Build and grow a home mushroom farm with P.E.I expert Rene Lestan

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — “Start with an easy species that’s gonna give you a yield in a short period of time, so that you get that satisfaction and that confidence.”

That's Rene Lestan's most important piece of advice for people looking to grow their own mushrooms.

The owner of Red Island Mushroom Hunter held the first of four mushroom cultivation classes on April 12 at the Beaconsfield Carriage House in Charlottetown, with more than 40 people in attendance.

The mushroom hunter told SaltWire after her presentation that she was excited to see the public interest in the event, with the class selling out days ahead of the class and extra walk-ins joining the day of.

“It fills an energy inside you to teach people about something that you love,” Lestan said.

Lestan regularly hosts foraging walks and mushroom cultivation workshops, educating people about safe foraging and growing practices for edible mushrooms.

Nadia Prigoda-Lee has been gardening in Charlottetown for six years, and after hearing about Lestan’s class thought mushrooms would be a great addition.

“I’m just looking for new things to add into it, and mushrooms seemed like a really cool thing to do,” Prigoda-Lee told SaltWire after the class had ended.

The class featured several slides of information about mushrooms, as well as hands-on education on how to grow king Stropharia or wine cap mushrooms.

“Mushrooms are basically the immune system of the forests because they excrete antibiotics and enzymes and such,” Lestan said to attendees.

While focusing mainly on wine caps, Lestan also talked about other types of mushrooms, as well as some ways to differentiate them in the wild

“They do have toxic look-alikes, so if you’re not sure don’t start snacking on them,” Lestan said.

The best time to start a mushroom garden is after regular frost stops, allowing the delicate mycelium to spread and strengthen without combatting the cold, Lestan said.

“Now is a good time to get your garden in, you don’t have to do it as soon as you get home tonight though,” Lestan joked.

As part of the class, Lestan built a mushroom garden patch on the stage, showing attendees how to layer the garden and describing the necessary maintenance for a healthy mushroom garden.

Shredded straw and wood chips are some of the best mediums to include in a mushroom garden, with a good ratio of air, light and water encouraging healthy mushroom growth.

Mandy Richardville told SaltWire following the event that she has had a long-standing interest in food forests and exploring easy ways to supplement the traditional food supply.

“I really like that this is something that you can do out in the yard, and watch how the nature works,” Richardville said.

Having never tried growing or eating wine cap mushrooms, Richardville left the class feeling excited to begin her mushroom garden.

Through her online page, Lestan sells grow kits for Italian oysters, lion’s mane and shiitake mushrooms. Attendees were able to purchase a bag of wine cap spores from Lestan to start their gardens immediately following the class, with some placing orders for different types of mushrooms for pickup later.

“To know that those people are gonna harvest mushrooms in a few months that I taught them to grow, I feel like it plays a bigger role with food security,” Lestan said.

Species of fungi such as the wine caps Lestan focused her class around are quick and easy to grow, requiring minimal regular maintenance and large crops if cared for properly. Other ways to grow mushrooms including inoculating trees can take several years before mushrooms sprout and can be harvested.

“If you only have to wait a few months and then see it that’s gonna encourage you to try a more difficult one,” Lestan said.

The remaining class schedule as follows:

Sign-up details are available through Lestan’s Facebook page The Red Island Mushroom Hunter.

Caitlin Coombes is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter, a position funded by the federal government. She can be reached by email at and followed on X @caitlin_coombes.

Caitlin Coombes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian