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Putting the ‘fun’ in fungiPutting the ‘fun’ in fungi

K-State expert says even beginning gardeners can grow culinary mushrooms at home.

Jennifer M. Latzke

July 29, 2022

3 Min Read
woman holding a bowl of large mushrooms
FUN FUNGI: Pam Paulsen, Reno County’s Kansas State University Horticulture Extension agent, says mushrooms can be a fun and tasty addition to your garden and your dinner table. She covered the most commonly cultivated mushroom species and how they can be grown successfully at home. Dmytro Varavin/Getty images

Growing mushrooms can seem complicated to many home gardeners. But Pam Paulsen, Reno County’s Kansas State University Horticulture Extension agent, says there can be a lot of fun in growing fungi at home.

Paulsen shared her expertise with other hobby growers during the July 6 “K-State Garden Hour.” This monthly webinar connects K-State’s horticulture experts to their gardener stakeholders.

Speaking ’shrooms

First, gardeners need to understand what a mushroom is, Paulsen said. The mushroom we see and eventually harvest for our tables is the fruiting structure of a vast unseen fungal organism. That mushroom cap above the surface will drop spores, which develop into hyphae, and they grow into the mycelium — which is what’s colonizing the soil, she explained. At the right temperature and under the right moisture conditions, that mycelium will then grow pins aboveground, which then grows into a cap and starts the process over.

Mushrooms are part of the nutrient recycling process of healthy soils and gardens. There are two types:

  • Saprotrophs. These fungi obtain their nutrients by secreting an enzyme that breaks down larger molecules into smaller ones. They are easier to cultivate, Paulsen said.

  • Mycorrhizal fungi. This type of fungi forms a symbiotic relationship with tree and other plant roots to absorb sugars that they take in. She says 95% of our plants have this symbiotic relationship with fungi in the ground. These are much harder to cultivate.

Choose your mushroom

Choosing the right mushroom to grow requires matching your available resources to the mushroom’s needs. Mushrooms either serve as primary decomposers or secondary decomposers, Paulsen said.

“Primary decomposers are the first in, and they break down that raw food source,” Paulsen said. These prefer logs or more fresh cellulose foodstuffs, such as shiitake, maitake, nameko, oyster, lion’s mane and comb tooth mushrooms.

Secondary decomposers are the mushrooms that come in and essentially finish the leftovers from those primary decomposers, Paulsen added. They prefer soil, rotting wood or compost. These are the wine caps, blewit, almond agaricus, and the popular button or portobello mushrooms that you see in the grocery store.

Paulsen offered this advice for selecting and growing mushrooms:

  1. Look at what substrate resources you have access to, and your available space. Do you have a lot of straw or compost, wood chips, logs, a high tunnel, a shed or a heated facility? Choose the mushroom species that matches your resources.

  2. Select your source of spawn. Paulsen recommends new growers use preinoculated sources that come in sawdust or on wooden dowels. More advanced growers may want to cultivate their own spawn on petri dishes and then inoculate their substrates.

  3. Remember, mushroom species can be very particular about the species of logs or substrate they grow on, so match the substrate to the mushroom. Some mushrooms require temperature or moisture changes to encourage growth.

  4. Inoculate your substrate, and then give your mushroom time to spawn-run or incubate.

Tabletop kits are a great place to start, Paulsen advised. They usually come in a plastic bag or kit that allows for the proper humidity and temperature for the mushrooms to spawn-run. Paulsen said she has kits growing in her office.

To watch more of Paulsen's webinar, or to register for future “K-State Garden Hour” webinars, visit K-State Garden Hour webinars.



About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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