BOISE, Idaho — There are thousands of varieties of edible mushrooms, some with very colorful and creative names; like lion's mane, pearls, blue oysters, pink oysters and even turkey tail.
Almost all of us can grow mushrooms in our yards - not the kind you want to eat - but what about good, edible mushrooms?
19-year-old Brody Ferguson has a passion for mushrooms.
"So, it all started as an 8th grade science project, when I tried to grow mushrooms, basically," Ferguson said. "Then it just kind of went from there."
Ferguson's friends and family have even given him a few nicknames.
"Well, I get lots of jokes," Ferguson said. "Sometimes I'm known as 'the fun guy,' or 'the mushroom man,' but they love it. I've always loved growing mushrooms. I'd like to expand beyond mushrooms one day. I love just promoting sustainability, and great all-around products to consumers. So, really that's where my passion is at."
When Ferguson first started more than five years ago, he was one of the few people in Idaho growing their own mushrooms. However, in recent years, mushroom growing has exploded in popularity.
"I know the majority of the mushroom growers in the U.S. and it is a pretty tight-knit community, that we all kind of share information and strains and knowledge," Ferguson said.
All mushrooms are fungi, but not all fungi are mushrooms. They are neither plant nor animal, belonging to a class of their own. The mushrooms we see are actually the fruit of fungus.
"Growing mushrooms - pretty complicated process," Ferguson said.
Ferguson starts with a petri dish, where the mushroom roots - or mycelium - take hold. From there, it's expanded to a liquid culture - basically sugar water - where millions of strands of mycelium grow.
The liquid culture is poured into a bag of sterilized grain, a nitrogen-rich food source that allows the mushroom culture to expand. Once fully colonized, the grain is added to a sawdust block to give the mushrooms a medium to start fruiting into recognizable mushrooms.
The whole process typically takes about two weeks. Ferguson's lab is part of his company, 'Ferg's Fabulous Fungi,' and he's developed a simple kit for growing your own edible mushrooms.
"What I'm doing is basically making it easy for everybody else. This is the grow kit. It's just a fully-colonized block of mushroom mycelium," Ferguson said. "Basically, you get a little sawdust block, and all you have to do is take that home, cut an X in the bag, mist it a couple of times a day with a little squirt bottle, and in about two weeks, you'll have your own mushrooms that you can just pick."
Mushrooms need moisture, so Ferguson built a special misting room for the mushrooms to grow in a highly-humid environment. Supermarkets only carry a few common mushroom varieties, but some more-exotic varieties are in high demand for gourmet cooking and others for their medicinal properties.
"Oh yeah, there's way more than what you just see in your average grocery store," Ferguson said. "So, all of the mushrooms I grow, lots of diversity there. For anybody who's never really ventured out and tried different mushrooms, I have lots of different varieties that have different flavors and textures.
"I'd like everybody else to experience growing their own mushrooms, too. It is a fascinating process."
One mushroom variety that Ferguson - or anybody else - doesn't grow is morels, a favorite among Idaho mushroom hunters. That's because morels are almost impossible to grow commercially.
Ferguson's mushroom-growing kit is on the market and you can find it at many farmers markets around the Treasure Valley, as well as at Edwards Greenhouse in Boise.
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