Monday, December 19, 2011

Back to the Roots - Mushroom Garden

As I was walking through Whole Foods in the San Francisco area, I noticed a grow-your-own Mushroom Garden by Back to the Roots.  I didn't buy it, but when I got back to DC, I met their Business Development Lead in our Whole Foods who told me all about the product. I was immediately sold!
The story of how this came about is pretty cool. Back to the Roots was founded by Alejandro Velez & Nikhil Arora during their last semester at UC Berkeley in 2009. Two months away from graduation, and heading into the corporate world of investment banking & consulting, they came across the idea of being able to potentially grow gourmet mushrooms entirely on recycled coffee grounds during a class lecture. Inspired by the idea of turning waste into wages, they experimented in Alex's fraternity kitchen, ultimately growing one test bucket of tasty oyster mushrooms on recycled coffee grounds. With that one bucket, some initial interest from Whole Foods & Chez Panisse, and a $5,000 grant from the UC Berkeley Chancellor for social innovation, they decided to forego the corporate route, and instead, become full-time urban mushroom farmers!

But would I really be able to grow mushrooms in my condo?  I guess we'll see!  I opened up one side of the box as per the instructions and slit the bag into an X. Then I took the bag out of the box and immersed it in a bowl full of water. I let it soak in the bowl for 24 hours. Then, I took it out of the water, put it back in the box and placed it on my floor near indirect light. All I had to do was mist it twice a day, 2-4 sprays each time. So I did this and patiently waited.

Day 2 - nothing yet.

Then after 5 days, I could see the tops growing (on the right)!

After 6 days, I had mushrooms!

Here it is on day 7 -- spectacular growth!

Day 8 -- lovely mushrooms!

Here it is on day 10 -- time to harvest!

Wow! The coolest thing about this is that I just grew mushrooms in the living room of my urban condo!  They say you can get 2-4 crops out of each box, but my second batch didn't go so well.  It is very important to keep the soil moist, which is very difficult if you are running A/C or heat, both of which will dry the soil out. I first tried a batch over the summer and they dried out before I could harvest them. This time I tried them while I was running heat and made an extra effort to keep the soil very moist so they didn't dry out.  Just be careful - these little guys can be very finicky.

Now, what to do with all these mushrooms! Stay tuned for a recipe using these delicious oyster mushrooms.  If you are interested in trying this on your own, you can order a box here for $19.95. They make for a unique gift too. You can expect get at least 3 pounds of fresh oyster mushrooms out of two crops!


  1. So...mine are drying out. Think I could just go heavy on the spraying?

    Like the blog!

    Thanks! :)

  2. Yes, you could spray them more. You can even soak them again for like 10 minutes in a bowl of water. Unfortunately, the can dry out pretty quickly and then you can't revive them.