Question from Schagné in Australia:
I enjoy this site a lot as I am in the process of learning about edible forest gardening in order to plant my own.
I love mushrooms. My problem is that we have many local mushrooms that are quite toxic (e.g. the death cap), and I am not well versed in mushroomery.
If I make such a wonderful patch for my shaggy caps, won’t it be invaded by something else which a novice like me might pick and eat? I would love dearly to have my own safe patch of mushrooms. Do please tell me that the edible mushrooms repel invaders.
This is a great question, and there are a few ways to answer this…
Here is the quick answer:
Yes, it is possible that poisonous mushrooms could invade your mushroom patch. But I wouldn’t worry about it. Mushrooms are a wonderful addition to a Forest Garden and, in my opinion, an essential element in a Permaculture design.
Here is the more involved answer:
Let’s back up a bit. While it is possible for poisonous mushrooms to invade your patch, the real fear is of a person mistakenly eating a poisonous mushroom. There are a large number of reasons why this is very unlikely to happen… unless the person growing the mushrooms is reckless and, well, just plain stupid (to be blunt).
Let me elaborate.
First, we should all be able to list and identify the poisonous mushrooms that grow in our area. We should be able to do this even if we do not eat mushrooms. What if your kid or a neighbor’s kid or your dog started to eat a mushroom growing in your yard or garden or while on a walk? If you could quickly identify that it was not one of the deadly mushrooms (which are far fewer than most people think) in your area, would you be even a little relieved? If you saw that it was one of the deadly mushrooms, then early intervention at a hospital is critical to prevent injury or death. Also, this doesn’t apply just to mushrooms, but to all deadly species of plant and animal in the area you live. You live in Australia. I think most Australians are much better able to identify venomous snakes than Americans are, because there are so many deadly snakes in Australia. It is foolish not to know what can kill you in your own backyard!
Second, you should know what the mushroom species that you are growing looks like. Again, this is not hard to learn. In fact, most people who attempt to grow mushrooms know exactly what their species of mushroom looks like. If you plan of growing Shaggy Mane mushrooms, for instance, you likely already know what a Shaggy Mane mushroom looks like. If you do not, the internet is full of photos of all different species of mushroom, from immature button to mature specimen. If you are growing a mushroom species for the first time, and you have never wild harvested them or bought them from a farmers market or grocer before, then get a good guide book (or study photos on the internet) and learn what they look like. You can even do spore prints to verify identification. This is easy, and any good guide book will explain how to do it. If you really want to get into the scientific side of things, you could even identify the spore characteristics via microscope. But remember that this should be fun!
Third, the habitat that you create for your edible mushroom patch is different than many poisonous mushrooms natural habitat. Yes, some of the poisonous mushrooms (like the Death Cap (Amanita phalloides) mentioned above… you can see photos of it in this article, just scroll down to mushroom #17) may pop up in a garden. But they are really easy to identify… and so different than almost any mushroom you would grow in a mushroom patch!
Fourth, if the mushroom bed is built the correct way (which is not difficult… please see my two articles on building mushroom patches of King Stropharia (pictured above) and Shaggy Manes), then for at least the first few seasons, the predominate fungal species will be the one you purposely “planted” there. And, while the “good” mushrooms don’t exactly repel the “bad” ones, if you keep providing the organic matter they need, your good mushrooms will keep outcompeting other fungal species.
Fifth, while most of the species we would grow in patches are pretty easy to identify, a person may still be nervous about proper identification. Immature mushrooms can sometimes look very different than the mature specimen. So what do we do? Well… we let it grow! A mushroom patch will not just produce a single mushroom. Let the first ones pop up and mature into the classic, easily identifiable specimen. Then you will see for yourself what that species looks like from start to finish. You will quickly build confidence. You will then easily be able to identify the immature specimens, which are often the most tasty ones!
Sixth, there is a proper way to eat mushrooms that you harvest yourself when you are still worried about its identification… even after you have positively identified it and eliminated the possibility of it being poisonous… Harvest one mushroom. Cook it. Try a very small piece of it. Then don’t eat any more for a day, a full 24 hours. If you have no negative reactions, then try a larger serving the next night. If you still have no negative reaction in the next 24 hours, then you are good to go. Just remember that even commercially sold and highly edible mushrooms can cause some gastrointestinal upset in some people or if you eat way too much of them.
I hope this alleviates some of the fears of growing your own mushrooms. If you still have a hang up about all this, you can always grow your mushrooms indoors. While I think this is way too much work if you have land available outside, and you are not raising mushrooms commercially, this is a viable alternative.
Best of luck, and please send me photos of your mushroom patches!