A Low-Tech Experiment in Growing Oyster Mushrooms

My furniture making hobby produces a mountain of sawdust and wood chips. Some of it I give to neighbors who have cabins with composting toilets. A lot of it I have to throw out.

A few months ago a light bulb went off. I mostly produce oak sawdust which just happens to be one of the ideal substrates for growing mushrooms. While I love looking at mushrooms and attending lectures about mushrooms via the Los Angeles Mycological Society, I don’t know anything about growing them and my two previous attempts were complete failures.

Techniques for growing mushroom range from simple to extremely high tech. For this experiment I wanted to try the simplest method I could find that would not require buying equipment, plastic bags or maintaining a temperature and humidity controlled indoor environment. Put simply, I wanted to try growing mushrooms outdoors on oak sawdust in Southern California, a region not known for growing mushrooms.

I asked a few friends who know much more about growing mushrooms than I do. They all suggested trying oyster mushrooms since this species easily out-competes molds and other organisms that try to colonize the substrate.

I ordered a four pound bag of blue oyster grain spawn from North Spore. Following the instructions on Fresh Cap Mushroom’s YouTube channel, I poked 1/4 inch holes in the sides of a five gallon bucket and 1/8 inch holes in the bottom to drain excess water. The white oak I used mostly came out my planer and jointer, both of which produce thin chips of wood that get sucked up by my dust collector.

On January 4th, I put the chips in a plastic bin and soaked them in boiling water to pasteurize them and give the oyster mushroom spawn a better chance of growing. I let the wood chips soak overnight. The next day I squeezed excess water out of the chips and put them in my holey (holy?) bucket, alternating layers of wood chips and spawn. I placed the bucket outside under the dense shade of our avocado tree. You can also, by the way, use straw instead of wood chips.

By January 18th the oyster mushrooms were “pinning,” that is, beginning to fruit out of the 1/4 inch holes. On January 27th, I harvested my first cluster of mushrooms. I can report that blue oyster mushrooms are delicious, with a concentrated umami/super-mushroomy flavor.

One curious thing: the mushrooms I harvested look more like the Italian Oyster mushrooms that North Spore sells, so I wonder if a mix-up happened. I’ve written North Spore for a clarification. [Editors note: North Spore got back to me and they say that these are blue oyster and the the Italian oyster has a wavier cap.]

This was my third and only successful attempt at growing mushrooms. The spawn cost $28 and I’ve harvested about 2 pounds of mushrooms so I can’t call this experiment a financial success just yet, though it looks like I might get a second flush out of the bucket. Financial considerations aside, the mushrooms were so delicious that I am definitely going to try this experiment again. Towards that end I’m taking a class this month with mushroom expert Peter McCoy.

Working backwards to the more involved processes of growing your own spawn and developing your own strains is, I’m guessing, the best way to make this more sustainable. I may try growing some pink oyster mushrooms, though I’ve heard mixed reports about flavor. McCoy is sending us home with kits so I’ll report back on how those grow.

Weekend Linkages: Is This Charcuterie?

Thank you Jimmy C. for texting me this image.

Posted a joke about hobby tunneling last week and this week it’s in the news

A new philosophy of art just dropped

World’s best building award won by rainwater-harvesting hospital in rural Bangladesh (thank you Nic for the link!)

Dawn of the Space Lords

NFTs Are, Quite Simply, Bullshit

The Great Los Angeles Train Robbery Is an Exercise in Misdirection

The exact moment the German health minister became legendary on philosophy Twitter

The new Root Simple house cocktail

RIP Don Young

Netflix Before Netflix: The Tabard Inn Library

When I set out to build a new piece of furniture I look through auction and antique websites for inspiration (especially this one). While searching for just the right bookshelf to build, I discovered a very odd piece of furniture that turned out to be the “Netflix of books,(1)” a short lived subscription business called the Tabard Inn Library dating from 1902. It was the thoughtstyling of Canadian born businessman Seymour Eaton, who launched many different publishing related schemes in his lifetime in addition to writing the hit children’s book The Roosevelt Bears.

To use the Tabard Inn Library you signed up for a lifetime membership for $3 (which would be about $100 today). This entitled you to borrow books for an additional 5¢ per book. The kiosks could be found in drug stores and other retail establishments. Eaton also had a home delivery book service called the Booklovers Library. The scheme didn’t last long but did result in the creation of a huge mailing list that Eaton attempted to use for other businesses. Does this sound familiar? My local Von’s grocery store has a DVD rental service kiosk out front that still gets use.

No, I’m not going to build a Tabard Inn Library reproduction for myself but I certainly admire this beautiful example.

If you’d like more background on the Tabard Inn Library and related businesses head over here.

Slime Molds: You Are Weird but You Probably Know That

Trichia decipiens. Photo: National Parks Service.

You really should join your local mycological society. How else could you have your mind blown by an entire evening devoted to slime molds?

Such was the case last night when Kelly and I found ourselves entranced by a riveting Los Angeles Mycological Society Zoom lecture exploring the little known world of this odd, tiny organism. You too can and should watch the lecture by mushroom ethusiast and slime mold nerd Leah Bendlin.

Ceratiomyxa fruticulosa var. poroides. Photo: National Parks Service.

Yes this was a mycological Society lecture but slime molds are no longer lumped in with fungi. While they both produce spores, slime molds have membranes made of cellulose as opposed to fungi, which are made from chitin. Slime molds belong to the Kingdom Protista, a weird and diverse branch of the life tree that also includes seaweed and amoeba.

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A post shared by leah_mycelia (@leah_mycelia)


Slime molds have never had their 15 minutes of fame and, as a result, few except “dog vomit” slime molds have popular names. The rest are the obsession of highly specialized academics who own microscopes. This is a shame as Leah Bendlin’s talk showed a mind bending set of ravishing images. She also has a “slime mold Sunday” feature on her Instagram @leah_mycelia.

Put plainly, slime molds are just super cool to look at even if you’ll never master the details of their taxonomy and their outre life cycle. They can, apparently, even solve mazes. You can find them on all continents and they pop up even in dry places such as where we live. A dog vomit variety regularly appears in a crack on our front stairs.

Many thanks to friend of the blog Aaron who encouraged me to rejoin the Los Angeles Mycological society and runs the awesome LA Mycological society book club!