CA Mushrooms
CA Mushrooms

Book Review

Mushroom Cultivation: An Illustrated Guide to Growing Your Own Mushrooms at Home

By Tavis Lynch
2018, Quarry Books, Quarto Publishing Group USA Inc.
Soft cover: 144 pages
ISBN 978-1-63159-404-5

Like most aspects of wild mushrooms in North America, home cultivation is attracting a large number of new disciples. And with a growing number of folks wanting to grow mushrooms comes a growing number of books intended to show them how to do it, including this attractive offering from Wisconsin mushroom grower Tavis Lynch. Ostensibly, the target audience for the book is those just starting out in mushroom-growing and, indeed, most of the content will be old hat to those with some prior experience.

Following the brief Foreword and Introduction, a handful of essentials are summarized in The Basics (What Is a Mushroom? Choosing Your Materials). Lynch then covers, chapter by chapter, each of four general substrate types and, for each one, two mushroom species that grow well on that substrate: logs (shiitake and hericium), straw (oyster and wine cap), sawdust and wood chips (oyster and wine cap), and compost (blewit and unspecified species of Agaricus). So six different species altogether. Each chapter begins with a discussion of the substrate, such as how to identify trees (relevant if you are intending to venture into the woods to fell one for logs) and three ways to prepare straw for inoculation. The process for growing in each case is explained and general lists of materials and equipment are provided, but actual quantities or proportions of materials are not always given. Thus, beginners will sometimes need to look to other sources or trial-and-error to work out necessary details.

Problems and Solutions provides directions for growing using a preprepared commercial kit (though I wonder why one would buy a book to obtain the same information that comes with the kit), directions for how to make a spore print and advice to use an appropriate field guide to identify mushrooms in case foreigners appear instead of the target species (a slight possibility for certain methods, but only a few exotic species would be likely to show up), and brief discussions of underwatering, overwatering, and insects, but hardly the comprehensive coverage suggested by the title What Might Go Wrong and How to Fix It.

The final two chapters have nothing to do with growing mushrooms from scratch. Processing and Preparation covers storing, drying, and freezing the harvested mushrooms and The Finished Product briefly discusses cooking mushrooms and provides eight recipes using them. Given the large number of mushroom cookbooks available, I’m not sure these chapters are needed in a book about cultivation. I would have preferred the pages be used for more in-depth coverage of the main topic. The coverage concludes with some final thoughts, lists of sources for supplies and more information, acknowledgments, author information, and the index.

The book is quite attractive due to the use of a large number of photos from stock agencies. Most of the photos show the species covered in the book, but many enokitake and other non-covered species, including a king bolete, sneak in here and there. Some of the “how-to” photos are useful while others, such as one showing the use of a watering can, are less so.

In most respects, this is a fine book for those wanting to get their feet wet in mushroom cultivation. But, despite the fact that it has received a number of five-star reviews online, I feel it hasn’t fully hit the target. None of the glowing reviews that I have read report having successfully grown any mushrooms using it. It would be very helpful to know what some actual experiences have been. My suspicion is that the lack of essential details could prove frustrating for beginners. Nonetheless, for them, I’m not aware of a comparable book that would be better. For those with some experience, or who are desiring to become a serious grower, a more comprehensive book such as Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation by Tradd Cotter or the venerable The Mushroom Cultivator: A Practical Guide to Growing Mushrooms at Home by Paul Stamets would be more appropriate.

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in Fungi