Will Borowski from Forest Fungi is one of Australia’s leading pioneers and specialists in growing gourmet mushrooms and teaching others to do the same. We caught up with him to find out how he got started, what makes him tick and admire some of his fungi…
Will with River Cottage Australia host, Paul West eating something mushroomy. Image from here.
What got you started growing mushrooms?
Back in my Uni days, I started growing fruit and veggies, and like most gardeners, I discovered that fresh, home grown food is so much tastier than anything from the shops. Gardening also allows a glimpse into the incredible nature of life, the inter-connectedness of things, the seasonal cycles.
Naturally, I was fascinated with what appeared in my garden, and the ephemeral mushrooms always intrigued me. I tried growing some button mushrooms from a kit, with limited success. Then one day I discovered that my surname (Borowski) means “forest mushroom”!
For years I had a recurring dream of picking wild mushrooms in a forest, with women in scarves, but I had no idea why, as I hadn’t been foraging.
I decided to try and grow as many edible mushrooms as I could, but no one in Australia offered supplies or courses. So I taught myself, collected various edible fungi from Asian markets, and within a short time I was growing loads of delicious gourmet mushrooms, at home, with some very basic equipment.
What’s one of your favourite things about growing mushrooms?
Hard to choose one, but eating them is very satisfying.
What types of mushrooms do you grow?
I grow lots of wood loving mushrooms – over 20 species, but there are a few I focus on including:
- Pholiota nameko – Nameko for the best miso ever,
- Agrocybe aegerita – Pioppino , my favourite flavoured mushroom,
- Lentinula edodes – Shiitake, which is very different fresh compared to dried, and
- Pleurotus eryngii – King oysters, which have the texture of abalone or calamari.
Some species are very easy to grow, such as grey, white, pink, gold and blue oysters of the Pleurotus genus, and although they’re not my favourites, I grow them because other people love them. Some species I’m trying to grow are a bit harder, like mycorrhizal fungi such as birch boletes, truffles and morels.
Why do you think other people should grow their own mushrooms?
Because nothing beats fresh, home grown food. You can use “waste” products, such as coffee grounds, spent brewery waste, sawdust etc., to grow delicious mushrooms. You can use the spent substrate in your garden, it makes great compost, and you can feed it to livestock – chooks love it!
Do people need a special lab to grow mushrooms in their own home?
No, a clean kitchen will suffice for most aspects. If you want to do tissue culture, your lab can simply be a box! If you want to grow your own spawn, then a pressure cooker is the way to go. If you just buy dowels or spawn, then you can do all your inoculating outside.
A collection of homegrown mushroom greatness including pink oyster mushrooms, king oyster mushrooms, nameko, pioppino and shiitake. Image by Will Borowski.
Can people live in tiny units/houses and still grow mushrooms?
Yes, that’s why mushroom growing is now so popular, because you can grow indoors in small spaces, in places without direct sunlight (although they do like some sunshine). Growing and nurturing something, be it plants, animals or fungi, is a good way to connect to something outside of ourselves.
There are some amazing terrariums featuring fungi, so they can be a feature. Long lasting mushrooms, Ganoderma species such as Reishi (Japanese) or Ling-zhi (Chinese), which can live for decades, are revered for the tea you can brew from them, as well as being decorative works of art.
What should people expect from a one day workshop with you?
I try to pack as much info into a one day workshop as I can. I want people to leave knowing just how easy it can be to grow mushrooms.
I don’t keep any secrets, and I show people how to grow through all the aspects of mushroom growing – from cloning a mushroom, making a lab, making spawn and then using that spawn to grow mushrooms on eucalyptus logs and pasteurised straw.
Cloning mushrooms and working with petri dishes isn’t for everyone, but it is easy, and once you know how to, you can save money and make your own spawn. Some people prefer the easy way, which is to just buy dowels or spawn. We’ll teach you how to use both, we want more people to grow mushrooms. They can help reduce waste going to landfill, can be grown in recycled containers, are packed with protein and nutrients, can be grown by almost anyone almost anywhere.
I’ll do my best to answer all questions, and demystify the world of mushrooms. You’ll leave with living fungi, some which I’ve had for over a decade.
You can join Will on our How To Grow Mushroom workshop this August 20th in Hobart – it’s going to be awesome!