tricks, I have been doing many firsts and perhaps mushrooms should be my next! They seem so magical and intriguing - a complete unknown to me. Larry isn't fond of them, but I'm sure he would still like to watch it happen. Where would I get a starter kit similar to yours?

11/25/2013 9:57:42 PM

Oh, morel mushrooms! I've only had the opportunity to try those once, and the flavor was very rich and meaty; a perfect substitute for we vegetarians. As for indoor growing, I'm getting my window herb garden together, and I have organic seeds from Botanical Interests, Inc. Be sure to let us know if you are successful growing greens indoors.

11/24/2013 10:31:43 AM

Sheila, kudos to you for growing your own mushrooms. Here in Nebraska the great sport is mushroom hunting in the spring. The coveted morel mushroom is the goal of every Nebraskan mushroom hunter. I have been privileged hunt and consume a few in my early life days but lacked the desire to continue the hunt. I never use mushrooms in my cooking and if they are part of what I order in restaurant food, I enjoy the texture but I'm not sure it adds any flavor to the dish. Every one in my family will not eat mushrooms and I have one friend that almost died from an allergic reaction to eating some. Therefore I just don't have the advantage of eating them too often. ***** I have many ideas about inside growing during the Winter months but as of yet having had the time to try them out. I would like to try growing lettuce, radishes, and other salad greens in tubs under grow lights. It seems like it should work and maybe this year will be the year for the experiment. ***** Have a great mushroom growing day.