GROWING MUSHROOMS IN OUTDOOR BEDS
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Some species of mushrooms prefer to grow in an outdoor bed in your garden. These are mushroom species which in the wild, tend to grow out of the ground, rather than on rotting logs and stumps like many other species. On this page we will explore the basic concepts of creating outdoor mushroom patches, with some species-specific tips down below! If you see any words or phrases you don't recognise, you can check our mushroom glossary for explanations.
Making outdoor mushroom patches is pretty simple. First, you'll need some fresh substrate (growing medium) which is of the appropriate type for the species of mushroom that you are aiming to grow. Secondly, you'll need some spawn, which is the live mushroom culture growing on an organic medium. This is used to introduce the mushroom culture into your patch. Thirdly, you'll need a patch of ground to make the patch on.
Mushrooms can grow in a wide range of spots, and they do not require full shade or permanent dampness as some may imagine. Shelter from strong wind and all-day sun is the key factor, though. A spot which is shady, or dappled light (under tree canopy), or which gets up to a few hours of sun per day can all be suitable. Mushrooms are pretty well adapted to surviving through periods of dry weather without lots of watering. They will simply pop up naturally when weather conditions are suitable - most commonly in the autumn and spring seasons, although individual species have their own preferred seasons.
When making the mushroom patch, usually the ground is cleared of weeds and any existing mulch (which may already be hosting other random fungi), existing mulch can be scraped off and moved to another part of the garden. If the patch has had lots of weeds or grass growing, some people choose to lay down a layer of cardboard to help suppress weeds and give the mushroom patch a 'clean' surface to get established on. Then, a layer of the appropriate substrate is laid down, followed by a layer of spawn, and then another layer of substrate to create a layered bed with spawn in the middle, which will grow upwards and downwards into the surrounding substrate.
A mushroom patch will commonly take between 6 to 18 months to produce its first crop after it is made. The mushroom mycelium will slowly eat and digest the substrate that it is growing in, so if this is not topped up occasionally, then the patch will eventually die out when it runs out of food. Outdoor mushroom beds can be kept alive for many years if new substrate is added once or twice a year. This is usually done in the winter, when mushrooms aren't cropping. It should be noted that it's rather common for other types of mushrooms to grow in a mushroom patch as well, because you've laid down lots of good fungi food in an outdoor setting. This is perfectly normal and usually does not prevent your intended mushrooms from growing, but it does mean that it's a good idea to positively identify mushrooms grown in your patch before consuming them!
The main species grown on woodchip beds is Wine Caps / King Stropharia (Stropharia rugoso-annulata). Shaggy ink cap mushrooms (Coprinus comatus) are grown on rich compost or rotted animal manure. Black Morels (Morchella importuna) can be grown a patch of loamy soil mulched with pine bark chips. Phoenix Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus pulmonarius) can also grow from outdoor beds made from straw or woodchip, although this isn't the 'traditional' way that they are grown.
Spawn for all of the above species can be sourced from our online store. For oyster mushroom patches, people will often use a 'spent' grow kit crumbled up and used as spawn, rather than buying spawn especially. Approximately 1kg of spawn is recommended per 1m x 1m of mushroom patch at a minimum. This ratio applies to all species. Higher spawn rates per m2 will result in faster colonisation and stronger resistance to competing fungi species in the area.
WINE CAPS / KING STROPHARIA
Wine caps are a mushroom that grows in carbon rich mulch, usually woodchips or straw, with some compost or soil mixed in. They can fruit prolifically in good conditions. The mushrooms are large, with a firm texture, and a burgundy coloured cap, which is how they get their name.
Wine caps usually fruit in the late spring and early autumn, as well as in the summer when weather is rainy and humid.
The patches are low maintenance. All that is required to keep a patch going for many years is a once or twice per year top up of more woodchips to continue feeding the mycelium. The mycelium will naturally spread into freshly laid chip, and also mature fruiting mushrooms will release spores which can germinate and start new colonies in the woodchip both in the same area as well as other nearby mulched areas. These mushrooms have a tendency to spread around a property over the course of years if appropriate habitats are available.
Wine cap mushrooms are a flavourful mushroom which can be used in many different dishes. They are commonly used in hearty, savoury dishes such as soups, stew, pasta, risotto, pizza, etc. as well as being dehydrated and powdered for use in rubs, salts, seasonings, stocks and gravies.
HABITAT: Wine caps are known to not mind a bit of sun and can often grow in spots which are exposed to several hours of sunlight per day. They also don't mind a bit of shade, or the dappled light underneath the canopy of larger trees. Wine caps can be introduced to whatever kind of area of your garden that you may be mulching with woodchips anyway, such as around fruit trees or berry bushes, asparagus patches, landscaped areas and garden paths.
SUBSTRATES: Wine caps love to grow in woodchip mulch, or other similar carbon rich materials such as straw. For woodchip, it's important to use fresh chip that's less than a month old, and which is made from actual wood, not bark chips or 'nuggets'. Arborist mulch is commonly used, which can be from a wide range of tree species, including any deciduous hardwoods like willow, poplar, oak, birch, fruit trees etc or even from woody weeds like gorse and broom. Coniferous mulch is not considered ideal, however chipped pine from young trees (eg. forestry pine, not large 'old man' pines) can work perfectly well if it is all that is available. In addition to wood chips or straw, a few handfuls of finished compost or soil can be thrown on the patch after its made, to help kick start some microbial activity, which this species of mushrooms enjoys and is stimulated by.
MAKING THE PATCH: Once a spot has been chosen, remove any weeds and scrape off any old mulch which might already be there. If the patch is particularly 'weedy', a layer of cardboard can be laid down to help suppress weed growth, but that's entirely optional. From there, make a layer about 5cm deep of your woodchip or straw mulch. Then, spread approx 1kg of spawn per square meter, evenly across the surface. Then, top it off with another layer of mulch approx 5cm deep to create a 'spawn sandwich'. Sprinkle a couple of handfuls of compost or soil over the patch at the end, to provide soil microbes.
CARING FOR THE PATCH: Wine caps are pretty hardy mushrooms, and can naturally withstand periods of dry weather, springing back to life and growing mushrooms when conditions are right. So, they don't require a lot of irrigation, but giving them some water occasionally during very dry spells of weather can be helpful. Wine caps will usually produce their first crop of mushrooms 6 to 12 months after the patch is made. They fruit in warmer weather in spring, summer and autumn, when its been rainy and humid. Top up the patch with a fresh layer of substrate each winter to keep it going for many years!
Shaggy manes, also known as shaggy ink caps or 'lawyers wigs', are a very tasty mushroom which are easy to grow at home. You won't find shaggy manes for sale at the supermarket, and that is because they have a unique habit of 'self digesting' - and turning into an inky black spore filled gloop, within just a few hours of being picked. As such, the best way to enjoy these mushrooms is to pick them and cook them up right away. They are delicious simply pan fried with butter and a pinch of salt, added into omelletes, crumbed and fried, or any other way which takes your fancy! They have a great savoury flavour and a delicate texture when cooked.
HABITAT: Shaggy manes grow in nitrogen rich soils, compost and rotted manures. In the wild, they're commonly found growing on lawns, fields, paddocks, garden beds or in other soils where there is organic matter (grass clippings, manure, leaves etc) which are slowly decomposing into soil. They can grow in spots which receive anything from full sun to full shade. They will fruit most commonly in the spring and autumn during periods of rainy or humid weather. The mushrooms start out as a white, shaggy, 'torpedo' shaped cap, which over the course of a day or two will start to turn black near the base, which slowly moves up the cap which eventually dissolves entirely, leaving just the stem. These mushrooms are best picked and cooked when the cap is still white and torpedo shaped, although some chefs have also been known to come up with creative uses for 'Shaggy manes ink'.
SUBSTRATES: A shaggy mane patch can be made either in a garden bed in a layer of nutrient rich substrate like good quality organic compost or aged manure (or a mix of both), or directly in a grass lawn, preferably one which is not sprayed and where grass grows healthy and lush. Leaving clippings on the ground when mowed will provide continued food top ups for the mushroom mycelium as time goes on.
MAKING A PATCH IN A GARDEN BED: To make a shaggy mane patch in a garden bed, simply lay down a layer of good quality organic compost approx 5cm deep, spread some broken up shaggy mane spawn matrix evenly across the area (1kg of spawn per 1m2 of space), then cover the spawn with another 5cm deep layer of compost. If the garden bed already has good quality rich soil present, you can simply just dig a few small holes around the bed with a hand trowel, and pop some chunks of spawn into the holes and then cover them up with more soil. For this method, use 100 to 200g of spawn per hole.
MAKING A PATCH ON A LAWN: If your lawn has not had chemicals applied to it any time recently and if it produces lush healthy grass, then you can make a shaggy manes patch directly in your lawn! If you leave the grass clippings on the ground in the area where the patch is rather than removing them then this will provide an ongoing food source for the mushrooms to stay alive for many years to come.
To inoculate a patch of a lawn with shaggy ink caps, simply dig or poke several small holes in the ground, about enough to fit 100 to 200g of spawn. This can be done with a 'dibbler' (a pointed tool usually used to make holes for planting garlic) or a simple hand trowel. You'll be aiming to use approximatley 1kg of spawn per 1m2 of space for a sucessful inoculation. Dig the holes diagonally spaced (like the 'five' on a dice) approximately 30-40cm apart from each other. Stuff spawn into the holes, cover back over with a bit of dirt (or sod) on top and that's job done! A layer of good quality organic compost can be optionally sprinkled around the are for a nutrient boost.
CARING FOR THE PATCH: Shaggy mane patches are easy and low maintenance. An annual top up of fresh compost will help to provide food for the mushrooms long term. Occasional watering during periods of summer drought can help keep the patch healthy.
Morels are one of the most coveted of culinary mushrooms in the world. Their flavour is like nothing else - a deeply complex amalgamation of primal, earthy, savoury, umami and fungal notes which has for centuries motivated mushroom hunters around the world to venture out each spring in the hopes of finding this elusive mushroom. Morels are not super common in New Zealand. There are a handful of native species which pop up randomly and quite sparsely in areas of native bush - usually on conservation estate where harvesting of mushrooms is not allowed (and best not to anyway, given their rarity, it's good to leave them to do their thing and fulfill their role in the ecosystem).
At some point in time by way of importation of plants and other materials, 'Black Morels' (Morchella importuna) have made their way to New Zealand and are occasionally found by a lucky few in mulched garden landscaping, with the most common denominator being a coniferous mulch, usually pine bark chips. After many years of culturing elusive wild black morels and trialling a range of cultivation strategies, MycoLogic's lead researcher Bart Acres developed a novel method by which the notoriously difficult to tame Morel could be cultivated purposefully in a home garden. This method involves a specifically chosen strain of black morel, and the spawn for it is made in concert with a blend of symbiotic microbes which allow the morel to grow and, crucially, to develop profuse 'sclerotia', which are the prerequisite for morel mushroom growth. So now, tasting fresh morels is a more accessible possibility for New Zealanders who have not yet had a chance to try them!
HABITAT: Black Morels are unique among morels in that they do not have an association with any particular host tree, they are a non-mycorrhizal mushroom. Their preferred habitat is in dense, loamy or slightly clay soil which has a neutral pH and has been topped off with a mulch made from coniferous trees. This is most commonly pine bark chips / nuggets but can also be pine woodchips, or chips / bark / needles / fronds of other kinds of coniferous trees such as macrocarpa. Morels fruit in the spring, around about the time of the second or third 'warm spell' after winter. In New Zealand, this is usually anywhere from early September through to November, depending on location and the weather that year. Morels can handle a position in full shade through to up to a few hours of sun per day. They do not need lots of irrigation and can fruit well in even semi dry conditions.
MAKING A MOREL PATCH: The key for a successful patch of black morels is in the soil. This is the main substrate of the mushrooms. While a mulch layer of coniferous material is also beneficial, the mushroom mycelium is growing mostly in the loamy soil, and it is thought that some compounds washed from conifer mulch into the soil help to create favourable conditions for morel growth and fruiting.
To make a morel patch, a decently deep base layer of good quality loam soil is needed. Loam soil is soil which is very fine in texture, and lays somewhere in between silt and clay - in fact if you thoroughly mixed silt and clay, you'd likely end up with loam soil! It's often a grey or light brown colour when dry. Some people are lucky enough to already have loamy soils on their property - if not, you can collect your own from riverbanks or alluvial plains, or buy it from garden and landscaping centres. Soil sold as 'topsoil' is often a loam type soil.
Lay down a layer about 10cm or more deep of loam soil, some people will choose to dig a bed to lay that in, or the loam soil can simply be tipped onto a bare patch of ground. From here, break up some MycoLogic Black Morel Spawn and spread it across the surface of the soil. You will be aiming to use about 1kg of spawn per square meter of ground.
Next, you'll need yourself some coniferous mulch. Pine bark nuggets of a smallish size are the favoured top layer, but pine or macorcarpa chip (can include leaves / needles) can also work well. Lay down a layer of these on top of the spawn layer. Approximately 5cm deep of mulch is about right.
Finally, sprinkle some gypsum on the patch. Gypsum helps to neutralise soil pH and create a favourable growing environment for morels. We generally use about 300g per square meter. A packet of gypsum is provided with all MycoLogic morel mushroom spawn, so you don't need to buy this separately.
You can give the patch a light watering after you're done, to wash the gypsum into the substrate, or if it's going to rain soon then don't worry about it.
From here, your morel patch will slowly grow and establish its mycelium network throughout the soil. Patches made six months or more before spring can have potential to fruit in the same year (but not always). Patches made in autumn and winter are unlikely to fruit that same spring, and so would be more likely to fruit in the spring of the following year. It pays to keep a very close eye on your morel patch (and the surrounding area) from early September through to November - the mushrooms are very well camouflaged and on several occasions I have missed seeing them growing until they were old and drying out! Crouching down low to the ground and visually scanning across the surface can help a lot in spotting them. Black morels can be picked when the ridges on the combs start to darken to black (younger morels are a more tan colour).
NATIVE PHOENIX OYSTER MUSHROOMS
Phoenix oyster mushrooms, also known as grey oyster mushrooms, are widely known as a species which is pretty easy to cultivate by a wide range of methods. So long as they've got some carbonaceous material (like straw, sawdust, woodchip, cardboard etc) and the right environmental conditions, they're likely to produce a crop. While oyster mushrooms are usually cultivated in bags, buckets or in log culture, they will also fruit from ground based outdoor patches.
When it comes to making an outdoor oyster mushroom patch, the methods are pretty much the same as what has been described above - mix some live mycelium or spawn in with some fresh substrate, and chances are, you'll get a few good crops of mushrooms. This can be incorporated into an existing vegetable patch, for example if you are mulching potatoes, pumpkins, or other vegetables that enjoy a mulch layer, you can add oyster mushroom mycelium in to the mulch as an easy way to obtain a nutritious and tasty secondary crop from the same patch of garden space. Oyster mushroom beds are an easy, low fuss way to grow some food.
HABITAT: Phoenix oyster mushrooms are not super fussy about their habitat and can grow in a wide range of conditions and seasons. If you utilise a native strain of phoenix oyster (Pleurotus pulmonarius) such as is provided by MycoLogic as spawn or grow kits, these are very well adapted to local conditions here in Aotearoa New Zealand. In the wild, they can naturally fruit at any time of year during periods of rainy, humid weather. All that they require is a supply of food, which will most commonly be straw, sawdust or woodchips, but they are known to fruit on a wide range of other carbon rich materials, so you can be creative in utilising what you have available.
MAKING THE OUTDOOR OYSTER MUSHROOM BED: To make the patch, simply lay down a layer of your mulch substrate (fresh / clean straw, woodchips or sawdust, pellet fire pellets can also be used) about 5cm deep, then sprinkle the broken up spawn (whether thats an old grow kit or fresh grain spawn) over the surface, then top it of with an additional 5cm or so of fresh substrate on top. If grain spawn is being used, about 1kg per m2 is a good ratio, if a broken up kit is used, it can be used at 1kg per m2 as an inoculum or higher rates per m2 will colonise and establish faster (a MycoLogic native phoenix oyster kit is 4.5kg so you've got a bit to work with). The patch can be made as its own dedicated mushroom patch or can be interspersed with vegetable gardens, around fruit trees, or in landscaped areas around the base of shrubs and plants.
The patch can be watered occasionally during periods of dry weather, but otherwise will not require any significant maintenance, the mushrooms will pop up when environmental conditions are favourable, so keep an eye on the patch a few days after rain or when the weather has been mild and humid.