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Growing mushrooms indoors ... it's easy with a kit.

Cultivation kits make it easy to grow edible mushrooms indoors. You mail-order the kit and, within one to four weeks of its arrival, you'll have dozens of fresh, tasty morsels sprouting from their boxes, bags, or compressed logs of growing medium.

Most available are button mushrooms that grow in a box of compost, but other types are worth trying, too. Look for delicate-flavored, long-stemmed enoki (sometimes sold as enokitake). Or you can enjoy the sweet, woodsy taste and tender but slightly chewy texture of pearl or golden oyster mushrooms. Another choice is shiitake mushrooms, which have a meaty texture and hearty flavor.

Mushroom kits are a great gift idea for a gourmet cook or for young gardeners. The organisms are guaranteed to grow, and they can double their size in 24 hours.

The kits arrive "preactivated" inoculated with spawn) and ready to start, and come with easy-to-follow instructions. Most kinds take only a few minutes to start; slitting a plastic bag and misting or soaking with water are usually all that's necessary (button mushrooms require a few extra simple steps).

Oyster and shiitake mushroom kits generally are considered the easiest to grow. No matter which company you order from, a kit produces from 1 to 3 pounds over several months. With the cost of these mushrooms as high as $20 a pound in the market, the kits are a bargain.

To get additional crops, make sure you follow instructions carefully after the first harvest. (After the blocks have been sitting for a while, green or orange mold may start growing on them, especially if the blocks are kept too wet. The mold can eventually take over the block and stop mushroom formation. (To prevent this, scrape mold off as soon as it appears.) Button and brown mushroom kits require you to follow carefully the step-by-step starting procedures. Also, it's crucial to keep the growing medium moist but not wet. Not all button mushroom kits have identical yields, either. The most widely sold one costs $14 and produces only about 3 pounds of mushrooms. Another supplier offers one for $11 and claims it yields up to 10 pounds.

Where to order kits

Kits cost $10 to $25, plus shipping. Once they arrive, you can store them temporarily in the refrigerator.

Far West Fungi, Box 428, South San Francisco 94083; (415) 871-0786. Sells button, Indian tree oyster, tree oyster, shiitake. Catalog free.

Fungi Perfecti, Box 7634, Olympia, Wash. 98507; (206) 426-9292. Sells enokitake, lion's mane, golden oyster, pearl oyster, reishi, shiitake. For a free listing, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

H-S Farming, Box 724, Healdsburg, Calif. 95448; (707) 838-4570. Sells cashew oyster, pearl white oyster, and European brown oyster. Write for free ordering information.

River Valley Ranch, Box 898, New Munster, Wis. 53152; 414) 539-3555. Sells button and Bavarian brown. For a price list, send a stamped, self-addressed envelope.

Are the mushrooms safe?

All four source companies are run by experienced mycologists who either grow mushrooms commercially or supply commercial growers with the same type of spawn used in the kits. Before being inoculated with the mushroom spawn, the growing medium is sterilized to kill off unwanted organisms.

Before you eat a mushroom for the first time, health officials recommend cooking it thoroughly and not eating a lot of it. Like shellfish and milk products, mushrooms can cause an allergic reaction, such as stomach upset, in some people.
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Date:Nov 1, 1990
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