One of my Christmas treats was a kit for growing oyster mushrooms. It came from Fungi Perfecti, and it consisted of a log of mycelium-impregnated straw that needed to be covered with a plastic-bag humidity tent and misted a few times a day. It produced oyster mushrooms in a responsible fashion, and you can see its portrait at the end of this post; click below to read and see the rest. Far more interesting, though, was growing oyster mushrooms from spawn. The spawn can be ordered from them or from other suppliers and used to inoculate mediums chosen by you (with guidance from the experts). The recommendation is to grow them in coffee grounds (start saving them in a bag in the freezer) but I grew the ones that you see above in shredded waste paper and am very excited about the results.
The only paper that I shred is recyclable and has no glaze coating. I started with the old bank and card statements in my shredder, and used a 4 gallon pot full measured when dry. I moistened the shredded paper with filtered water and added a cup of cornmeal for no better reason than that I had read on the internet that the mushrooms would grow well on this mixture. Then I put the damp, pulpy result in my stockpot and cooked it over medium heat to pasteurize it. I found varying recommendations about temperature, and settled on 170 degrees. I had to add some more water during the cooking to keep it moist, but was careful not to make it liquid.The pulp is almost solid and hard to stir, so I kept turing it and breaking up lumps until a meat thermometer thrust into the mass in several places read 170. Then I set it aside to cool. This cooking would probably best be done outdoors, but I did it in the kitchen and there was no really strong odor.
When the pulp was room temperature, I put on sterile gloves and used my fingers to mix in the spawn. I didn’t measure, and can only say that I used a double handful, probably about 1.5 cups. Thyen I formed it with my hands into two “logs”, really more like two lumps. They were set in a shallow plastic tray and covered with a large clear plastic bag with a bunch of small holes poked in it, to serve as a humidity tent. You can stick one or two bamboo skewers into the lumps to hold the tent away from thier surface. I misted them three times daily, and well within a month I harvested my first mushroom. First I noticed that the surface of the lumps was covered with fine white mold-like stuff, then small bumps called primordia began to stick out, then mushrooms. They need some light, and do need oxygen, so don’t keep them in the dark and do take the tent completely off for a minute while you mist them. But direct sunlight is out. The ones in the picture were carried to the yard to be photographed, but then came right back to thier moist tent in my utility room.
I intend to try this again with more paper pulp and a larger set-up generally so that I get more mushrooms at a time. I don’t know that it’s cost-efficient, but it’s the most fun way to recycle paper that I’ve come across. I should add that I chose oyster mushrooms because they’re aggressive and easy to grow, and because they don’t have any poisonous look-alikes, so I felt safer than with other genera of mushrooms. I’m too chicken to harvest mushrooms in the wild, and I don’t recommend that anyone start doing that without expert guidance. But the adaptable oyster mushroom is an easy friend to get to know.
I strongly recommend starting with spawn from Fungi Perfecti or one of the other good mycological firms, and do read their directions carefully because there’s a lot of info in there.