Ah ha! You thought I meant the infamous Magic Mushrooms! Sorry, no, just ordinary common or garden ones. I have never thought of growing mushrooms, partly because my husband reckons they are the food of the devil and can sniff one out if he gets downwind of one in a meal. But I wondered if they were easy to find in the wild, and after a bit of research, found that quite a few edible varieties grow right here in Portugal.
But how do you know which ones are poisonous or not? Experts say you shouldn’t eat ANY unless you are 100% sure you have identified it properly first. They say to avoid mushrooms with white gills, a skirt or ring on the stem and a bulbous or sack-like base called a volva. You may be missing out on some good edible fungi but it means you will be avoiding the deadly members of the Amanita family. Another hint – if there is any red anywhere on the mushroom including the cap, stem or pores, treat it as poisonous. Secondly cut the mushroom in half vertically, if the flesh immediately or quickly stains blue, again treat it as deadly.
In order to save yourself from mycetismus or mycetism – mushroom poisoning - you would be oh so wise to buy mushroom growing kits from a good gardening centre, or online. They allow you to learn the process of mushroom cultivation, expose your palate to new mushrooms and even find a new hobby. Mushroom growing kits come in a range of varieties from white button mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms to specialty morels and oyster mushrooms.
So, what’s in a mushroom growing kit? It is essentially a pre-colonized ‘fruiting block’ which has not yet been put into conditions that make it want to ‘fruit’. The mycelium (mushroom food source) covered block is typically contained in a grow bag, which can sit dormant for quite some time, especially if it's kept cool in the fridge. Kits are totally beginner friendly - requiring almost no special skills, tools, or other equipment. Other than the mushroom kit itself, you probably already have everything you need at home. These easy-to-use kits allow new growers to get a feel for what it’s like to farm mushrooms without having to dive too deep into the hobby.
Mushroom kits are the most inexpensive and easy way to start growing mushrooms at home. They provide everything you need, including a container, the growing medium, the fungus, and directions. The growing medium comes dry and once you soak it, the fungus will wake up and grow mushrooms.
You need to follow the instructions to the letter, and your mushrooms may grow in 1 to 4 weeks, depending on the variety and the temperature. Most kits will produce two very large crops of mushrooms, and they may continue to produce several smaller crops until the nutrients of the kit have been completely used up. All you have to do is soak your block again to rehydrate it and then place it back in the fruiting environment. It may take a while for the mushrooms to ‘pin’ again, maybe up to two weeks. The secret lies in a balance of light, moisture and fresh air, so some daily attendance will be necessary until you get the hang of it.
It is always possible that it will contaminate as well, so keep an eye out for green mould. If it shows up, try to cut it off. If it gets overly mouldy, then it’s time to throw it out.
It is cheaper to grow your own mushrooms at home than it is to buy them at the store, and you also get the satisfaction of doing it yourself, and you might get a good few servings of mushrooms out of one kit. Depending on the kit, it may grow all year round, which would produce many more servings.
Is it worth the effort?
Growing mushrooms at home is much easier than it sounds, and if you love mushrooms, it is worth the effort of having mushrooms that are fresh as well as cheap!
Marilyn writes regularly for The Portugal News, and has lived in the Algarve for some years. A dog-lover, she has lived in Ireland, UK, Bermuda and the Isle of Man.