Mushrooms, the edible flowering portion of various species of fungi, are highly valued in Eastern and Western cuisine. Mushrooms are commonly farmed and privately grown. To create a large yield, mushroom growers employ a process called casing. Casing mushrooms is the process of creating a sort of shell to provide a moist and nutritious fruiting platform.
The first major component of casing is the mixture. The mixture must be able to hold water to create a reservoir for the growing mycelium. The most common casing material is vermiculite. Vermiculite, a soil conditioner, doesn't contain any nutritional value as a growing medium, but retains moisture well.
Another common casing material is peat moss. Peat moss is the decayed and compressed remains of moss from the sphagnum genus. Peat moss both contains water and offers nutrients for continued growth of the fungus. Other common casing materials include composted horse or cow manure and coco fibers, both having similar nutritional properties to that of peat moss.
A casing mixture can be composed of one to several casing materials. Common recipes call for half of the mixture to be vermiculite, using nutritious casing material for the rest. Many growers develop their own blend of ingredients after some time experimenting. Water is then added to the casing mixture, enough to moisten but not saturate.
To help prevent infection, sterilization is a necessary precaution in mushroom casing. The casing material can be sterilized in one of several ways. The most common is heating the mixture in an oven or microwave. Another common technique is sterilizing with the added water. A mixture of one part hydrogen peroxide to 20 parts spring water is added to the mixture when moistening instead of regular water.
How the casing is layered is the second major component of casing. One common layering technique is "the sandwich." First, a 1-inch layer of casing material is placed on the bottom of the grow chamber, followed by a layer of colonized substrate. The substrate should be broken into pieces and spread evenly over the casing mix. Finally, the substrate is covered with a half inch of casing mixture.
A second layering technique requires more layering. After the substrate layer has been spread as above, the layer of casing is mixed with it into a single layer. A second layer of casing material is added over the now amalgamated layer.
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