Magic Mushrooms

Reader Contribution by Sheila Julson
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No, 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.

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.

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?