How we grow mushrooms

Dragonfly Farms Mushrooms – How and Why We Grow Them

Copyright © 2017 by Sal Cerda

It’s a sad fact that most Americans don’t eat enough mushrooms. They are tasty, nutritious and in some cases have medicinal properties. So why don’t more Americans consume the many varieties of tasty, healthy mushrooms like the Europeans and Asians have done for centuries? Perhaps it’s a matter of exposure and knowledge. Sure, many people are aware of Morels, but beyond that many of the delectable mushrooms are unknown to the general public. One issue is that some mushrooms don’t travel well and must be harvested and consumed in a short amount of time. That does not work well with a mass-production system dependent on transportation systems to bring the product to market. The notable exception is the Agaricus or common button mushroom which is tough enough to travel by train or truck. Even so, many of these button mushrooms, which grow up to be called Portabellas, are often in sad shape when they are available at grocery stores.

We started growing mushrooms because our son was interested in them. Over time, that interest has blossomed into a full-blown passion. We now cultivate about 9 different varieties, including Blue Oysters, Pearl Oysters, King Oysters, Elm Oysters, Lion’s Mane, Shiitake, Reishi, TurkeyTail, Cordyceps and a few more.

The process of growing mushrooms is a bit mysterious for most folks. Many believe that a cave and a large quantity of horse manure is required. Not true at all except for the Agaricus mentioned above. All of the mushrooms we grow actually require light for them to ‘fruit’. In nature, they grow on trees. The cultivation method we use involves sawdust, spawn and seeds. Here’s how it works: After purchasing mushroom cultures from a reputable supplier (see Fungi Perfecti and other websites) the mushroom culture is grown out to create ‘spawn’, or as some people call them, mushroom seeds.

The culture is culture is introduced into non-GMO whole oats that has been sterilized in a pressure canner. The process requires working in a special room with HEPA filters and laminar flow hood to prevent contamination by airborne spores or bacteria. This culture is then allowed to grow until the mushroom threads have fully colonized creating a whitish mass. This spawn is then ‘expanded’ into a container of pasteurized ‘substrate’. Our substrate is made of oak sawdust and fortified with black oil sunflower seeds. We built a special boiler and pasteurizing system for our substrate (think potting soil for veggies) in order to ensure that the new mushrooms do not have to compete with any bacteria or other fungi for the tasty food supply. The substrate must be steamed for about 15 hours and allowed to cool before it can be inoculated with the spawn.

After inoculation with the selected spawn, the mushrooms are allowed to grow or colonize until they have filled the container. At this point, the containers are moved to a fruiting room with just the right amount of light and humidity.  The part we enjoy, the fruiting body as it is called, is actually just the reproductive part of a mushroom, just like an apple tree produces apples in an effort to reproduce via seeds. When the mushroom has grown sufficiently, we carefully harvest the fruit and chill it to insure freshness when you receive it. You can rest assured that no pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals are used on our substrates or mushrooms.

The preferred method to cook mushrooms is to sauté them in fresh butter. Yes, you can substitute olive oil or coconut oil but butter tastes better. All mushrooms should be cooked before consumption. This includes those button mushrooms you often see in salad bars. Here’s why –- mushroom cells walls are not composed of cellulose like plants. Remember, mushrooms are not plants. Plants have cell walls made of cellulose. The cell walls of mushrooms are composed of chitin. Chitin comprises the exoskeleton of shrimp and lobsters. Humans do not digest that very well. In order to break down those tough cell walls so we can absorb the nutrients, we must cook the mushrooms first. Otherwise, you might eat the mushroom and have it go through your digestive system without taking advantage of the benefits. Plus, cooking brings out those delicious, savory flavors!

A note about imported morels and shiitake mushrooms.  From our research, we learned that many if not all of the shipping containers from overseas have been heavily sprayed with pesticides to prevent importing insects.  While this practice may be mandated by our government, we don’t believe that there is no chemical contamination during the long sea voyages.

We hope you now understand a little more about how we grow mushrooms at Dragonfly Farm. There are many myths and misapprehensions about mushrooms. The more you learn about them, the more you will be amazed at the variety of flavors, textures and health benefits of mushrooms.


Perennial Gardener’s Complaint

The weather!  What’s up with that?  This year has been equally frustrating even though we actually had ‘April Showers’ in April.   And May.   Mud prevents us from planting when we should and harvesting when we otherwise could have.  Deep mud can suck the boots right off your feet!  The good news is that that Leeks have not minded the mud and the radishes are coming along.  The Hakurei Turnips are holding their own and merely waiting on some sunny weather to resume their growth.

And the weeds – yes, as always.  This year we are trialing the use of woven ground cover (geo-textile) as an alternative to black plastic mulch.  This stuff lets in air and water but blocks weeds.  The best part is that you can reuse it year after year.  We hope.  So far so good – the fabric below is on its second year.



Here is it February the first and the little tomatoes, peppers and lettuce are already popping up under the grow lights.  We are trying to get a jump on Spring because things seem to get behind with no effort at all.  So, we are preparing to transplant the new seedlings into the hoop house as soon as we think they will survive the cold nights.

This year, we plan give the baby plants a baby blanket – a floating row cover to keep them safe from frost.  Wish us luck with that.  If we succeed, there will be lettuce and tomatoes for your Spring salad!

The new pullets are just starting to lay their cute little eggs.  We added some Welsummers and Easter eggers to fortify our colorful mix of free-range, pastured eggs.


May showers bring June flowers?

Maybe it’s just me,  but March used to be the windy month.  April seems to have taken over that job lately.  We had a dickens of a time getting the plastic covering on our hoop house.  But, we finally have it attached.  It is taking a pounding from the wind right now, but so far, everything is holding up well.

We had our first market day in Lee’s Summit and the weather and turnout were excellent.  We met lots of old and new friends on Saturday.  At this time of the season, our products were limited to farm fresh eggs and dried mushrooms.  The dried mushroom powder seemed to be well accepted.   Next market day we will have some fresh Lion’s Mane mushroom to share as well as the dried.

In the greenhouse, the tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and spinach are growing.  A few more things to tidy up in the hoop house and we plan to plant the tomatoes and cucumbers in there for an early start in the protected environment inside.  Wind can take a heavy toll on tender tomatoes, so the protection from the wind should let them get a good headstart on the season.

I have been busy out in the fields getting the raised beds in shape.  It’s lots of work.  But I think it will be worth it in the future to have permanent growing beds that don’t get walked on and have plenty of drainage.  Last year’s heave rains literally drowned a lot of out plants.  Improved drainage from being in a raised bed should prevent that in case May turns out to be as wet as last year.  As busy growers, all we can do is plan and work.  We have to handle whatever weather may happen and adjust as best we can.

Peppers are up in the greenhouse.  The kale is looking healthy and the lettuce (replanted after a mouse discovered the joys of fresh salad) is starting to grow.


March 2016

We are in full swing for the 2016 planting season.  Seed trays are all over the place.  Seed packets and catalogs  are stacked on the table.  The whiteboard is all scribbled with to-do and reminder dates for planting, markets and projects we must finish.

Our hoop house blew down last year in a windstorm and we are rebuilding the replacement in a fever pitch to enable us to use it for the early Spring vegetables.  This year, we are planning to use tighter planting densities using the intensive systems pioneered by Elliot Coleman and Jean-Martin Fortier.   We will be using 30″ rows and 18″ paths and a two-wheel tractor versus the larger four-wheel tractors.  This should enable us to grow more (and better) produce from the same area.

We ordered some unusual varieties which should have a nice eye and taste appeal this year. Last year’s experiment with the Sakata Sweet Melon and the Charentais was a qualified success. We are adding the Black Brandywine tomato to the mix and hope you like it.