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I have read in various places that mushrooms in lawns are an indication of woody compostable material that is being eaten by the mushrooms and that the by-product of this process will be additional nutrients for the lawn.

Can this same process be used in a vegetable garden? @bstpierre mentioned that mushrooms would compete well against the vegetable plants for the nitrogen in the soil in this question. But if there is a lot of uncomposted material from the previous season (stems, roots, leaves, etc) lying on top of the garden (left there as mulch/soil amendment) can a balance be struck with mushrooms mostly feeding on the mulch and the plants eating the nitrogen in the soil? What species of mushrooms would be good for this? It would be nice if the mushrooms were edible.

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I can see how the wording is ambiguous, but my answer to that question meant that the decomposing wood would steal nitrogen, not the mushrooms directly. –  bstpierre Mar 12 '12 at 12:14
    
@bstpierre could you elaborate? Your statement statement is not clear. –  David Jun 6 '12 at 3:42
    
@David: In the OP's question, he links to a question where my answer mentions that decomposing wood "steals" nitrogen from the soil. My answer also mentions that fungus will grow in the decomposing wood. But the fungus (at least to my knowledge) is not a party to the nitrogen theft -- that's a separate process. (Please do correct me if I'm wrong on this point!) –  bstpierre Jun 6 '12 at 4:00
    
It is complicated, and it depends on the mushroom species, so a) the generalization is wrong and b) the acquisition of N in decomposing wood is primarily mediated by microbes, including fungi, and to a lesser degree by bulk flow in water –  David Jun 6 '12 at 4:36
    
My brother blogs about his mushroom cultivation, mostly but not entirely on logs. I'd recommend starting with log cultivation of Shiitake and go from there (I gave an overview in the Carolina Farm Stewardship Association newsletter) –  David Jun 6 '12 at 11:36

2 Answers 2

Mushrooms like feeding on decomposing organic material under the surface of the ground that rarely gets disturbed, or above the ground in large pieces that are constantly internally moist. They like rich soil in shady locations. Of course this is your average mushroom. There are kinds that use different growing environments. But the point is that in a vegetable garden, the conditions are all wrong. A better idea would be to compost the material. The bacteria and fungi do the same thing as the mushrooms, but are by far easier to use than mushrooms. When you see mushrooms in your lawn, it means you have undecomposed organic material in the soil. The mushrooms have probably been working on them for a while before you saw the fruiting bodies emerge. Getting the mushrooms with a lawnmower will not hinder the composting process from continuing. And even if there were no mushrooms, little microscopic organisms would be eating it.

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mushrooms do not all grow on wood. Some grow on dead grass, some on humus, and others (mycorrhizae) get carbon from live trees. –  David Jun 6 '12 at 3:44

Companion cropping vegetables with mushrooms is not that uncommon. One pair that I've implemented with success is asparagus with King Strophoria, or winecap, mushrooms. This video illustrates the practice. This mushroom can be paired with any crop that will provide moderate shade throughout the growing season.

I wouldn't be too concerned about competition for nitrogen (N) as typically fungi of this sort tend to do best in low N situations - they are able to decompose materials with significantly higher C:N ratios that bacteria. If there's enough N, bacteria and molds tend to out-compete the desired mushroom species.

The benefits of growing mushrooms amongst your vegetables include:

  1. Maximize production in limited space
  2. addition of organic matter to the soil as straw is decomposed
  3. Yummy mushrooms for breakfast
  4. presence of desired fungi can prevent undesirable soil fungi from establishing
  5. Straw on soil will help hold moisture and even out water availability
  6. Winecap mycelia have been shown to kill nematodes
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