Thinking green, by Caitlin

Thoughts and ideas on environmental topics from Caitlin Howlett, editor of Green Lifestyle.

Mushrooms in cities


My surprise harvest of over 30 shiitake mushrooms.


My surprise of over 30 shiitake mushrooms.


Stir-fried mushrooms.


Oyster mushroms starting to grow.

Oyster mushrooms grown

Oyster mushrooms fully grown.


Oyster, shiitake and Swiss brown mushroom stew.

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By Caitlin Howlett, Deputy and online editor at G

Lord Cameron of Dillington, a British farmer, coined the phrase 'nine meals away from anarchy' in 2008, after seeing the very real potential for a food crisis in the U.K. Cameron said that it would only take about three days (or nine meals) after a sudden shutdown of oil supplies for our supermarket shelves to become bare, at which point we’d probably start stealing from our neighbours.

In fact, this is exactly what happened in the developed U.S. after Hurricane Katrina – it only took a few days before looting started so people could feed their families.

While I know it’s unrealistic to think that post-apocalypse I can eat self-sufficiently from my 40-feet square balcony-less apartment, the concept of being just three days away from starvation is a sobering thought. In my attempts at becoming more self-reliant and less oil-centric, I’ve been making the most of the cool, dark basement in my apartment complex to grow mushrooms – and it’s been pretty exciting along the way!

One of the first lessons I’ve learnt about growing mushrooms is that it isn’t any easier than normal gardening. The mushrooms still require tending to with a spray of water almost more often than the herbs on my verge garden, because they don’t get naturally rain-fed. Plus, it’s a long-term commitment; I’ve been growing mushrooms for three months now and I still expect more months of tending to come.

The times when I have left vegie patches untended before, they’ve become overgrown with weeds and without adding organic matter, the soil becomes depleted. It’s also important to keep an eye on mushrooms as they grow – as I found out the hard way!

I’ve had a few interesting surprises of massive Swiss brown mushrooms that I forgot to check on for about a week. When they’re left for too long in the box they can get huge – and they’re full of flavour; almost meaty when I ate it. I have to admit that I’ve had my fair share of ‘not-so-button’, and more field-style mushrooms.

The shiitake also gave me a big surprise - I just didn't expect them to grow so soon, so when I popped down to give them a clout (i.e. spray them with water), I was astonished that there were over 30 lovely fresh wood-scented shiitake’s waiting for me!

One of the most rewarding parts of growing mushrooms is of course eating them – and one of the best things about fresh, home grown mushrooms is their taste and texture. They keep their shape much better than store-bought when you cook them, and the button mushrooms remain firm and white (even on the BBQ!) instead of shrinking and turning into a mushy brown mess.

I've had many friends tell me they've tried to grow button mushrooms, but that it didn't turn out so good for them. I honestly haven't had as much luck with my button mushies. It might be something to do with my basement, but I'll continue by putting my efforts into oyster, shiitake & maybe Swiss browns again.

Caitlin received her mushroom kits courtesy of