SIMPSON, Ill. — Fruits and vegetables have been grown
successfully in high tunnels in Illinois for a number of years. Jeff Kindhart
would like to know if mushrooms also can be grown in the enclosed
The horticulture specialist based at the University of
Illinois’ Dixon Springs Agricultural Center is attempting to grow culinary
mushrooms in one of the two high tunnels at the center.
High tunnels — also called hoop houses — are large metal
frames covered with plastic sheets that keep the air inside warmer and help
extend the growing season.
Using enclosed structures to get a head start on Mother
Nature isn’t all that original, according to Kindhart.
“We think we’ve invented some new crop here, but they were
doing these kinds of things in the 1880s and 1890s,” he said. “In the basement,
they would have an unheated space and, by adding compost, they would warm it up
and grow produce.”
Kindhart is growing oyster mushrooms, a common type sold in
supermarkets. If the initial planting goes well, he may expand to button and
Inoculum is spread in the growing medium and covered with
straw. Then the process is repeated until the mycelium — the vegetative portion
of the fungus — appears.
While most mushrooms are grown on straw, some species are
grown on sawdust and woodchips. Kindhart is considering another bedding
“We’re going to Cornell this fall to look at raising
mushrooms on switchgrass, which is a native grass,” he said. “Then we’d have
local mushrooms grown on native grass.”
If mushrooms can be grown commercially in Illinois high
tunnels, growers could squeeze two crops out of a year, maybe growing tomatoes
or some other vegetables during the summer.
“That’s the model we’re shooting for — mushrooms in the fall
and winter, and tomatoes in the spring,” Kindhart said.
One plus in mushroom production would be marketing. It would
be relatively easy to sell them locally or ship them to metropolitan areas,
according to Kindhart.
“Mushrooms are a good choice for two reasons,” he said. “I
think there will be a local market for them. You see more and more varieties in
stores. But even if there’s not a good local market, I can put a lot of
mushrooms — which are very high value per pound — on a truck and have it dropped
anywhere I want to. I don’t have to have a major distribution chain.”
White buttons represent the biggest portion of the mushroom
market. Most are grown inside large steel incubators in Pennsylvania. Other
varieties grown in Illinois could see good demand.
“In northern Illinois they’ll grow greens in these unheated
structures all winter,” Kindhart said. “They can get $10 a pound for organic
greens. Here, locally, people would rather give $5 for sirloin than $10 for
organic greens. The market is not as lucrative here.”
Local mushrooms, however, could be prized. Kindhart said
that if the mushroom research project goes well, he would like to see some
incentive for small-farm growers to raise the fungi.
“We’re going to see if we can drive the system,” he said.
“If so, we’re going to look at getting grants.”