A Voice in the NELA Wilderness:Grow Your Own Oyster Mushrooms

2018 A Voice in the NELA Wilderness Christopher Nyerges Editions June

Matt Heidrich of Highland Park loves oyster mushrooms – so much, in fact, that he has mastered the intricate art and science of home cultivation.

I visited him recently and learned a lot.

Oyster mushrooms grow on the sides of old and dying trees; in the Arroyo Seco, they commonly grow on willows and cottonwoods. The gills of the mushrooms slope down to meet the stem. The caps range in color from cream to dark brown. They are one of the simplest mushrooms to cultivate and one of the most widely enjoyed.

Heidrich took me through his whole process. It starts with growing a culture – his culture of choice is a mixture of coffee grounds and cardboard. Then, he inoculates the spawn into the culture; “spawn,” which Heidrich grows from the mushroom’s gill, is the white, cobwebby material that produces the mushrooms. The inoculated culture is then settled into buckets or bags where the mushrooms grow.

In effect, Heidrich’s cultivation process scientifically controls that which occurs naturally in the forest. Heidrich typically gets three production runs of mushrooms from each batch, after which he tosses the used material into his compost pit and starts all over.

That compost pit, in a corner of Heidrich’s small backyard, occasionally has – as it did the day I visited him –  oyster mushrooms growing right in it, the unexpected but happy result from the leftovers of his cultivation. He picked a few of the good ones for his meal later in the day; sautéed is his preparation of choice.

Heidrich is not a vegan, vegetarian, macrobiotic enthusiast or food faddist of any sort. His love for mushrooms began during childhood in Indiana, where he harvested the popular and colorful chicken-of-the-woods mushroom in the wild. Fast forward to 2015 and the eclectic Eco Village in Los Angeles, where Heidrich took a workshop led by Peter McCoy, a well-known mushroom expert. The experience launched him on a quest to refine and perfect a technique for producing oyster mushrooms at home. Today, at least two rooms in his house are devoted to various stages of oyster-mushroom cultivation.

One question I had for him, innocently enough, was “How do you preserve the surplus?”

“I eat them as quickly as I grow them,” he said, smiling. “There’s never a surplus!”

Matt Heidrich offers occasional workshops on oyster mushroom cultivation. Participants receive an instruction sheet and a bag of spawn to get started at home. For more information, write to mattheidrich@gmail.com

Christopher Nyerges, a life-long forager and self-reliance enthusiast, is the author of “Foraging California” and other books. He can be reached at www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com