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How To Grow Mushrooms

Mushrooms.—Take partially dry horse manure and lay it in a heap to ferment. Turn and mix it well every few days, and when well and equally fermented, which will be from ten to fourteen days, make it into a bed 4 ft. wide and 2 ft. deep, mixing it well together and beating or treading it firmly. When the temperature of the bed falls to 75 degrees, or a little under, the spawn may be inserted in pieces about the size of a walnut, 2 in. deep and 6 in. apart. Now give a covering of loamy soil, 2 in. deep, and beat it down evenly and firmly. Finish off with a covering of clean straw or hay about 1 ft. thick. Water when necessary with lukewarm water; but very little should be given till the Mushrooms begin to come up, then a plentiful supply may be given. They may be grown in any warm cellar or shed, and usually appear in from four to six weeks after planting.

MUSHROOMS, OR ESCULENT FUNGI.

Agaricus. Boletus. Clavaria. Morchella, or Morel. Tuber, or Truffle.

Although many experiments have been made in the culture of different species of edible Fungi, "only one has yet been generally introduced into the garden, though there can be no doubt the whole would finally submit to and probably be improved by cultivation. Many of them are natives of this country, abounding in our woods and pastures; and may be gathered wild, and freely enjoyed by those who have not the means of raising them artificially. In Poland and Russia, there are about thirty sorts of edible Fungi in common use among the peasantry. They are gathered in all the different stages of their growth, and used in various ways,—raw, boiled, stewed, roasted; and being hung up, and dried in stoves or chimneys, form a part of their winter's stock of provisions.

"Mushrooms are not, however, everywhere equally abundant, owing as well to climate as to the more general cultivation of the soil: the character of many of the sorts is, therefore, not perfectly known, and most of them are passed over as deleterious. Indeed, the greatest caution is requisite in selecting any species of this tribe for food; and we can advise none but an experienced botanist to search after any but the common and familiar sort (Agaricus campestris) for food."—Loud.


COMMON MUSHROOM. M'Int. Rog.

Champignon. Agaricus campestris.

This Mushroom, when it first appears, is of a rounded or button-like form, of a white color, and apparently rests on the surface of the ground. When fully developed, "the stem is solid, two or three inches high, and about half an inch in diameter; its cap measures from an inch to three and sometimes even upwards of four inches in diameter, is of a white color, changing to brown when old, and becoming scurfy, fleshy, and regularly convex, but, with age, flat, and liquefying in decay; the gills are loose, of a pinkish-red, changing to liver-color, in contact with but not united to the stem, very thick-set, some forked next the stem, some next the edge of the cap, some at both ends, and generally, in that case, excluding the intermediate smaller gills."

Common Mushroom.
Common Mushroom.

Loudon says that it is most readily distinguished, when of middle size, by its fine pink or flesh-colored gills and pleasant smell. In a more advanced stage, the gills become of a chocolate color; and it is then more liable to be confounded with other kinds of dubious quality: but the species which most nearly resembles it is slimy to the touch, and destitute of the fine odor, having rather a disagreeable smell. Further, the noxious kind grows in woods, or on the margin of woods; while the true Mushroom springs up chiefly in open pastures, and should be gathered only in such places.

Cultivation.—"This is the only species that has as yet been subjected to successful cultivation; though there can be little doubt that all or most of the terrestrial-growing sorts would submit to the same process, if their natural habitats were sufficiently studied, and their spawn collected and propagated. In this way, the Common Mushroom was first brought under the control of man.

"The seeds of the Common Mushroom, in falling from the gills when ripe, are no doubt wafted by the wind, and become attached to the stems and leaves of grasses and other herbage; and notwithstanding they are eaten by such animals as the horse, deer, and sheep, pass through their intestines without undergoing any material change in their vegetative existence: and hence, in the dung of these animals, when placed together, and kept moderately dry, and brought to a slight state of fermentation, we discover the first stage of the existence of the future brood of mushrooms. This is practically called 'spawn,' and consists of a white, fibrous substance, running like broken threads through the mass of dung, which appears to be its only and proper nidus."—M'Int. It is prepared for use as follows:—

"In June and July, take any quantity of fresh horse-droppings,—the more dry and high-fed the better,—mixed with short litter, one-third of cow's dung, and a good portion of mould of a loamy nature; cement them well together, and mash the whole into a thin compost, and spread it on the floor of an open shed, to remain until it becomes firm enough to be formed into flat, square bricks; which done, set them on an edge, and frequently turn them till half dry; then, with a dibble, make two or three holes in each brick, and insert in each hole a piece of good old spawn about the size of a common walnut. The bricks should then be left till they are dry. This being completed, level the surface of a piece of ground, under cover, three feet wide, and of sufficient length to receive the bricks; on which lay a bottom of dry horse-dung six inches thick; then form a pile by placing the bricks in rows one upon another, with the spawn-side uppermost, till the pile is three feet high; next cover it with a small portion of warm horse-dung, sufficient in quantity to diffuse a gentle glow of heat through the whole. When the spawn has spread itself through every part of the bricks, the process is ended, and the bricks may then be laid up in a dry place for use. Mushroom-spawn thus made will preserve its vegetative power many years, if well dried before it is laid up; but, if moist, it will grow, and exhaust itself."—Trans.

The next step to be taken is the formation of the bed; in the preparation of which, no dung answers so well as that of the horse, when taken fresh from the stable: the more droppings in it, the better. The process recommended by Rogers is as follows:—

"About July or August is the general season for making mushroom-beds, though this may be done all the year round. A quantity of the dung mentioned should be collected and thrown together in a heap, to ferment and acquire heat; and, as this heat generally proves too violent at first, it should, previously to making the bed, be reduced to a proper temperature by frequently turning it in the course of the fortnight or three weeks; which time it will most likely require for all the parts to get into an even state of fermentation. During the above time, should it be showery weather, the bed will require some sort of temporary protection, by covering it with litter or such like, as too much wet would soon deaden its fermenting quality. The like caution should be attended to in making the bed, and after finishing it. As soon as it is observed that the fiery heat and rank steam of the dung have passed off, a dry and sheltered spot of ground should be chosen on which to make the bed. This should be marked out five feet broad; and the length, running north and south, should be according to the quantity of mushrooms likely to be required. If for a moderate family, a bed twelve or fourteen feet long will be found, if it takes well, to produce a good supply of mushrooms for some months, provided proper attention be paid to the covering.

"On the space marked for making the bed, a trench should be thrown out about six inches deep. The mould may be laid regularly at the side; and, if good, it will do for earthing the bed hereafter: otherwise, if brought from a distance, that of a more loamy than a sandy nature will be best.

"Whether in the trench, or upon the surface, there should be laid about four inches of good litter, not too short, for forming the bottom of the bed; then lay on the prepared dung a few inches thick, regularly over the surface, beating it as regularly down with the fork; continue thus, gradually drawing in the sides to the height of five feet, until it is narrow at the top like the ridge of a house. In that state it may remain for ten days or a fortnight, during which time the heat should be examined towards the middle of the bed by thrusting some small sharp sticks down in three or four places; and, when found of a gentle heat (not hot), the bed may be spawned: for which purpose, the spawn-bricks should be broken regularly into pieces about an inch and a half or two inches square, beginning within six inches of the bottom of the bed, and in lines about eight inches apart. The same distance will also do for the pieces of spawn, which are best put in by one hand, raising the manure up a few inches, whilst with the other the spawn can be laid in and covered at the same time.

"After spawning the bed, if it is found to be in that regular state of heat before mentioned, it may be earthed. After the surface is levelled with the back of the spade, there should be laid on two inches of mould,—that out of the trench, if dry and good, will do; otherwise make choice of a rich loam, as before directed. After having been laid on, it is to be beaten closely together; and, when the whole is finished, the bed must be covered about a foot thick with good oat or wheat straw; over which should be laid mats, for the double purpose of keeping the bed dry, and of securing the covering from being blown off. In the course of two or three days, the bed should be examined; and, if it is considered that the heat is likely to increase, the covering must be diminished for a few days, which is better than taking it entirely off.

"In about a month or five weeks,—but frequently within the former time, if the bed is in a high state of cultivation,—mushrooms will most likely make their appearance; and, in the course of eight and forty hours afterwards, they will have grown to a sufficient size for use. In gathering, instead of cutting them off close to the ground, they should be drawn out with a gentle twist, filling up the cavity with a little fine mould, gently pressed in level with the bed. This method of gathering is much better than cutting, as the part left generally rots, and breeds insects, which are very destructive, both in frames and on mushroom-beds.

"Where a mushroom-bed is to remain permanently, a covered shed will be found convenient.

"Sometimes it happens that a bed suddenly ceases to produce any mushrooms. This arises from various causes, but principally from the cold state of the bed in winter, or from a too dry state in summer. In the former case, a slight covering of mulchy hay laid over the bed, and on that six or eight inches of well-worked, hot dung, and the whole covered lightly with the straw that was taken off, will most likely bring it about again. In the latter instance, moisture, if required, should be given moderately, two or three mornings; when, after lying about an hour, the whole may be covered up, and be found of much service. In summer, most mushroom-beds in a bearing state require more or less slight waterings. Soft water should be used for the purpose: spring water is of too hard and too cold a nature; and, when at any time applied, checks vegetation. In summer time, a gentle shower of rain, on open beds that are in bearing and seem dry, will add considerably to their productiveness.

"A mushroom-bed seldom furnishes any abundance after two or three months: it has often done its best in six or seven weeks. Heavy rains are most destructive to mushrooms: therefore care should be taken to remove the wet straw, or litter, and directly replace it with dry. Hence the utility of a covered shed, or mushroom-house."

In addition to the foregoing, the following native species may be eaten with perfect safety, if gathered young and used while fresh:—

Agaricus Comatus.

"An excellent species, much employed for making catchup; but should be used in a young state. It is found growing abundantly on stumps of trees, appearing both in spring and autumn."

Agaricus Deliciosus. M'Int.

Sweet Mushroom.

Found in September and October, growing under fir and pine trees. It is of medium size, yellowish, zoned, with deep orange on the top, somewhat resembling A. torminosus (a deleterious species), but readily distinguished from it, as its juice is, when fresh cut, quite red, afterwards turning green, while that of the latter is white and unchangeable.

Sir James Edward Smith says it well deserves its name, and is really the most delicious mushroom known; and Mr. Sowerby is equally high in its praise, pronouncing it very luscious eating, full of rich gravy, with a little of the flavor of mussels.

Agaricus Exquisitus. Badham.

St. George's Mushroom. M'Int. Agaricus Georgii.

This species often attains a weight of five or six pounds. It is generally considered less delicate than the common cultivated mushroom (A. campestris); but in Hungary it is regarded as a special gift from the saint whose name it bears. Persoon describes it as superior to A. campestris in smell, taste, and digestibility; on which account, he says, it is generally preferred in France.

It is found abundantly in many places, generally growing in rings, and re-appearing for many successive years on the same spot; and, though sometimes met with in old pastures, is generally found in thickets, under trees.

Agaricus Personatus.

Blewits. Blue Hats. Cooke.

This is one of the species occasionally sold in Covent-Garden Market, London. When mature, it has a soft, convex, moist, smooth pileus, with a solid, somewhat bulbous stem, tinted with lilac. The gills are dirty-white, and rounded towards the stem.

The Agaricus personatus constitutes one of the very few mushrooms which have a market value in England. It is quite essential that it should be collected in dry weather, as it absorbs moisture readily, and is thereby injured in flavor, and rendered more liable to decay.

Agaricus Prunulus. Vitt. M'Int.

This is found only in spring, growing in rings on the borders of wood-lands; at which time abundance of its spawn may be procured, and may be continued in the same way that the spawn of the common cultivated Mushroom is; namely, by transplanting it into bricks of loam and horse-dung, in which it will keep for months.

This mushroom is used both in its green and dried state. In the latter it constitutes what is called "Funghi di Genoa," and is preserved by being simply cut into four pieces, and dried in the air for a few days; when it is strung up, and kept for use.

Agaricus Oreades.

Fairy-ring Agaricus.

There is little difficulty in distinguishing this mushroom, which is found growing in rings. The pileus is of a brownish-ochre color at first; becomes paler as it grows older, until it fades into a rich cream-yellow.

Dr. Badham says, "Independent of the excellent flavor of this little mushroom, two circumstances make it valuable in a domestic point of view,—the facility with which it is dried, and its extensive dissemination." It may be kept for years without losing any of its aroma or goodness.


BOLETUS. Fries.

Of this, two species are considered eatable,—the B. edulis and the B. scaber; the former resembling the Common Mushroom in taste, and the latter of good quality while in a young, fresh state, but of little value when dried, as it loses much of its odor, and becomes insipid, and unfit for use.


CLAVARIA.

All the species are edible, and many of them indigenous to our woods; being usually found in damp, shady places.


THE MOREL. M'Int.

Morchella esculenta.

In its natural state, the Morel is found growing in orchards, damp woods, and in moist pastures. Its height is about four inches. It is distinguished by its white, cylindrical, hollow, or solid, smooth stem; its cap is of a pale-brown or gray color, nearly spherical, hollow, adheres to the stem by its base, and is deeply pitted over its entire surface. It is in perfection early in the season; but should not be gathered soon after rain, or while wet with dew. If gathered when dry, it may be preserved for several months.

The Morel.
The Morel.

Use.—The Morels are used, like the Truffle, as an ingredient to heighten the flavor of ragouts, gravies, and other rich dishes. They are used either fresh or in a dried state.

Cultivation.—Its cultivation, if ever attempted, has been carried on to a very limited extent. Of its capability of submitting to culture, there can be little doubt. If the spawn were collected from its natural habitats in June, and planted in beds differently formed, but approximating as nearly as possible to its natural conditions, a proper mode of cultivation would assuredly be in time arrived at. Persoon remarks that "it prefers a chalky or argillaceous soil to one of a sandy nature; and that it not unfrequently springs up where charcoal has been burned, or where cinders have been thrown."

"The great value of the Morel—which is one of the most expensive luxuries furnished by the Italian warehouses, and which is by no means met with in the same abundance as some others of the Fungi—deserves to be better known than it is at present." The genus comprises a very few species, and they are all edible.


COMMON TRUFFLE.

Tuber cibarium.

On the authority of our most distinguished mycologists, the CommonTruffle has not yet been discovered within the limits of the UnitedStates. It is said to be found abundantly in some parts of GreatBritain, particularly in Wiltshire, Kent, and Hampshire. It is collectedin large quantities in some portions of France, and is indigenous toother countries of Europe.

The Truffle.
The Truffle.

The following description by Mascall, in connection with the engraving,will give an accurate idea of its size, form, color, and generalcharacter: "The size rarely much exceeds that of a large walnut. Itsform is rounded, sometimes kidney-shaped, and rough with protuberances.The surface, when the truffle is young, is whitish; but, in those thatare full grown, it is either blackish or a deep-black. The color of theinside is whitish, with dark-blue and white, gray, reddish, light-brownor dark-brown veins, of the thickness of a horse-hair, which are usuallyvariously entangled, and which form a kind of network, or mat. Betweenthe veins are numerous cavities, filled with mucilage, and small, solidgrains. These scarcely visible glands were formerly said to be theseeds, or germs, of the young truffles. The less the inside of theTruffle is colored with dark veins, the more tender and delicious is itsflesh.

"The blackish, external rind is hard, and very rough, by means of finefissures, grains, and protuberances; and forms, with its small facets(which are almost hexagonal), an appearance by which it somewhatresembles the fir-apples of the larch. Whilst the truffle is young, itssmell resembles that of putrid plants, or of moist, vegetable earth.When it has nearly attained its full growth, it diffuses an agreeablesmell, which is peculiar to it, resembling that of musk, which lastsonly a few days: it then becomes stronger; and the nearer the fungus isto its dissolution, which speedily ensues, so much the more unpleasantis its odor, till at last it is quite disagreeable and putrid. Whilstyoung, the flesh is watery, and the taste insipid: when fully formed,its firm flesh, which is like the kernel of the almond, has an extremelyaromatic and delicious taste; but as soon as the fungus begins to decay,and worms and putrescence to attack it, its taste is bitter anddisagreeable."

Many attempts have been made in Great Britain, as well as in other partsof Europe, to propagate the Truffle by artificial means; but allexperiments thus far, if they have not totally failed, have beenattended by very unsatisfactory results.

Use.—Like the Common Mushroom, it is used principally in stuffings,gravies, and sauces, and in other very highly seasoned culinarypreparations. It has long been held in high esteem by epicures and theopulent; but, from its extreme rarity, has always commanded a pricewhich has effectually prohibited its general use. It has been truthfullyremarked, "that few know how to raise it, and fewer still possess theproper knowledge to prepare it for the table."

Piedmontese Truffle. Thomp.

Tuber magnatum.

This species is the most celebrated of all the truffles, and alwayscommands an enormous price. It occurs abundantly in the mountains ofPiedmont, and probably nowhere else.

Tuber Melanosporum. Thomp.

This is the Truffle of the Paris markets. It is richly scented, and alsogreatly superior in flavor to the common sorts.

Other genera and species of Fungi are considered harmless, and areoccasionally used for food. Some of the edible kinds, however, in size,form, color, and organization, so closely approach certain poisonous ordeleterious species, as to confuse even the most experienced student.None of the family (not excepting even the common cultivated Mushroom)should therefore be gathered for use, except by those who may possess athorough knowledge of the various species and their properties.