Although many in Missouri think about mushrooms when the morels are at their peak in April, people who grow mushrooms at home or commercially need to be thinking about them much of the year, says a University of Missouri Extension nutrition and health education specialist.
“There are many kinds of mushrooms besides our local wild favorite, morels,” says Janet Hackert. “There are portobello, shiitake and white button mushrooms that are easy to obtain in most grocery stores, but also oyster mushrooms, chanterelle, blewit, lion’s mane, wine cap and many more varieties.”
As an edible fungus, mushrooms are rather unique, Hackert says. Rather than propagating by seed or root, mushrooms reproduce by single-celled spores. The spores grow tiny filaments called mycelia that spread throughout the dead wood, manure, straw or compost within which they grow. Mushroom fungi decompose dead and decaying plant material and draw their nourishment directly from it. Once a log or other substrate is inoculated, the spawn run, or spreading process, can take from just a few months to up to a year.
The fruiting body is the part of the mushroom that is eaten. When it develops depends on the temperature and relative humidity around it. “This is determined by the season, if growing wild, or it can also be forced by watering at the right time followed by proper storage if being cultivated,” she says. “So depending on the variety of mushroom, mid-to-late winter may be just the time to get started preparing the logs or other substrates needed to grow mushrooms at home or commercially.”
Mushrooms are also unique nutritionally, Hackert says. Like many vegetables, mushrooms are low in calories, sodium and carbohydrates. They are high in potassium, phosphorus, fiber and B vitamins such as riboflavin. However, mushrooms also have a small amount of high-quality protein, which is not typically found in vegetables.
For more information, the MU Center for Agroforestry has an in-depth guide to mushroom growing called “Growing Shiitake Mushrooms in an Agroforestry Practice,” which is available for free download at extension.missouri.edu/p/AF1010. “It focuses on shiitake mushroom cultivation, but gives a good overview of the process in general,” Hackert says. The publication includes several recipes and resources on production, supplies, health aspects and cookbooks. Hackert says another good resource is the Cooperative Extension search engine at search.extension.org.