How To Grow Wine Cap Mushrooms – A Beginner’s Guide

Also known as:  The Garden Giant, King Stropharia, and Stropharia rugoso annulata

Wine Cap mushrooms can reach astounding sizes in Canada!

The wine cap mushroom is renowned for its large burgundy cap and delectable flavour.   They are remarkably easy to grow alongside vegetable plants and under trees, making them an ideal choice for gardeners and farmers alike.

In this beginner’s guide, we’ll walk you through the steps of cultivating these incredible mushrooms and explore how they benefit your garden, while providing a bountiful harvest year after year!

Choose The Best Location For Your Wine Cap Mushroom Garden

When choosing a location for your wine cap mushroom bed, it’s helpful to consider their natural habitat. You may have noticed that wild mushrooms emerge during wet rainy weather in a forest. High humidity is key to mushroom growth, so under the shade of trees or garden plants are ideal locations for your wine cap mushroom bed.

On our farm, we like to grow wine cap mushrooms in mulch surrounding our perennial crops such as raspberries, rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, and fruit trees. We’ve also had success with wine cap cultivation between rows of annual crops like beets and beans, as well as in the forested areas adjacent to our farm

 

Wine cap mushrooms, Stropharia rugoso annulata, growing in woodchips Canada
How to grow Wine Cap on woodchips in your garden

When cultivating mushrooms in your sunny garden, choose a location where you will water regularly to counteract the sun’s drying rays. As your vegetable plants mature, mushrooms will tend to pop up in the microclimate formed by their leaves. You can also plant them around ornamental shrubs and flowers, or in a patch of the north side of your house.

When establishing a mushroom bed in your forest, far from a garden hose, successful yields will be at the whims of mother nature. Where possible situate your mushroom bed adjacent to a creek or wetland to help to facilitate a humid environment. Ensure there is good drainage to prevent waterlogging.

Gather Mushroom Growing Substrates

Alder hardwood chips for growing wine cap mushrooms in Canada

Wine caps can thrive on various substrates, with hardwood chips and straw being the most popular choices.

For wood-based substrates, chips and sawdust from hardwood trees like alder, maple, poplar, beech, and oak are highly favoured as they can sustain mushroom production for longer than straw.

While hardwoods are best, some sources report success when mixed with up to 50% wood chips from evergreen trees. It’s crucial to avoid Cedar entirely due to its strong anti-fungal properties. Potential sources for hardwood substrates include arborists, furniture makers, hydro crews working to clear under lines, and clearing treed land for development.

 

Finely chopped straw for oyster mushrooms and Garden Giant beds

Straw is another popular substrate and is perfect for mulching plants to hold in moisture.  Straw beds will not produce as long as hardwood, so be sure top up with fresh straw each fall.

Source straw from local farm and feed stores, as well as other suitable fibrous or woody animal beddings. Steer clear of hay, as it contains seeds that may sprout unwanted growth.

Wine caps also grow on cardboard, leaves, small twigs, and various agricultural waste products. However, it’s essential to create a substrate mix that allows for adequate air circulation, as dense, waterlogged mats can impede
growth. 

Experimenting with new substrates by introducing them to a designated area of your patch is a good way to gauge their suitability.

 

Source Wine Cap Mushroom Spawn

To cultivate Wine Cap mushrooms, you’ll need to obtain the fungal mycelium, a white, thread-like network which consumes wood chips and straw as its food source. 

To establish a mushroom bed, you can source Wine Cap mushroom mycelium by collecting a bucketful from a friend’s Wine Cap bed, or you can opt to purchase a sterile bag of Wine Cap sawdust spawn cultivated by our family farm.

We recommend using one bag of spawn to plant an area roughly 1 square meter in size. While you can spread the spawn over a larger area, bear in mind that the more spawn you use, the faster it will colonise the substrate and outcompete wild fungi, and the sooner it will produce mushrooms.  Once the Wine Caps are thriving, you can distribute handfuls of the mycelium to establish new beds!    

When Is A Good Time To Plant Wine Cap Mushrooms?

Wine Cap King Stropharia mushrooms growing in garden in Canada

This cold-hardy fungus is well-suited for Canadian climates. Wine cap mushrooms can be planted in very early spring, well before the threat of frost has subsided. Freezing nights won’t phase them and they will slowly grow in the cold weather.

The earlier you plant, the sooner you’ll have wine cap mushrooms popping up! You may enjoy your first mushroom crop as soon as two months after spring planting – but it could take until fall depending on environmental conditions, substrate depth and other factors.

Alder hardwood chips for growing wine cap mushrooms in Canada

Don’t worry if you miss the spring planting window as it’s never too late to plant this perennial mushroom bed. If you’re planting during the dry summer months, remember to water extra until they’re well established. Fall is also a great time to plant, ensuring an early crop starting the following spring or summer.

Remember to add more wood chips or straw to your bed each fall to keep it healthy and thriving. This mulch will also provide an insulative “blanket” for the winter.

During the winter months, you can get a head start on spring planting by expanding sawdust spawn indoors into buckets filled with pasteurised straw or wood chips. By the time spring rolls around, you’ll have plenty of spawn ready to plant over a large area, giving you a bountiful harvest in the months to come.

Making A Lasagna Mushroom Bed

Fungal mycelium of Stropharia rugoso annulata The Garden Giant

Planting a wine cap mushroom bed is like layering lasagna, alternating between substrate and spawn.

Begin by ensuring that your chosen substrate, whether it’s straw or hardwood chips, is adequately moistened by soaking or sprinkling. Fresh wood chips typically contain sufficient moisture and may not require pre-wetting.

Prepare the planting area by ensuring it has a soil floor or a mulched surface free from weeds and sod. If weeds are present, laying down cardboard can help suppress their growth.  

To begin the layering process, spread a thick layer of moistened straw or hardwood chips, approximately 5 cm deep. Crumble the wine cap spawn and evenly sprinkle it throughout this layer of substrate. Then, add another thick layer of substrate on top.

How to grow Wine Cap on woodchips in your garden

You can create multiple layers, alternating different substrates. The ideal depth of the bed depends on the substrate and location. A thicker top layer of substrate helps protect the spawn underneath from drying out, and so deeper beds are beneficial in sunny areas.

By contrast, you can get away with shallower beds in the shade. A general rule of thumb is to make wood chip beds 10-15cm deep, and straw beds 15-25cm.

Regular watering is essential, especially during dry summer months, to ensure optimal growth. Over time, the mycelium will spread throughout the bed, eventually giving rise to beautiful burgundy mushrooms with smoky gills.

Harvesting Your Garden Giant Mushrooms

How to grow garden giants Stropharia rugosoannulata in Canada

After patiently waiting for months, it’s exciting to find these beautiful mushrooms popping up in your garden.

Keep a watchful eye on your bed, particularly following rainfall or temperature changes which can trigger their growth. These mushrooms can swiftly transition from a button to full-grown in just a matter of days, and you wouldn’t want to miss harvesting them at their peak!

How to grow Garden Giant mushrooms, aka King Stropharia or Wine Caps, in Canada

Many consider wine cap mushrooms most delectable when harvested when young, with caps still tightly curled under and a veil of tissue covering the gills. At this button phase, their flesh is more firm and crisp.


However fully matured wine caps are equally delightful. They remain excellent eating once the cap has fully opened up, resembling a wine-coloured portobello, and revealing gills underneath.

Simply pluck them from the bed by hand, cut off the bottom of the stem, and store mushrooms in the refrigerator in a paper bag until you’re ready to eat them.

How To Identify Wine Cap Mushrooms

Wine Caps

When cultivating mushrooms outdoors, there is always the potential for wild mushrooms to also emerge in your garden. Some wild fungi are poisonous so it’s crucial to accurately identify your wine caps before eating. Thankfully they are quite distinct.

When they first emerge, the burgundy cap is rounded with their immature gills concealed by a veil of tissue. If you cut the cap in half at this stage, you will see these young grey gills developing.

Garden Giant (Stropharia rugosoannulata)mushrooms harvested from hardwood chip bed

The large cap unfurls as the mushroom matures, and the tissue on the underside breaks away revealing smoky grey gills that darken to black as spores are released.  A distinctive cogwheel-shaped ring of tissue remains adorning the white stalk.  

The appearance of this robust mushroom can vary depending on growing conditions, such as exposure to sunlight, which may result in the cap colour fading to a tan brown and cracking.  By contrast the cap can be deep wine coloured, and sticky or slimy when emerging during rainy weather.

Caution: Wild mushrooms may also fruit in your outdoor mushroom gardens, and some may be deadly. Make sure to correctly identify your Wine Cap mushrooms before eating.

Key Features to Identify Wine Cap Mushrooms
(Stropharia rugoso annulata)

Cogwheel skirt forming on young wine cap mushroom Canada
  • Large cap is red-wine colour when young, fading to tan as it ages or dries out in the sun
  • Surface of cap is sticky or slimy when moist; bald with no hairs or adornments
  • Gills are attached to stalk, at first grey or purple grey, maturing to black as the mushroom begins to release dark purple to nearly black spores
  • Stalk is at least 1/2″ thick, white when fresh
  • Veil is present, at first covering gills in your mushrooms, then breaking as the gills expand to leave a prominent ring on stalk
  • Ring on stalk is grooved or ridged on upper surface, forming a unique “cogwheel” shape
  • Flesh of stalk is white, not discolouring appreciably when bruised
  • White threads often emanating from base of stalk, no volva

Growing Wine Caps Is Good For Your Garden

Wine cap mushrooms grow abundantly from woodchips Vancouver Island BC Canada

Companion planting with wine cap mushrooms, provides not only a bonus food crop, but also benefits your garden and farm productivity. 

Wine cap mushrooms break down organic matter efficiently, releasing nutrients and improving soil structure and fertility.  The thick mulch of straw or wood chips helps to retain water, while promoting worms and enhancing soil biodiversity and microbiome health. 

The dense mycelial network in the thick mulch acts as a physical barrier, inhibiting the germination and growth of weed seeds. By minimising weed competition, garden plants can access more resources such as water, sunlight, and nutrients, leading to more robust growth.

In a study funded by the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program, Field & Forest identified many benefits for farmers, including the addition of a profitable mushroom crop, healthier tomato plants with increased yields, and nearly 100% weed suppression.   These benefits equate to increased profits and decreased labour for farmers.  

Wine Cap Mushrooms Are Nutritious & Delicious

Wine cap mushrooms grow abundantly from woodchips Vancouver Island BC Canada

With their versatility in cooking and rich flavour, wine cap mushrooms are a favourite among chefs and home cooks alike. They are not only tasty, but also contribute valuable nutrients to a balanced diet.

Containing up to 35% of their dry weight in protein, these robust mushrooms offer 1.8 times more protein than button mushrooms, making them a valuable addition to vegetarian and vegan diets.

As well as being a good source of dietary fibre, Stropharia rugoso-annulata mushrooms are rich in vitamins including vitamin C and B-complex vitamins; riboflavin (B2), niacin (B3), pantothenic acid (B5), pyridoxine (B6), folic acid (B9), and cobalamin (B12).

Wine cap mushrooms also supply essential mineral elements like potassium, phosphorus, calcium, manganese, copper, sodium, iron, zinc, magnesium, and selenium. However, like other mushrooms, they have the potential to accumulate heavy metals from the soil, making it unadvised to grow and harvest them in polluted areas.

Video Playlist

Enjoy some of our favourite videos demonstrating growing and cooking with Wine Cap Mushroom, the Garden Giants.

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The Key is to Keep Cold or Delay Shipping

Refrigeration will delay fruiting for a month or more, and a cold dark basement will slow them for 2-3 weeks.  A sticker on your parcel will alert the recipient to keep it cold.

We encourage you to order early to avoid the uncertainties of the seasonal postal rush, and delay shipping.  To delay shipping, select a date on the checkout page, found directly under your total order $ value.   If you don’t select a date, we will ship in 1-2 business days.

The elves at our family farm are doing our best to keep everything in stock, but we request your understanding just in case we run out and substitute a similar product in order to ship on time.  

Consider also the option of a non-perishable gift, like booksmushroom hot chocolate, or a gift card so that your loved one can choose a living gift when timing is best for them.

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