Some years ago I worked for a few months in a school for special needs children, tutoring them in basic horticulture. I knew that whatever we did these children would struggle in their future lives, as the world is a harsh place. So my strategy was to enable them to improve their lives by growing their own food. As you know by know, I am passionate for food self-reliance and I hate people going hungry.So alongside basic gardening skills, I taught the lads oyster mushroom production. This is something that they could do on a window ledge at home. I say lads, because sadly few girls would volunteer for the course, despite my efforts to persuade them.
You can see oyster mushrooms growing wild in the picture below. There are several types,all of which grow on wood. One,golden oyster, is an Indian variety and is considered a gourmet mushroom in demand in restaurants. I have never grown this variety, though I have grown two varieties of oyster fungus.
The technique is simple and can be used by young children. You buy in the oyster spawn from a mushroom spawn producer. This is in the form of grain spawn, grains inoculated with oyster mushroom spores. You stuff it into a toilet role.Now here is a tip. Apparently oyster mushrooms have a taste for tea [they must be British!] so before you insert the grain spawn soak the toilet role in tea. Then keep it in a moderately warm place, ensuring that the roll is kept moist. You can do this with a spray gun. Use a mist of water rather than a jet. Golden oyster needs more heat than other varieties do,as it is a native of India, a hot country.
This basic technique can be applied on a much larger scale with a variety of materials. I have grown oyster in a plastic bag stuffed with straw and obtained results.
You will begin to see a flufffy network developing. This is the mycelium, the network of threads that constitute the body of the fungus, of which the visible fungus is the fruit. Soon you will see little black or grey spots developing on the surface, and they will grow into mushrooms.
Now here is an important tip. Oyster mushroom does not keep for very long when picked, so eat it soon after picking. I think it excellent as an ingredient of stews, pies and meat dishes in general. But while this is a limitation of oyster it has advantages to the grower.It is easy to grow, and it can grow on paper [as long as there are no fungicides in it] straw and wood, as long as it has not been dried out. It also has the ability to completely digest hydrocarbons, as Paul Stametz, the mushroom expert, found out when he applied it to a heap of oil-polluted soil. The mushroom digested all the hydrocarbons, and when he tested the mushrooms he found that no trace of the hydrocarbons remained in their flesh. The mushroom had eaten the lot.
Another point for smallholders is that when the mushroom substrate is exhausted the remnants can be used as chicken fodder, for the chickens will peck happily at it. As it is not kitchen waste it is not subject to the ban on feeding chickens kitchen waste that is in force in the UK.