How to grow and cook with mushrooms at home

Choosing the right food for your body requires careful thought and thorough research. Given the nutritional value of the food, the sustainability of the resource, and the environmental impact of growing it, truly understanding and being comfortable with what we eat is an ambitious undertaking.

But there’s one glaring opportunity to learn about our food… growing it yourself! When we grow our own food we have more control over the growing process and are more aware and therefore more confident in it.

And there’s one food that makes it particularly easy for us to grow and enjoy: mushrooms.

Mushrooms, meet meat

The emergence of mushrooms as a meat alternative in restaurants and home kitchens is promising. You can reduce the level of environmentally harmful animal husbandry practices in the United States

Livestock farming contributes nearly a third of annual anthropogenic global greenhouse gas emissions and is a major cause of deforestation, water and air pollution, and biodiversity loss.

These problems can be overwhelming when we feel like there is nothing we can do. But with access to agricultural resources at home, we can make changes that benefit us individually and on a societal level.

In contrast to animal husbandry, mushroom cultivation requires little space, time and resources.

How nutritious are mushrooms?

Although mushrooms can’t compete with the protein in meat, they provide a wide range of vitamins and minerals, including selenium, zinc, vitamins B1, B2, B5, B6 and B12. And much like humans, mushrooms produce vitamin D through exposure to sunlight, so they contain that nutritional benefit no other vegetable can offer.

To offset the protein reduction that comes with replacing meat with mushrooms, be sure to add vegetarian proteins — like legumes, responsibly sourced soy, and nuts — to your diet.

Starting a mushroom farm

Mushrooms require a cool, dark, humid environment and a few inexpensive materials to grow. Many DIY mushroom kits are available for beginners and those who want an all-inclusive package. Midwest Grow Kits provide comprehensive kits and expert guidance to guide you through the mushroom growing process.

And for others who are more experienced or adventurous, there are a number of common household items that can cover most of your mushroom growing needs. Read on to learn what these elements are and how you can use them.

Oyster mushrooms growing on a straw substrate. You can see the white mycelium through the glass jar.

The seed and soil of mushroom cultivation

To grow mushrooms, all you need is mushroom spores or liquid culture, a growing medium (substrate), a container for the mushrooms to grow in, and disinfectant/sanitary products to keep the process sterile. Spore and liquid culture syringes are both vessels for inoculating the substrate.

Spores are the fungi parallel to seeds for plants. As with seeds, the type of spore or liquid culture will determine the type of mushroom grown, so you can grow any type of mushroom you want. Liquid cultures are the result of an isolated culture of mycelium that is grown and expanded in a sugar broth. They are becoming increasingly popular with mushroom growers as they result in more consistent mushroom production. The contamination can be in the form of mold or bacteria and can be fatal to the fungus in its growth process. You can buy liquid cultures from Amazon or a number of mushroom specific stores like Foraged or Mycolabs.

The substrate you choose provides nutrients for the mushrooms and can be made from a range of materials – including coffee grounds, cardboard, straw and sawdust – that could otherwise go to waste. The substrate is placed in a container such as a box, bag or jar with the amount of spores or liquid culture specified in the instructions on your grow kit.

cultivation of the mushrooms

The mushrooms first lay down mycelium, a white fluffy material that begins to cover the substrate and serves as the root system for the mushrooms. The mushrooms start fruiting as soon as the mycelium is fully colonized.

A wonderfully sustainable aspect of growing mushrooms is that anything not used in the growing process can be turned into compost. Mushroom cultivation is a zero-waste, circular process that requires minimal resources, a rarity in modern agriculture.

Sauteed mushrooms with herbs in a cast iron skillet

Recipes for health and planet

Now for the most important question, how are you going to prepare them? Mushrooms have a very spicy taste. And its chewy texture easily absorbs ingredients like olive oil, butter, and a ton of spices. Sauté your mushrooms with butter, rosemary, parsley, parmesan cheese and garlic. Add some pasta for a rich, healthy, and filling meal.

Or go for a more appetizer-centric route with stuffed mini mushrooms. Their bowl-like shape makes mushrooms the ideal container for toppings! The combination of breadcrumbs with cream cheese and spices creates a perfectly balanced flavor that’s complete after just 20 minutes of baking in the mushrooms.

Including mushrooms, whether homegrown or not, in your diet is a step towards a more sustainable and equitable food system.

So grab your materials and start growing.

About the author

Miranda is a freelance content creator focused on environmental education and sustainability in food systems. As a digital nomad, much of her work is travel-centric. She seeks to better understand and improve upon the sustainable solutions cultivated around the world and does so through her skills as a writer, photographer and videographer.

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