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An essay on how we grow mushrooms and why

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 approach 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. Note: We do not grow or eat Agaricus Bisporus or Agaricus Brunnescens.

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 several different varieties, including Blue Oysters, Pearl Oysters, King Oysters,  Pink Oysters, Elm Oysters, Lion’s Mane, Shiitake, Pioppinno,  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 hardwood sawdust and grain spawn. Here’s how it works: After purchasing mushroom cultures from a reputable supplier (see capnstem.com  and other websites) the mushroom culture is grown out on agar to create ‘spawn’. Then, the spawn is expanded to grain (like millet or oats)  to created the inoculation spawn or as some people call them, mushroom 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 36 or more hours and allowed to cool slowly before it can be inoculated with the spawn.

After inoculation with the selected spawn, the mushrooms are allowed to grow or colonize until the mycelium have filled the container and are ready to fruit. At this point, the containers are moved to a fruiting room with just the right amount of light and humidity. The perfect environment for fruiting is another complete article, or book!)  The part we enjoy eating, 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 at the farmer’s market. You can rest assured that no pesticides, herbicides or other chemicals are used in our mushroom growing process.

The preferred method to cook mushrooms is to sauté them in fresh butter. Yes, you can substitute olive oil or coconut oil  or a combination.  For who for some reason choose not to use butter there is butter flavored virgin olive oil available  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 can’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, misapprehensions and legends 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.