If you want to grow something unusual in your kitchen garden, then you could consider mushrooms. They’re not plants, and they need different care, but in many cases they’re easy to grow and provide a gourmet home-grown treat.
Mushrooms are fungi, and they have two main parts – the fruiting bodies that we see above ground, and eat, and mycelium, thin strands that spread out through the soil and are roughly equivalent to plant roots. Mushrooms vary considerably in their size and shape, and the conditions in which they grow – but they all live on decomposing plant material of some kind.
You’ll need to do a bit of research into which mushrooms will grow well in your climate. The next stage is to help the mycelium to establish themselves in their chosen growing medium. And after that all you need to do is wait until they’re ready to fruit – which can be unpredictable, depending on the species.
You can either buy your mushrooms as spawn (usually grains of rice or something similar, inoculated with mushroom spawn) or as ready-made kits or mushroom logs. If you have your own supply of suitable fresh logs then you can get impregnated dowels to insert into them.
Mushroom kits are usually short-lived, providing one or more ‘flushes’ of mushrooms until the growing medium is exhausted. They’re great for kids and beginners because they’re predictable – you follow instructions to provide just the right conditions for establishing the mycelium and then encouraging them to fruit. You can get several different mushrooms in kit form – including button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and the unappetizing named slime mushroom! Some grow in compost, others on straw and some will even happily grow on toilet rolls – a fun project for kids.
With mushroom logs you have one type of mushroom per log. Usually they’re just left in a suitable area of the garden, and will fruit as and when they want to, over several years. Mushroom logs are more of a long-term project.
And if you want a real gourmet experience, they try growing truffles in your garden! These ultra-expensive fungi grow in the roots of live trees. Hazel is a good choice, because you have the option of keeping it under control as a hedge rather than a large tree. Although truffles aren’t a common crop, there are now companies who supply trees impregnated with truffle mycelium, so all you have to do is plant the tree, then wait, and then dig up your truffles.