No surprise the talk turned to mushrooms while I was walking through the woods earlier this fall with a mushroom-foraging friend.

I told him that I wouldn’t trust myself to eat any mushrooms I found in the woods, especially since reading about a mother and son who almost died after foraging what turned out to be “death cap” mushrooms in western Massachusetts. He said that as a gardener I should try growing my own, and that North Spore in Westbrook would have everything I need.

Actually, they sell a lot more than I’d need.

A North Spore mushroom growing kit for inside – in action. Photo courtesy of North Spore

Louis Giller, who is in charge of the customer service at the company, told me the easiest, most basic product North Spore sells is spray-and-grow kits, which produce lion’s mane mushrooms or pink, blue or yellow oyster mushrooms. The kits, which cost $30, include a box with a plastic bag inside. You simply cut an X in the bag, spray it with water two or three times a day and wait for the mushrooms to grow.

Give the mushrooms some natural light, keeping in mind that direct sunlight can dry them out. A humid atmosphere, so a countertop next to the kitchen sink, for instance, is ideal. If you are a typical Mainer and keep your home cool during the winter, lion’s mane is the mushroom to try. Among the oyster mushrooms, the pink variety prefers warmer temperatures, Giller said, while the yellow and blue can handle a wide range of indoor temperatures.

The mushrooms should start growing in about two weeks, he said, adding that the kits can produce additional crops over the next few months, but each new harvest will be smaller.

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North Spore mushrooms grow outside on a log. Photo courtesy of North Spore

If this isn’t enough of a challenge, one step up in difficulty is growing mushrooms outdoors on logs, which you can do in one of two ways, Giller said. Easiest is to buy mushroom spawn that has been infused into plugs; these are included in North Spore’s outdoor log growing kits. The kits, also $30, include enough plugs to inoculate one to four logs. The kits also include the correct size drill bit for the plugs, wax to cover them and a wax applicator. (So far, the business, which is located in the Dana Warp Mill building, is online only, but the company hopes to add an in-person component.)

It’s less expensive to use sawdust spawn if you are seeking to grow a lot of mushrooms, on eight or more logs. As a person who has never tried growing mushrooms before, I plan to go with the plugs next spring. And before that, I’ll try the lion’s mane inside this winter.

North Spore’s website includes a chart that instructs people which mushrooms favor what varieties of logs. According to Giller, growing shiitake mushrooms on oak is the gold standard. Since we have a lot of oak on our property, I’ll go for the gold!

For more experienced mushroom growers, who have already moved beyond both the spray and grow and the log methods, North Spore offers additional equipment.

My wife Nancy checked out the North Spore website after I mentioned my mushroom-growing plans. She is OK with my plans, but chided me for not mentioning in this column the mushroom Christmas tree ornaments, beanies and a few other non-gardening items on the site. I replied they had nothing to do with gardening (but do check them out if you’re interested).

North Spore has been in business since 2014, founded by three College of the Atlantic graduates. Jon Carver, who grew up foraging for mushrooms in Vermont, is the mushroom expert. Eliah Thanhauser has the agricultural experience, having run a small organic farm Down East before he helped to found North Spore. Matt McInnis is a photojournalist and SALT Institute graduate with a passion for good food. The three combined their skills into creating a business they enjoy and that has been growing well (pun intended), Giller said.

As our phone call was about to end, Giller said that many people have a mistaken impression about mushrooms. They think mushrooms form in an unhealthy environment outdoors. In fact, he said, mushrooms help improve the soil and benefit bees.

But most important, they taste good.

Tom Atwell is a freelance writer gardening in Cape Elizabeth. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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