Thursday, September 22, 2016

How to Plant a Wine Cap Straw Bed
this Fall for a Spring Harvest

by Mary Ellen

Fall fruiting from a straw Wine Cap bed
Spring and fall fruiting Wine Caps (Stropharia rugoso-annulata) claim both ends of summer as its normal fruiting time, and even fruits through the summer if there is plenty of rainfall. This past spring our Wine Cap season started at the end of April and the dark red buttons continued to push through the summer except for a few weeks in early August during our "dry" season. Most of these were harvested from straw beds we inoculated just the fall before.

Wine Caps like plenty of airflow for the spawn run phase which possibly is why it grows so well on bits and pieces of a dry matter like straw and chips instead of raw logs such as those used in shiitake cultivation. In fact, a combination of both chips and straw seems to be one of the best ways to grow them; giving a fast start with the looser straw component and longevity with the chip component. Layering the three ingredients (straw, spawn, chips) is quickly becoming our standard practice. For quickest fruiting, such as the following method given for a fall planted spring harvest, use only straw as your primary substrate.

Planning your production. For market gardeners, reliability and consistency is particularly helpful when planning a crop. Fortunately, planting a straw bed this fall (usually by garlic planting time... often mid fall) will usually yield a nice crop in spring without the worries of beds drying out or overheating as can happen with spring planted straw beds. Wine Caps are well adapted for a fall planting because of its supreme hardiness and ability to grow in cool temperatures, thus out competing other fungi common in straw in warmer temperatures.

Wood chip beds that we inoculated this spring are just starting to fruit now and should carry us through fall and all of next year as long as daytime temperatures stay 50° F or more.
This fall inoculated Wine Cap mycelium is chewing up the straw and pushing up mushrooms.
Notice the mycelial rootlets under the stem. By the end of the bed life, a nice mat of
dark organic matter remains where there once was 6-10 inches of fluffy straw.
Here's how we do it:
  • Choose your location. You can get as strategic as you want; fully shaded areas will produce 2-3 weeks later, partially shaded areas will start fruiting earlier. Avoid grassy areas unless you lay wet cardboard down over the grass first to smother the grass. Avoid full sun as some warm, dry spring days can turn the succulent red capped mushrooms to dry leathery silver caps within hours. Partial shade is usually best; full shade in the south.
  • Gather your straw. We have used bales of straw left uncovered in the field for a year but it is better to use bright, clean, dry straw (oat, wheat, rye ... NOT hay!) that has been covered during storage.
  • Purchase your spawn. While you can transfer spawn from old beds to this new bed, production is much greater if you use fresh spawn hungry for new organic matter. A 5.5 lb. bag of sawdust spawn will inoculate a small square bale (about 32 lbs.) spread out in a 7 ft. by 7 ft. area or about 50 sq ft.
  • Wet the straw before spreading it out. We like to soak the bales, preferably for 3-5 days (throw the bound bales in a tank or pack even more in loose) just prior to building the bed. We have also spread dry straw out prior to a rainy spell, waiting for natural hydration to occur. We are still trying to determine if the biological activity that occurs during a long soak is helpful in Wine Cap cultivation. We can certainly say it does not hurt. The setup of our tanks (see below) allows for a long soak. We just pull the plugs (as shown) just prior to laying out the bed.
Draining the straw filled livestock tanks a few hours before inoculating.

  • After you drain away the water from the straw, spread out the straw into a 2-inch thick layer, and sprinkle with half of the spawn. Then add 2 more inches of straw, and sprinkle on the remaining half bag of spawn. Finally, add the remaining straw and pat the bed down with a lawn rake.
  • Securely fasten an 8' x 8' ft. piece of plastic over the bed. Take the plastic off in the spring and wait for fruiting! Save the plastic sheet for a spring-made bed... make the bed in the same way, but lift the plastic sheet off in 28 days. If your prefer, use a wood chip covering. In fact this is often preferable as it allows more airflow and is eventually decomposed by the mycelium. Any wood chip will work; for now, you just need it as a "mulch" to keep the straw from drying out.
  • After you think your Wine Cap bed is done fruiting for good, throw some woodchips or sawdust on top for easy rejuvenation. A little proactivity can be easy mushrooms!

This straw bed has been inoculated for only 4 days and was covered with fresh spruce wood chips 
just after inoculation. The white threads are quickly moving Wine Cap mycelium.
If you have wood chips and not straw, you can certainly inoculate this fall but you may not get mushrooms this coming spring, rather, a nice fruiting later in the summer. We fall plant both wood chip beds, straw beds and combination beds of chips/straw/old sawdust to make sure we have Wine Cap mushrooms all season long.

Perfect for pickling! 


  1. What type of plastic do you recommend for covering the bed? Black? Clear?

    1. Hey Troy - Just put in my Fall bed and had the same question: F&F got back to me and any plastic will work for the Fall bed - since it comes off in Spring, you don't have to worry about weeds growing under the clear, or things getting too hot under the black.

    2. Thanks Bruce that is correct :)

  2. I like it! I'll give this a shot this Fall.

  3. Hi, is it to late to inoculate wine caps now? We just had our first frost but temps are going back up into the 50s this week? Thanks, Jay

  4. Hi, is it to late to inoculate wine caps now? We just had our first frost but temps are going back up into the 50s this week? Thanks, Jay

  5. Hi Jay, We inoculated individual Wine Cap beds, some made of straw, some of woodchips, last November (2016) with excellent results this year on both substrate types(2017). We had a mild fall in 2016 so as long as you can foresee daytime temps above 40F on the average for the next few weeks, we suggest you go ahead and inoculate!