Introduction: Oyster Mushrooms in a Laundry Basket

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Mushrooms often get overlooked in the grand scheme of gardening, just because they're not plants. However, they are extremely beneficial to your garden's soil, are highly nutritious and make a tasty addition to almost any meal. The high levels of protein also make them especially valuable to vegetarians and vegans.

Most people have never thought about growing their own mushrooms, which is a huge shame. It's true that some species can be a little tricky to grow, but once you learn a few basic requirements, it is feasible to grow all the mushrooms you can eat.

Each type of mushroom has specific "ideal" requirements for temperature, humidity, light, and nutrition. Some grow in soil, others on compost piles, logs, trees - the list is endless. However, for the beginner, we recommend oyster mushrooms. Get your feet wet with this most forgiving mushroom and you'll definitely want to advance into the realm of others like Shitake, Paddy Straw, Garden Giant, and more. 

Growing oyster mushrooms in a laundry basket is easy, cheap and it's a great project to do with kids.  They'll enjoy watching the quick growth of the fruiting bodies as well as the rewards of eating them after harvest.

Check out step 9 for our favorite recipe with mushrooms - Italian Braised Rabbit. It's a delicious, nutritious meal, for which we grow all the ingredients needed (except olive oil, salt and pepper) here on our homestead.

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Step 1: Materials Needed

  • Oyster Mushroom Spawn
  • Cardboard
  • Large Pot
  • Thermometer
  • Ice chest (it cleans up easily afterwards)
  • Chopped Straw
  • Agricultural Lime
  • Agricultural Gypsum
  • Screen
  • Laundry Basket (we use ones that are 15" squares, 10" tall, which we found for $1 each)
  • Medium Trash Bag

WARNING: do not gather wild mushrooms (to clone) or their spawn, unless you can provide a 100% positive identification.  Instead of collecting from the wild, a better strategy for beginners is buying spawn for species you are interested in.

Step 2: Ideal Conditions

There are many different types of oyster mushrooms. Look through a mushroom catalog and select one that is suited to your particular climate. Here are two examples of ones we use, at different times of the year.

Grey Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)
Spawn Run: 75F, 85-95% Humidity, 12-21 Days, no light
Primordia: 50F-60F, 95-100% Humidity, 3-5 days, Fresh air 3 times daily, Partial Shade
Fruiting: 60F-70F, 85-95% Humidity, 4-7 days, Fresh air 3 times daily, Partial Shade

Pink Oyster (Pleurotus djamor)
Spawn Run: 75F-85F, 90%-100% humidity, 7-10 days
Primordia: 65F-75F, 95%-100% humidity, fresh air 3 times a day, full light, 2-4 days
Fruiting: 70F-85F, 85%-95% humidity, fresh air 3 times a day, full light, 3-5 days

Step 3: Pasteurizing Straw

  1. Get a large pot and fill with 2 gallons of hot water.
  2. Put the pot on the stove, and heat until the water reaches 180 degrees F.
  3. While the water is heating, fill the laundry basket with straw.  You want to fill the basket a little at a time, and compress the straw as you go.
  4. Dump the straw into an old ice chest. It is easy to clean afterwards, so don't worry if you have to use a good one.
  5. Dust the straw with a bit of lime (1/4 cup) and gypsum (1/8 cup).
  6. Mix the lime and gypsum in.
  7. Once the water is up to temperature, pour it over the straw.
  8. Close the ice chest and let the straw soak for 1.5 hours.

Step 4: Load the Basket

  1. After the straw has soaked for at least 1.5 hours, open the drain on the ice chest and let the hot water drain out into a bucket.
  2. Set up a screen, on which you can cool your straw. We lay a tarp on the ground, to collect any straw that falls onto the ground. We then raise the screen up a little (setting it on bricks or other "legs"), so that air can flow all around the hot straw.
  3. Lay out a layer of the hot straw on the screen.  The layer should be less than 2 inches thick.
  4. Once the straw has cooled to the touch, load a layer into the laundry basket and compress.  The layer should be about 2 inches thick. Note that hot straw can damage your spawn.
  5. Place another layer of straw on the screen.
  6. Cover the layer of straw in the basket with spawn.  Make sure the spawn stays at least 2 inches away from the edge of the basket.  You want the spawn to be evenly distributed on the straw. [See step 8 for instructions on growing mycelium on cardboard from clones.]
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 until the laundry basket is full.
  8. Once full, run your hands around the outside of the basket, making all the loose straw fall.
  9. Cover the basket with the trash bag.

Step 5: Spawn Run

  1. Place the laundry basket in a warm, dark room.  The temperature and humidity of the room depends on the type of mushroom you are growing. For grey oysters, the ideal temperature is about 75 degrees. For pink, a little higher.
  2. The trash bag over it helps maintain humidity.
  3. Check on the basket after one week.  You should start to see white mycelium growing at some of the holes.  Cover, and check again in another week.
  4. Once the mycelium has completely covered the straw, you are ready to start pinning (primordia formation).

Step 6: Primordia

  1. Uncover the basket and place in a cool, well lit room.  You want the room to be 50F-60F for Grey and 65F-75F for Pink. Both need high humidity.  If humidity is a problem, place a loose plastic over the basket.
  2. Expose the basket to fresh air 3 times a day.  Mist the basket once a day.
  3. Time varies on primordia formation, but it can take as much as a week.
  4. When primodia form, they will look like tiny little pins.  Once the basket is full of these, it is time for the fruiting stage.

Step 7: Fruiting

  1. Move the basket to a slightly warmer room with more light.  The humidity can be a bit lower here, but a loose plastic draped over the basket works well. 
  2. Expose the basket to fresh air 3 times a day.  Mist the basket once a day.
  3. Watch out for fruit flies, they can destroy your harvest. If flies are detected, move the basket to a better location and make the plastic covering a bit tighter.
  4. Pick the fruit when the heads just begin to turn upright.  Be careful, fruit can develop extremely fast, one day they look like pins, and the next day they are ready to harvest.
  5. Once you harvest the fruits, mist the basket thoroughly, and go through the primodia procedure again.  The basket should be able to fruit 2-3 times.

Step 8: Cloning

  1. Once you harvest your mushrooms, you can make more spawn through cloning on cardboard. Cut all the stems and bases of the harvested fruit into tiny pieces.
  2. Cut cardboard into 6" by 6" squares.  You'll want a stack of cardboard at least 8" high.
  3. Soak the cardboard in water for about 15 minutes, or until the layers of cardboard separate easily
  4. Prepare a trash bag by opening it, and setting it flat on the counter.  You will set the cardboard in this bag.
  5. Separate a piece of cardboard by pulling the layers apart. You should have one piece with corrugations, and the other piece will be flat.
  6. Place the corrugated piece in the bag.  Put several small pieces of mushroom, spaced about 2" apart, on the cardboard layer.  Cover with the other side of cardboard.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 for all of your cardboard, setting each piece on top of the previous layer.
  8. Close the bag with a loose knot.  Mark the date and species of mushroom on the bag, and set in a warm, dark room (spawning Room) for 2 weeks.  Check the bag every few days for signs of growth.  The mycelium will be white and fuzzy, and will grow out from the mushrooms pieces and cover the entire stack of cardboard.
  9. When the mycelium has covered the entire stack, it is ready to go into a laundry basket.  To use this as spawn, pull out a layer of cardboard, tear into small pieces, and layer on the straw.
  10. If the cardboard starts to stink or has green mold, dispose of it.  You want clean spawn going into your laundry baskets.

Step 9: Cooking (plus Recipe for Italian Braised Rabbit)

All mushrooms should be cooked before eating to make the nutrients available for your body.  You cannot process the nutrition in raw mushrooms.

There are countless ways to cook mushrooms, the simplest being to stir-fry them in butter and garlic (optional). They are also great on pizzas, in pasta, stir-fry, etc.

My favorite recipe using mushrooms is an Italian one. Italian cooking is all about the freshness and quality of your ingredients, and we have all the ingredients (except olive oil, which we can substitute with lard if needed, salt and pepper) for this Italian Braised Rabbit fresh from our homestead. It takes about an hour and a half to make, though most of that time is not active.

  • 1 rabbit, cut into pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • Fresh Oyster mushrooms - they reduce significantly when cooked, so be generous
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar (we use home-made apple cider vinegar)
  • 1/2 cup cider or white wine (we use the dregs from our home-made cider as it is packed with nutrients like B12)
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes
  • 2 cups bone broth (which we get from cooking rabbit bones and water in a pressure cooker for 1 hour)
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Fresh parsley and basil
  1. Sprinkle the rabbit pieces with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat olive oil in an ovenproof saucepan and brown the meat over medium heat. Once it's all browned put it aside.
  3. In the oil, saute the onions for a couple of minutes. Then add the garlic and mushrooms.
  4. Add the cider and vinegar and boil for a few minutes.
  5. Add the tomatoes, broth and herbs.
  6. Put the rabbit back in and stir it all up. (You can add potatoes and other vegetables if you want, but you'll need to increase the liquid accordingly.)
  7. Place the lid on the pan and put it in an oven preheated to 350 degrees.
  8. Cook for an hour or until the rabbit is tender.
  9. Add fresh parsley and basil, as well as salt and pepper if desired.

Sorry i don't have photos for this dish. I don't ever think of the camera when cooking. Next time I do it, I'll try and remember to add photos to this page!
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