Explore. Dream. Discover. These are words we hear a lot — words that are meant to ignite our sense of adventure. But often, no sooner do we hear them than we think, “If only I had the means.” Here’s the thing. Adventure doesn’t have to involve an elaborate plan like climbing Machu Picchu or hiking the Camino de Santiago Trail. It can actually be as simple as doing something you’ve never done before — like growing mushrooms!
Growing mushrooms is easy — even if you have brown thumbs.
I have brown thumbs. The only healthy looking plants you’ll find in my house are plastic. So when my personal chef and foodie friend Laura showed up with a gift that would require watering three times a day, I gulped a little.
Laura presented me with a package of what looked like dirty polystyrene wrapped up in a plastic bag. “This is my celium,” she announced. “Um, thanks?” I had no idea what ‘celium’ was or why she had decided to give me some of hers but it was kind of her to do so all the same. And then she explained. She hadn’t brought me her celium; she had brought me mycelium!
What exactly is mycelium?
In a nutshell, mycelium is the fungal root of an organism (I think). As it spreads it delivers nutrients that eventually sprout mushrooms (I think). And that’s all I’m going to say about mycelium because a) I am scientifically challenged and cannot do the topic justice, and b) I want you to understand that you need to know absolutely NOTHING about science in order to grow your own mushrooms, should you feel inclined.
The truth is, I didn’t feel particularly inclined to grow mushrooms at first. Although I thought the gift was cool, I couldn’t quite grasp why anyone making a decent living would opt for growing mushrooms rather than buying them from a farmers market. But that was before I became a mushroom mama.
Growing mushrooms was like having a baby.
OK. Bad analogy. Growing mushrooms is painless. Still, as I watched this gift unfold before my eyes, not day by day but hour by hour, I was overwhelmed with a sense of almost maternal pride.
- A log-shaped mycelium substrate wrapped in thick plastic.
- A large and flimsy, clear plastic bag.
- A page of instructions (that could be a little clearer but, with the help of a YouTube video, we muddled through).
As directed, I kept the mycelium substrate in my fridge until I was able to wrap my head around growing something. After taking a week or so to psyche myself up, I invited a friend over and together we embarked on a mushroom growing adventure.
Here’s how the adventure unfolded.
Step 1: We took the plastic-wrapped mycelium substrate out of the fridge and placed it on a baking dish. We then cut six small crosses into the plastic, trying not to cut into the substrate while doing so but not really sweating it too much. We put our crosses on and around the top of the substrate, although instructions hadn’t specified.
Step 2: We then took the clear plastic bag that had come with the kit and cut several slits into that. This plastic bag acted as an incubation tent for our baby.
Step 3: Using a spray bottle, we gave the mycelium substrate a light misting and then placed our incubation tent on top. That day, I removed the tent to give it two additional gentle sprays.
I misted and watched. Misted and watched. Misted and watched. That’s three mistings (I did that each day) and a whole lot of watching. Nothing to be seen here, people. Move along.
I came down in the morning to these ugly things pushing their way through one of the crosses we’d cut into the plastic. Of course, I texted my friend right away to let her know we were having (ugly) babies.
The babies were growing! I checked to see if any others were trying to bust their way out of the plastic but alas, no. We were destined to have just the one litter! But what a fine litter it was. (I have since learned that usually only one to three of the crosses will usually ‘give birth.’)
The mushrooms hadn’t grown much but my attachment to them had. Call me superficial, but the more mature they got, the better looking they became and the more I loved them.
By day six, my mushrooms looked beautiful. I emailed photographs to the farmer. In his email back to me he wrote, ‘your stems are a bit elongated and your caps are small.’ (I won’t lie; that hurt!) He explained that this is usually due to a buildup of CO2 so next time around, I should try putting a few more holes in the incubation tent. For now, though, these babies were ready to harvest.
There shouldn’t really have been a day 7 but I wasn’t ready to eat them on day 6 and I couldn’t stand the thought of harvesting them and then having to put them in the fridge. I wanted to enjoy them fresh off their stems so I waited until the morning of day 7, which happened to be a Sunday. Perfect.
I invited my mushroom ‘planting’ friend to join me for the closing ceremony, which involved frying our babies in butter until they were golden brown and enjoying them on lightly toasted fresh white bread with a sprinkle of salt. Delish!
And that’s a wrap, folks!
One day I hope to hike the Camino de Santiago Trail. The thought of doing that is unquestionably more thrilling than growing mushrooms, but I’m not putting my sense of adventure on hold until then.
Adventure is, quite simply, exploring unknown territory. That might involve learning a new language, taking on a DIY project, or learning how to make pastry from scratch. The bottom line is this: if it’s new to you and you adopt the right attitude, you’re in for an adventure.
A final word about mushrooms …
According to the mushroom farmer, I should be able to get another two or three harvests out of my Blue Oyster mushroom kit. Rest assured that for my next growing adventure, though, I’ll be shooting for shorter stems and bigger caps.
Viv for today xo
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