It started when my roommate was gifted a boxed Back to the Roots Organic Mushroom Farm by a friend. The three of us, working professionals in our late 20s, sort of squinted at it in the Sunday afternoon light. We had never seen one before, although lately they are abounding at Whole Foods and other organic stores.
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The idea of the farm is that the mushrooms grow within 7-10 days out of a cardboard box filled with live mushroom spawn (just as terrifying as it sounds), organic soil, and recycled coffee grounds and other composted waste. All you have to do is soak it in water, place it in a bright area—but not in direct sunlight—and then mist daily. Afterward, you get to harvest and cook the crop, which comes with recipes like mushroom sage flatbread, mushroom sesame ramen, or vegetable lasagna.
As it turns out, this kit is actually one of many oyster-mushroom kits or logs you can get online or in stores. (Like this one! Or this one. Or this one. Though we only tested the BTTR version.) The kits and logs let you grow your own food, inside, without much hassle, and can be great experiments for kids who are just learning that food does not come from the grocery store, or, alternatively, mushroom-novices who live in apartments in Philadelphia. Plus, it’s fun to be able to grow food indoors in the wintertime.
Here's how our indoor mushroom farming went:
Week 1: Disaster
Despite all of this easy farming facilitation, it took us two kits to get it right.
Day 1. We water the mushrooms and put them on the kitchen counter, not directly in the light of the big kitchen windows, which are occasionally open (a little air filtration is good for your home, and for the mushrooms).
Day 4. My roommate starts sending alarming pictures of the mushrooms’ rapid growth to the group text, fearing their overnight doubling in size. They do look somewhat like a tiny invading army.
Days 5-6. The mushrooms are popping straight up out of the box, and are discussed with much trepidation. They are bigger than ever, and look slightly terrifying. Everyone gets a little nervous.
Day 7. I come home and find that the mushrooms have been evicted to the chilly back porch for being too mushroom-looking and smelling a little bit. I can’t really blame anyone for this. They looked insane, and we were not prepared. I try to bring them in and revive them, but it’s too late.
Week 2: New mushroom kit. New outlook.
Determined to overcome our fears and grow organic mushrooms, we get another kit from Back to the Roots, intentionally this time. (We're fans of the company's program, Grow One, Give One, where you can post a photo of your mushrooms on their website and the company will then donate one to a classroom of your choosing.)
Day 1. We cut an opening in the soil bag, soak the mushrooms in a water cooler for 8 hours, and perch the mushrooms on the kitchen counter. We mutually agree to keep them inside even when they start popping up again—no matter what.
Day 2-6. Apparently misting the mushrooms with the small mister provided in the kit is not getting the job done, at least for this crop. There seems to be a little mold growing, but no mushroom activity.
Day 7. We reach out to Back to the Roots for help, and “Community Happiness Guru” Emily Budd advises us to make a moisture tent for the mushrooms out of a plastic bag wrapped over the top of the kit (with some air holes poked in), and to not be afraid to overwater. “Moisture is extremely important,” says Budd, “You can tell if your kit is getting enough water because you’ll be able to see visible drops of moisture trapped beneath the plastic flaps.”
Day 8. We ditch the misting and start running the kit under the sink for a few seconds once a day. No action. But, “Each kit is unique and some take longer than 10 days to get growing, especially in the cooler winter months.”
Day 9. We start to see tiny buds popping out of the soil.
Day 10. They’re mushrooms! Tiny mushrooms! Now that we’ve evolved into a new level of comfort with our mushroom-farming, they look downright friendly.
Day 11. They grow into a small army of dime-sized fungi, and then grow even larger and turn a pretty, creamy white.
Day 12. We have a (albeit small, this time) crop of healthy white oyster mushrooms.
Day 13. We harvest the mushrooms by snipping them with scissors. We wash them, cut them on a cutting board, and then we cook them in a frying pan, creating a delicious mushroom and onion omelet.
Finally—success, and healthy homegrown organic food, was ours. The mushrooms tasted delicious, and we learned a lot about growing them in the process. End review is that it’s a fun, easy project to try indoors, with very little investment of time or energy to yield a crop.
Up for trying your own? Show us your own indoor growing and cooking adventures on social media with hashtag #MyOrganicLife and by tagging @organiclifemag.
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