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Testing kits from 100th Monkey Mushroom Farm, Back to the Roots

Addie Broyles
abroyles@statesman.com
An Austin company called 100th Monkey Mushroom Farm sells a variety of mushroom-growing kits, like this one in which I grew pioppino mushrooms. Not seen is a humidity bag that helps keep the moisture in.

Growing a vegetable garden is one thing, but what about mushrooms?

In the past few years, I’ve had several grow-your-own mushroom kits cross my desk, but even with what I thought was careful attention to watering and growing conditions, I wasn’t able to successfully grow any mushrooms.

That changed when I got my first 100th Monkey Mushroom Farm kit from Austinites Heather Ralston and Jimm Stack. The husband-and-wife team started growing mushrooms on their own about 10 years ago, and in 2011, they turned that hobby into a business that now ships kits for five kinds of mushrooms across the country.

Both Ralston and Stack are former educators, and the website reflects their passion for education. In addition to more than half a dozen pages featuring just about everything you would ever want to know about mushrooms, as well as recipes for how to use them (see below), Ralston and Stack have written a dozen lesson plans targeted toward kids (and adults) who want to get even more out of their kits than ingredients for tonight’s dinner.

The non-GMO mushroom mycelium are mixed with untreated hardwood sawdust and stored in a plastic bag. The detailed instructions explain how to cut open the bag and spritz the substrate with water several times a day until the mushrooms pop out.

One of the key differences between the 100th Monkey Mushroom Farm kits and those from the California-based Back to the Roots is the plastic humidity tent that keeps the substrate from drying out. (Back to the Roots originally sold kits that used coffee grounds as the “soil,” which is what I was trying to grow mushrooms in, but they have recently switched to wheat bran. I was able to grow oyster mushrooms successfully in the new kit, which costs $19.95 and is available at backtotheroots.com.)

The Austin company also distinguishes itself by offering an array of mushrooms, some of which are hard to find elsewhere: blue oyster, elm oyster, shiitake, pioppino and the newly released lion’s mane, which is said to have a faint taste of lobsters. Prices start at $17 for a small refill bag and up to $31 for the larger kits. 100th Monkey Mushroom Farm kits are available at the Sustainable Food Center’s Farmers Market Downtown and Wheatsville Co-op and online at 100thmonkeymushrooms.com.

Ralston and Stack have also recently released plug spawn kits, which include dowels covered in mycelium that you can insert into logs to start an outdoor mushroom garden. These can take longer to fruit, Ralston says, but because they are rooted in hardwood logs, they can produce edible mushrooms for years.

A heads up about caring for the mushrooms and when you can expect to be able to eat them: I’ve successfully grown mushrooms from three kits now, and all of them have taken even more spritzing over a longer period of time than indicated. I haven’t had much success with the “second flush” of mushrooms that both Back to the Roots and 100th Monkey promote, but I’m still spritzing several kits that have produced one round of mushrooms, hoping that I can coax out one more round.

Wild Rice Casserole

1/2 cup butter (or olive oil)

4 cups sliced mushrooms (oyster, shiitake, or pioppino)

1 onion, chopped

1/2 cup pecans, chopped

1/2 cup cashews, chopped

1/2 cup wild rice

1/2 cup brown rice

3 cups chicken broth

Salt and pepper, to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat the butter or oil in a skillet over medium heat. Sauté the mushrooms and onions. Add pecans and cashews and cook for 1 minute. Stir in rice.

Pour mixture into casserole dish. Stir in the broth, salt and pepper and cover with an oven-safe lid or aluminum foil. Bake for 1 hour. Serves 4.

— 100th Monkey Mushroom Farm