Wine caps are usually planted as the soil warms up in the spring after the last frost date. While the Wine Cap mycelium grows specifically on woody plant material (wood chips, straw, or a mix), the mycelium will reach down into the soil and pull up soil-water nutrients into the developing mushroom cap, which eventually forms the vehicle for dispersal of Wine Cap progeny... the spore! This is why Wine Caps are anecdotally known as "The Recycler"as Wine Cap mycelium engages in movement of nutrients from soil to surface... a great asset in the garden!
There are many options for installing a Wine Cap bed, and it is wise to remember some of the particularities about Wine Cap preferences when gathering your growing supplies.
1. Wine Cap grow on wood chips but not wood logs or branches, twigs and leaves.
2.Wine Caps love moist air spaces but hate wet feet. Dense substrates or wood based materials that mat such as fine sawdust, shredded paper, wet leaves and cocoa hulls are not good substrates unless combined with wood chips or straw. You can use 100% wood chips or a combination of chips and sawdust. Straight sawdust can be unsuccessful if the particle size is very small, very fresh (just with oak and conifer dust) or you build the bed too deep
3. Wine Cap can grow on 100% straw but you will need to provide a mulch over the straw to keep it damp to nurture those moist air spaces during spawn run. You can apply wood chips over the straw bed of any kind (eventually the Wine Cap will decompose the wood, too... even pine, cedar and other strange wood chip types!) You can also use a plastic tarp but this will often heat up too much and the straw bed will quickly dry up once the tarp is removed.
Building a Bed for Smaller Areas:
You can easily build Wine Cap beds in garden areas by creating spaces in partially shaded areas or areas that will have plentiful shade later in that growing space when mushrooms are most likely to flush plentifully, usually August through freeze up time. North sides of buildings, Asparagus beds that naturally frond over later in the summer, landscape plantings with trees and shrubs, under fruit trees, under tomatoes, zucchini, blueberry bushes are just some examples of great spots to apply a wood mulch and grow some Wine Cap. You can inoculate several inches of wood chips over soil or over moistened cardboard to help with weed suppression, or even go with the "Lasagne style" beds where spawn is layered between several layers of chips and straw, repeating it until the bed is about 6 inches deep.
Bed maintenance is very low-key but the important indicator is if bed is dry at soil level. The top layer of a bed will almost always dry out, but when you plunge your hand into the bed to feel the moisture at soil wood chip interface, it should feel very moist. Your watering regime should aim for maintaining that moist layer, usually 1 inch of rainfall or garden sprinkler fall per week.
Building a Bed for Larger Areas:
This is a great bed installation method if you are putting in large beds or creating new garden spawn over perennial weeds, like quack grass . This usually does not give complete control of the weeds but significantly will suppress their survival. In the end, you have a nice mushroom bed and the cardboard (except for the strapping tape), has disappeared. The method includes three ingredients in the layers, plus the spawn. Amounts of substrate are calculated base on a single bag of sawdust spawn (5.5# bag)
Layer 1: Wet Cardboard
Cardboard dries quickly and can inhibit growth at the soil surface. Soak it or sprinkle it until it is thoroughly wet just prior to inoculation. Lay out the cardboard to make up the base of your bed. If your cardboard sheets are big, poke some holes in it with a pitchfork or poker to allow excess rainfall to drain away.
Layer 2: Soaked Straw
Soak the straw. Just getting the straw thoroughly wetted (24 hours) will suffice, but leaving the straw for up to 72 hours can soften the straw and speed spawn run. One small square bale can cover 50 sq feet. The straw can be wheat, oat, barley, rye .... even old straw that is just starting the decomposition process if let out in the rain. The straw layer should be 3 inches deep.
Layer 3: Woodchips
Use wood chips that are fresh or show only minor decay from composting ( 1 - 12 months, sometimes older, depending on location and species). If the chips come to you bagged and dry, soak or hydrate them first. Spread the chips over the straw to completely cover the straw by several inches. You will want the straw to stay covered, lest it dry out before the spawn runs. Usually for a 50 sq ft bed you will need 3 wheel-barrows of chips.
Your first harvests can come as early as 4 weeks after inoculation, especially if you use straw in the mix. Straw/ Wood chip beds usually last 1 and 1/2 seasons. We like to plant a straw bed/ wood chip mix every 3-5 weeks through freeze up in October to ensure continuous harvest through the following year.