The structure of the mushroom
The underground part of a mushroom is the mycelium, which corresponds to the roots of a plant. The mycelium spreads outwards in search of nutrients, and once it has found sufficient food, it begins to grow upwards, breaking through the ground and forming the mushroom.
The entire surface of the young mushroom is covered by a skin, called the universal veil, which ruptures as the mushroom grows leaving behind traces on the fruiting body (the volva at the base of the stipe).
The task of the stipe is to support the cap, which contains valuable nutrients and vitamins, lifting it high off the ground so that the spores necessary for reproduction can travel further and reach more fertile soil.
The gills that hold the spores are located on the underside of the cap. These gills may take the form of lamellae, as in button mushrooms, in which case the gills are visible; or they may be tubular, like a sponge, as in the case of ceps, for example.
Four ways to use mushroom compost in the garden
Mushroom compost can be used to enrich the soil, improve soil quality, and break down dense soil.
- Use mushroom compost for soil improvement by adding organic matter to your garden soil. It can be used to enrich the soil in your vegetable garden, raised beds, flower beds, newly sown lawn, or orchard. Simply sprinkle it evenly over the ground. Mushroom compost is a slow-release fertiliser, meaning that its relatively low nutritional value is gradually imparted to the soil over time.
- Use mushroom compost like mulch. The addition of mushroom compost can also benefit trees and shrubs. When using compost as a mulch, pour it around the base of the tree to achieve better water retention and overall soil quality.
- Use mushroom compost to break down clay soil. The straw content in mushroom compost is ideal for breaking down dense, clay soils.
- Grow mushrooms on the compost. The compost may not be completely exhausted, so if you leave it in a relatively stable environment with adequate moisture (covering it with a layer of peat, for example), then it may be possible to grow another crop of mushrooms. The nutrients necessary for mushroom growth — protein, starch, lignin, fats, nitrogen — may still be present in the compost, albeit in smaller quantities. Since the mycelium is present, all it needs is a little time and attention for new fruiting heads to appear.
Mushroom compost contains soluble salts that can be harmful to acid-loving plants such as magnolias, camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons, and blueberry bushes. However, mushroom compost can be treated to make it suitable even for these plants. One method is to compost the mushroom compost using live worms. Also, if the compost is left out in the open it will decompose further. All these methods draw out the high levels of salt and introduce beneficial microorganisms to the compost to promote plant growth.