HOW TO GROW MUSHROOMS
Anyone who has a good cellar where an even temperature can be maintained can grow mushrooms for home use, but if they are to be raised in large quantities for market, an appropriate building must be given over to their exclusive use. We have been successful for several seasons in growing mushrooms in an amateurish way, but it was not until a large root-cellar was left vacant that we thought of the feasibility of adding them to our market products.
The farm we were lucky enough to acquire was one of the old-fashioned, practical places, with a full equipment of buildings. Under the cow-barn there was a stone basement, used for the winter storing of root crops. After our dairy herd developed, it seemed wise to use ensilage instead of roots during the winter. So we built a silo, and this left the store-house vacant. It was eighty feet long and fifteen feet wide, so, after we conceived the mushroom idea, we partitioned off thirty feet to retain as a storing-place for household vegetables and fitted up the other fifty feet with mushroom-beds.
We put in a brooder-house stove and pipe system, which cost one hundred and twenty dollars. The lumber for the beds cost an additional thirty dollars, extra manure twenty-two dollars and spawn fifty dollars—two hundred and twenty-two dollars in all. Four months later we had received four hundred and forty-five dollars. Since then the returns have fluctuated between four and five hundred dollars, and we estimate that it costs one hundred and twenty-five dollars per season to produce the crop. So I think that mushrooms can be considered profitable when run in connection with poultry or general farming, especially as they come in at a season of the year when there is very little else to be attended to, and, what is more, the only heavy work is preparing manure and compost for the beds, and that any ordinary farm man can accomplish. The rest is all so light and easy that a young girl or a delicate woman can attend to it without fatigue.
It is not necessary to have an expensive stone or brick building. We have a neighbor who uses part of an old cow-stable, and a man in the suburbs of New York, who grows a quantity each season, has simply a dugout with rough board walls, two feet above the ground, and an A-shaped roof—all covered with tar-paper, a place that could not have cost more than seventy-five dollars at the very most. A shed or outbuilding of any kind will answer if it is weather-proof and can be kept at a temperature of fifty-five or sixty in zero weather without much expense.
Don’t be tempted to start on any elaborate scale in the house-cellar, for the odor from the beds whilst the manure is heating prior to planting-time will permeate the entire house and cling to carpets and draperies in a most horrible way. Of course, this does not obtain when only a few are to be raised for the home table, because shallow boxes can be used and need not be carried into the cellar until the objectionable period is past.
When a special house is used, the beds may be made on the floor, a great depth of manure used and artificial heat dispensed with. But it is not a good or economical plan, for the necessary amount of stable manure would cost as much as fuel, necessitate close watching and the result would not be as satisfactory, so we will only consider the approved method of benches and artificial heat, which is generally adopted by the modern market grower.
The benches in our house run on each side, leaving walks three feet wide through the center of the house, two feet along the side walls. Having the three walks enables us to gather from each side of the beds, which is almost a necessity when the beds are four feet wide. With a narrower house and beds, a center path would be sufficient, but it should not be less than three feet wide for convenience when filling and emptying beds.
The benches are made of two-by-two studding and rough hemlock boards, the studding being used for the upright supports which go from floor to ceiling, every five feet of the entire length and on each side of the house. Supports are run diagonally between each four uprights on each side of the house, to make a foundation for the floor of the beds, as well as to strengthen the entire structure. The hemlock boards are used for the sides and bottoms of the beds, which are two feet above the ground. Beds should be sixteen inches deep, but we used one row of boards nine inches wide and another row six inches wide, as the boards happened to be cut in those sizes.
The second tier of beds, which were added a year later, were a foot and a half above the top of the first tier and only twelve inches deep, but have proved quite as satisfactory in every way, and as the shallow beds take less manure, I think it is safe to advise beginners to adopt the latter depth for beds in a house where artificial heat is used.
The bottoms and sides of the beds should be fixed so that they can be easily removed, as it facilitates the work of emptying beds, which has to be done every spring. Any heating apparatus which can be easily arranged and depended upon can, of course, be used, but I think the stove and pipes which are specially made for poultry plants are the most convenient, as their construction is so simple that any handy man can fix them without the aid of a plumber—a great consideration on the farm.
Narrow cellar windows were inserted in the sides of the house, to furnish light and air in the spring and fall, when the heavy work was being done, and also while gathering each day during the season. It is so much pleasanter to work by daylight, and it does 125not injure the crop in any way, if shutters are used to keep out the cold.
The main factor in mushroom-growing is beds. First, the material of which they are composed; secondly, the way they are made. Fresh manure, with a fair percentage of short bedding (straw or leaves preferably), must be collected each day when the stables are cleaned. We use two parts horse and one part cow manure, sometimes substituting sheep-droppings for horse. The daily collection must be stored in a shed and made into a pile about three feet high and two and a half feet wide.
As soon as sufficient manure is collected to fill the beds, the curing process should be commenced. This consists of packing manure closely together, and if at all dry, slightly moistening it with water or drainage from the stables to start fermentation. Within a few hours the heat will commence to create steam and it must be forked over and made into a fresh pile.
To check the heat, which would, if left to run its course, quickly burn out the value of the manure and render it worthless, forking and re-piling will probably have to be repeated three or four times, with from two to three days intervening, according to the strength of the manure and the temperature. It usually takes from two to three weeks to cure manure properly. When it shows a temperature of one hundred degrees Fahrenheit after being undisturbed for thirty-six hours, it may be considered all right.
We half fill beds with the rough material, then mix soil from sod ground with the remainder to fill up the top of the beds. The proportion is about one-third soil to two-thirds prepared manure. When filling the beds, the manure, and also the mixture of soil and manure, should be strewed in thin layers, say about two inches at a time, and stamped down thoroughly before the next layer is added. When the beds are filled, cover the surface with straw or mats to prevent the beds becoming dry.
The manure will heat considerably after being packed in the beds, so thermometers should be inserted every few feet, as planting must not be done until the temperature falls to ninety degrees Fahrenheit, at which stage the straw or mat can be removed and the spawn inserted. The propagation of mushrooms is entirely different from that of any other vegetable, neither seed, bulb, nor cutting holding any place in the process. From the gill-like lining of a full-grown mushroom fall innumerable spores, so minute that if caught on a sheet of paper they would look like dust. If the spores fall upon earth that is in just the right condition, mold-like filaments develop, spread and become what we call spawn.
Spawn culture is a complicated process, which concerns the grower of mushrooms not at all, as he buys spawn as he would any other seed, except that it is sold in compressed brick-like cakes, which weigh about a pound apiece, or in rough shreds; the latter variety being known as flake or French spawn.
Bricks, known as English spawn, seem to give the best results in this country and are what we have always used. They should be broken into pieces about the size of a walnut, planted in rows a foot apart, the pieces being six inches apart in the rows. The spawn should be inserted about three inches. The best plan is to lift a small part of the manure with a hand fork, press down the spawn, replace the manure and press firmly in place. The close packing is one of the principal points of success, so it is well to go over the entire bed with the back of a wooden shovel or a small mallet.
After planting replace the straw or mats if the temperature of the house is at all dry. Eight days later remove the mats and cover the beds with a layer two inches thick of good garden soil.
Until the mushrooms begin to appear the temperature of the house may be sixty-five to sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit, but from the moment they commence to appear keep it as nearly fifty-five as possible. Moisture must be carefully watched. If the beds appear at all dry, even after the soil has been placed over them, cover with mats for a few days or even sprinkle the beds very lightly, but they must not be made at all wet. Perhaps the safest plain for the inexperienced is to sprinkle the walks, as then there can be no danger of an overdose.
It takes about five weeks for spawn to spread through the beds and about another two weeks before the crop makes its appearance. Well-made beds, in a house kept at fifty-five degrees, will yield for ten or twelve weeks, but during the last two or three weeks the quantity will decrease rapidly.
Gathering must be done every day, and in the height of the yield it is wise to go through the beds twice a day to avoid the loss which occurs within a few hours from over ripening. When the mushroom first breaks through the ground, it is apparently a solid, white ball, balanced on a miniature column. A few hours, and the under part of the ball breaks from the stock and the mushroom gradually spreads like an umbrella being opened and shows a line of pale pink, or flesh-colored, gills, which become darker every hour until almost black, at which stage the mushroom becomes thin and rapidly decays.
If mushrooms are gathered just after the veil (as the skin which attaches the edge of the cap to the stock is technically termed) breaks, they can be held over for twenty-four hours without deteriorating, if kept in a cool place away from the air. If, by chance, some open ones escape the picker’s notice, remove them as soon as seen.
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