Perhaps the easiest mushroom to grow outside in beds is the wine cap, Stropharia rugosoannulata.
this is a tasty mushroom you’re not likely to find at the grocery store. You may hear it called king stropharia or garden giant because the caps can grow as big as dinner plates! It's a favorite of foodies and farmers alike, packing a punch with umami flavor and protein, and adapting well to sunnier sites than many other mushrooms. We've never met a more generous mushroom than the wine cap.
Description: Wine caps, or Stropharia rugosoannulata, are an incredibly robust mushroom, growing quickly on all sorts of woody debris and resilient to a range of environmental conditions. Their ability to tolerate some sun makes them uniquely suited for incorporating into vegetable gardens.
Of all the mushrooms we cultivate here at North Spore, this one most closely resembles portobellos, and is relatively easy to identify. Wine caps form a classic cap and stem mushroom and are so called for the deep burgundy color of their caps. Depending on exposure to the sun, that hue can range from a bright red, to deeper purplish hues, fading to medium brown. Caps may also feature fluffy white tufts, more common near the margins than center, especially when young. Gills are purple-gray, becoming dark purple brown when laden with spores of the same color. Their flesh and stem is cream to white and they have a ring covering their gills when young which travels down the stem as they mature. The ring is unlike the fibrous type of Amanitas, nor the cobwebby sort of Cortinarius. Instead, it's radially split which makes it prone to breaking off in chunks or appearing like a cogwheel.
Wine caps begin as unassuming mushrooms, rather modest in size. If left to grow, they can become quite massive earning the name garden giant. Seeing these specimens calls to mind fairytales and toadstools.
Ecology: Our cultivation of this species mimics their habitat preference well. As saprobes or decomposers, these fungi can be found growing on wood chips in a variety of locales. No stranger to urban or suburban spots, where mulch is used in landscaping. Though sometimes they may also emerge from gardens or lawns unexpectedly. They also appear on the forest floor in areas where trees have been cut or there's woody debris and in seasonal floodplains. They grow both scattered and in clusters. At times they fruit so prolifically they're called gregarious!
In terms of timing, wine caps are flexible and will fruit in the spring through fall in temperate climates or when temperatures range from 50-70 degrees F. The native range of wine caps spans across North America, though they're significantly more widespread East of the Great Plains.
Difficulty for Outdoor Cultivation: Beginner. One of the best mushrooms to cut your teeth with.
Our cultures: We sell four strains of Stropharia rugosoannulata. The one we use to produce our sawdust spawn was developed from a wild specimen found in Southern Coastal Maine so it's regionally adapted to our climate and hardy through winter.
Preferred Growing Methods: Wine caps thrive in a bed style of cultivating that can easily be tweaked to create mushroom mulch just about anywhere. They tolerate more sun exposure than most other mushrooms we cultivate and they're powerhouses in supporting plant and soil health. That makes them pretty perfect, in our humble opinion, for growing in gardens. If your outdoor space is limited, you can also try growing them in containers! We grew some in a fabric pot with tomatoes last year
To set up a mushroom bed, clear away debris and unwanted plants from your site. Laying down cardboard can help with weed suppression. Then, add about 2" of your substrate followed by an even crumble of your wine cap spawn. Continue alternating layer of substrate and spawn until you've used up your spawn or reached your desired bed height, 6-8" is ideal. Deeper beds may produce longer but take longer to fully myceliate before fruiting. Your top layer should be substrate, to protect the spawn from direct sun and exposure to the elements. Give your bed a thorough watering to adequately hydrate your substrate and continue watering as you would your vegetables for at least the first 4 weeks while the bed gets established. A deep water every other day should suffice. Fungi need a moist environment to grow well, but not waterlogged or soggy!
If you're curious for more information on how fungi help plant and soil health or an in depth walkthrough, follow these links for gardening with mushrooms or making mushroom beds.
Site Selection: Wine caps will grow in a variety of environments, provided they have the right nutrition and stay hydrated. If you'd like to inoculate a full sun site, we recommend you locate your wine caps under some plants to give them a partially shady microclimate. We love growing them especially around broad leaved or bushy plants like cucurbits, big brassicas and nightshades. They're also great to add to existing mulch around perennials and trees! Find what integrates well into your environment.
Substrate: These mushrooms aren't terribly picky eaters. Most often, we grow them on wood chips or a blend of wood chips and sawdust. They prefer a mix of at least 50% hardwood if you can, the fresher the better, though they may grow on more mature substrates. Often, a local arborist or utility company is a good resource to tap for chips. Otherwise, you might be able to find aspen shavings at a pet store or undyed hardwood mulch at a farm or garden center. They'll also grow well on cereal straws and other agricultural byproducts. If you're using straw, it's helpful to chop it into 1-3" pieces.
Wood chip beds provide more sustained nutrition for more fruits over a longer period of time. Unlike indoor grows, there's no need to pasteurize or otherwise treat the substrate before inoculation. Though, soaking your substrate ahead of time to make sure it's hydrated is a great idea!
Temperature: Wine caps can be inoculated as soon as average daytime temperatures are above freezing and as late as 4 weeks before frost. They prefer to fruit in the shoulder seasons as temperatures warm or cool, between 50-70 degrees F, especially after heavy rain or spring flooding. During peak heat, growth may slow down, but will pick back up provided they stayed adequately hydrated.
Mycelium Formation: The mycelium is white to cream colored and expands in a linear pattern. It often smells rather sweet. Compared to oysters, wine caps grow slowly but steadily! As the mycelium becomes established after the first few weeks, you'll notice it takes on a thicker more rope-like form instead of the finely filamentous structure found in the spawn. We call them rhizomorphs and you'll see them attached to the base of the two mushrooms pictured here. When you're harvesting your mushrooms, save those rhizomorphic stem butts! You can use them to inoculate more substrate and keep growing.
Fruiting Information: Depending on what time of year you inoculated your wine cap and your inoculation rate, you might see fruits in the same season! Compared to growing on logs, that's a pretty quick turnaround. If you live in a temperate climate and inoculate in the spring, you may start to see fruits as early as mid-summer and into the fall. Expect to wait at least 3-6 months for your bed to fully myceliate before being ready to form mushrooms.
Once they do, you may be in for a bumper crop! Especially after a heavy rain and temperature shift, we'll see prolific clusters poking through our wood chips or straw. They easily double in size each day, so keep an eye on them to harvest before other mushroom loving creatures find them (deer, slugs, woodchucks).
Harvesting: To harvest wine cap, you can cut the stem near the base or simply twist it to free it from its mycelial anchor. Keep trimmings to spread onto cardboard or more substrate. We prefer to harvest wine caps in the button stage while the caps are still tightly curled under and close to their stem. These young mushrooms are tender and flavorful, and less likely to be buggy. Wait for the caps to become palm size and you've got a great substitute for a portobello! For best edibility, harvest before the gills become dark with spores or just before the veil completely separates from the stem.
As the wine caps continue to mature, they can grow to a gargantuan size. Large mushrooms may be milder tasting and the stems can become stringy. If you're growing for market, these are our favorite eye catching mushrooms to start conversations about. Wine caps will keep for about a week in a refrigerator, longer if they're harvested in the button stage.
Cooking: These mushrooms are well suited to a variety of cuisines and can be substituted anywhere white buttons, creminis, or portabellos are used. Just remember to cook your mushrooms! They contain chitin, a compound which also makes lobster and crab shells strong, which breaks down with heat.
Some of our favorite preparations involve grilling them, marinating them with soy sauce or coconut aminos and ginger and adding to a stir fry, or a simple saute with salt and butter. Their flavor is somewhere between a potato, asparagus, and artichoke!
Some people might experience gastrointestinal upset after eating wine caps for several consecutive days. As with any new mushroom, we advise eating just a little at first and waiting 24 hours to see how your body feels before really diving into a full meal of them.
Other fun facts: Wine caps trap parasitic nematodes in the soil and eat them as a convenient source of protein. These fungi pierce and immobilize the tiny roundworms with a specialized spiked cell called an acanthocyte. Then, they release digestive juices to break down the organism and absorb the nutrients. If grown in your garden, this carnivorous habit might help our your plants as a sort of biocontrol!
Speaking of helping out plants, wine caps decompose woody debris faster than any other mushroom we cultivate. That means they crank out organic matter to return to the soil. Soils with more organic matter have better water holding capacity, microbe diversity, tilth or structure, and bioavailable nutrients. All of these factors contribute to healthier, fuller plants.
But perhaps our favorite facet of these fungi is how easily they can be transplanted to inoculate new patches. Especially after fruiting, the fungi will go through a rest period when it's ideal to scoop up a little well myceliated substrate to transfer onto some new material or share with friends and family to #spreadthespore!
Image credit: Jacq Davis of @EpicYardFarm
31 Replies to "Species Spotlight: Wine Cap"
Cammy Jo Mcadams yeah, you can! Typically, we recommend starting outdoor projects around the last freeze date for your area. I would use the straw and make beds. (:
Dear northspore.com owner, Thanks for the well-researched post!
I have never grown a mushroom before and am wanting to try. The only mushrooms I have ever tasted are the button top in the grocery store. I live in North central Montana zone 4. Can I grow wine top mushrooms up here outside and if I can would it be best in beds or on straw bales? I do currently have several straw bales I was planning on using in the bottom of some raised planters with logs and branches. I am older and can’t do all the ups and downs like I used to. When would be the best time to order? Our temps stay pretty cold threw March and we do occasionally still get snow in April and May.
Julian Nurkowski we’d be happy to help get you growing! reach out to us at email@example.com and we can provide more details, thank you!
Please help. I have had success with different oysters, shitake and others but I have not been able to establish a bed of Wine Caps despite trying for 3 – 4 years. My son, who grew them very successfully even brought mycelium over twice and they never took. The things I can think of is my potable water which is softened by the village and has a high Sodium content or a proliferation of some animals, earth worms or slugs. I want to try one more time this spring. Can you please provide me with some tips. Please note that I have been successful with other gourmets so the issue is not obvious.
Annie, it can be! You can reach out with some photos of the top, underneath and the environment they are growing in, to firstname.lastname@example.org and we’d be happy to help!
I innocukated my wood chip bed in June and the bed had its first flush first week of October. None of the caps have been red however- light brownish: white. Is that normal? Used one bag of the sawdust spawn.
Will pine straw work? It’s what I currently use on all my garden beds.
Bala – Try spreading diatomaceous earth to combat slugs and insects. It does wash off with water and you may need to reapply it after rains or watering.
My bed is fully colonized to the top of the substrate just under the straw. How much longer will it be before they flush? I started my bed back in February it is in a nice shady spot and stays the perfect amount of moisture
I got the winecap sawdust spores from northspore and tried it on a monotub with sawdust substrate. The tub started to get green bacterial growth and I dumped my entire tub in to a wood chips in my yard last early Jan . Guess what? I am seeing few winecaps popping up all over my yard now in May. Most of them are damaged on the caps dues to slugs/snails i guess and any suggestions to keep these slugs at bay will be helpful. Your spores really worked!
For other mushroom varieties that do well in outdoor beds – any type of oyster mushrooms. Keep in mind Pink are more tropical so they are a little more picky about when they are inoculated and if you live in an area that goes to freezing or below, they’ll probably not overwinter. Two easiest mushrooms for outdoor beds – oyster and wine cap.
Yes, outdoor mushroom beds do not need pasteurized. Just lay down the straw and/or woodchips and then spawn…repeat a few times and make sure it’s hydrated. If you are making straw only beds, you’ll want to soak the straw in water so it’s well hydrated before applying to the beds. Good luck
Thanks for the great write up! We just got a bunch of freshly cut oak wood chips. I haven’t seen any mention of pasteurizing the wood chips like you read about for straw (harder for me to get). Can I really do this without a pasteurization step? Also, any other mushrooms that would work in straight wood chips?
Would these grow with aged pine shavings in a raised bed? I used logs as my base, then pine shavings, then topsoil for my 36" tall raised beds last September. The shavings didn’t break down as fast as I thought they would. I would love to add some spores to help break it down and get yummy mushrooms if it would work.
I found growing my own Wine Caps just as easy as you’ve described. Your how to videos are a great resource.
Would these survive hot summers. I am in Central Texas where it gets over 100…
Amy Record, absolutely! Beds can certainly last a few years. It is a great idea to add more substrate to support the continued flushing. Wine caps like to come out in cooler weather, so keep an eye out in fall and spring!
I messed up my vacation (in Maine) and winecap bloom where the same
Will I get more next year?
They were monsters
I plan to add more next year as well ! Thank you
Just wanted to say thanks for the wine caps. We have been having amazing blooms the last couple of days. It’s food but it’s so much fun.
@Bob Atkinson, that sounds perfect! Tis the season for wine caps. I hope you enjoy them!
I made a 4×4 bed of fresh Maple chips from my tree care neighbor. I put the spawn in on May 31st and it began to grow yesterday Aug 3, 2021. I can’t wait to eat them. Thanks
@Sara, yes, you can dehydrate your mushrooms to preserve them or cook and freeze, if desired.
Can these mushrooms be dried to preserve them?
I just spotted my first ever self-grown mushroom! How fun is that?! It’s a wine-cap. I bought the sawdust spawn from you guys and planted them last fall under straw. Thanks for all your good advise.! When I harvest it, if I cut the stem to leave the roots, will it regenerate?
I’ve just placed an order for wine caps and shut ski spores and can’t wait for them to arrive. Your website is very informative and emailed newsletters very inspiring! From the comments I’ve read it appears to be as easy as you make it sound and look forward to experimenting with other varieties. Thank you!
Can’t wait to start growing sooooo many mushrooms
We inoculated a straw mulch over our asparagus bed last fall and just got our first flush. Two tips: 1) they seem to fruit around the outside of the bed. So make your beds long and skinny. 2) They are sneaky and the slugs love them. So put them in a place that you will see everyday so you get them before the slugs.
I built my wine cap bed in August of 2020 using North Spore sawdust spawn. The first fruiting happend early May of 2021. On May 24, I harvested about three pounds of wine caps. It is raining today so hope to have another flush in a few days.
This is good information And will positively influence the land project I’m developing. You all are amazing. Keep spreading the good word!
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