Book Review: Mycelial Mayhem: Growing Mushrooms for fun, profit and companion planting

By David and Kristen Sewak, New Society Publishers, 2016

Review by Barbara Otrysko

mycelial mayhem book review Canadian Organic GrowersThe authors’ stated aim was to write a beginners book on mushroom cultivation for two reasons. Firstly, they found that although there are many references on growing mushrooms, most are intimidating for beginners because of their in-depth technical nature. Secondly, they found that most of the literature on living a healthier, more sustainable life, totally ignored mushrooms. They have certainly achieved their goal.

The book, written in a no-nonsense chatty style that is easy to read and to follow, is full of fun facts and figures, not to mention fabulous photographs. In the first section they present basic knowledge about the wonderful world of mushrooms, their ecological role and their importance in nutrition. A chapter on taxonomy and nomenclature provides the reader with all the basic vocabulary required to be able to identify mushrooms using keys, an important aspect if one is to collect mushrooms in the wild.

Section II gets into the nitty-gritty of mushroom cultivation. This is where the book is particularly useful for the beginner as the authors take us through all the steps from assessing the site and resources, through several specific examples (e.g. wine caps, oysters, shiitake, etc). For each example they indicate the level of difficulty and alternate procedures and methods. Along the way they provide many tips, the pitfalls to avoid, things to observe, etc. A section on indoor cultivation is included. This is followed by a chapter on collecting and selling wild mushrooms. The only snag is for those of us who live in the boreal forest or further north as most of the species treated require hardwood tree species that are not native to our area and would thus require buying substrate (or being more creative in our search for suitable substrate). Moreover, a table indicating the Latin equivalents of the common names would have been really useful in order to avoid having to flip pages back and forth to check which species are indigenous to our area.

The section ends with a chapter integrating mushrooms into a sustainable and resilient landscape whether it be an urban garden or a small farm thus making it an excellent resource for “permies” and other ecological gardeners.

The last part of the book deals with the harvesting, handling, storing and processing of mushrooms including preparation and cooking. A few recipes are even included to get us started! There follows a section on the nutritional and health benefits of mushrooms and a very thorough and excellent section on setting up a mushroom business: right through from writing the business plan, to administrative and regulatory details, market analysis, marketing, finances, budgeting, etc. A final section presents useful references and resources.

Other than the lack of direct applicability to much of northern Canada (where wild mushrooms abound), this book is a useful and readable reference for aspiring mushroom growers as well as a fun read for anyone interested in mushrooms.

Barbara Otrysko, retired plant pathologist and avid eco-gardener has been growing shiitake mushrooms for home use for many years. She lives in Pointe-Lebel, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence, halfway between Quebec City and Labrador.

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This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

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