I want to grow mushrooms. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Today, I visited Mushroom Mountain near Liberty, SC, and left with baggies of spores and such. Tomorrow morning, my life as a mushroom farmer begins.
Maybe I should’ve seen this coming. My father had this idea, when I was a kid, that he’d take up mushroom hunting and train his four daughters in the foraging arts. My mother, fearing she would lose her entire family in a single afternoon, put her foot down. Absolutely not. My father’s Field Guide to Mushrooms was shelved.
My relationship with mushrooms is nine parts my dad, one part my mom. I’m entranced, much as my father was, by their mysterious behavior, strange beauty, and of course, unmatchable taste. But the one part that is my mother fears that mushrooms I forage will kill me.
When my friend Whit DeSpoon first presented me with golden, ruffly chantarelles he’d collected, it was my mother who took over my brain for a bit.
“I can’t eat those! You can’t eat those!” I shrieked.
“But I eat these all the time,” he said. He then proceeded to sauté them with butter, toss them with pasta, and consume them in front of me. When I saw he didn’t keel over, I gave in. And yes, they were amazing.
Growing my own mushrooms won’t be exciting for me in the same way that roaming the woods in search of chanterelles has become. But it will be easier on the nerves and keep my mother’s ever-ready warning at bay. And growing mushrooms seems a pursuit with near-endless possibilities—as I saw at Mushroom Mountain
Mushroom Mountain is part mushroom farm, part mushroom lab—with a greenhouse, wooded areas, and a lab where spores are extracted and mushroom DNA is analyzed. Tradd Cotter started his farm in the mid-90s. He doesn’t so much grow mushrooms to sell to markets these days as he creates spores and materials to sell to mushroom farmers and home growers.
If he has his way, we’ll all start growing mushrooms. Follow him on a tour, and within minutes you know he believes that mushrooms can save the world.
They can cure illnesses.
They can help trees thrive by sharing nutrients, because mushrooms establish a web underground that connects trees.
They can kill fire ants.
They can get to work on the gulf spill and break down the oil–not absorb it but actually break down the molecules.
Mushrooms make mulch better, process chicken and pig poop, and attract worms.
And quite a few of them do all this work–and manage to taste good.
As Tradd showed us, you can grow mushrooms on wood chips or coffee grounds, in old black plastic pots that you get from the nursery and in plastic bags. Tradd is even experimenting with growing mushrooms on an old pair of jeans. If he succeeds, he says, he might be able to help the textile industry process hazardous waste.
Mushrooms sprout when their underground network of webby roots hits the edge of its food source. Slash an x in the side of a black plastic pot, and the mushroom will force itself through. Mushrooms, Tradd told us, can push 80 pounds.
Yes, I found myself wondering, is there anything the mushroom can’t do?
I’ll be growing oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds and have 100 inoculated wood dowels so that I can grow shitakes on logs (once I round up a few pieces of fresh-cut hardwood, if you happen to be reading this Mr. DeSpoon).
Mushroom Mountain provides materials—and lots of help—on their website. And they offer workshops too. Already, I’m checking my calendar. I’m afraid I may just have to go.