Growing mushrooms 🍄🏡🐝
I want to grow mushrooms in my garden for a few reasons: to improve bee and soil health and provide food.
Regarding bee health, I want to experiment with a theory described by Paul Stamets in Report from the Underground that some fungi assist bee immunology. Stamets formulated the hypothesis after noticing bees visiting a King Stropharia (Stropharia rugoso-annulata) patch in his garden.
A beekeeper maintains hives in my yard. He routinely treats them for mites. One of the three colonies has collapsed :( Stamets' mentioned in his talk a product (MycoHoney) he's developing to directly support bees, but until that becomes available, I want to see if growing S. rugoso-annulata near the hives helps. A patent application by Stamets 1 describes S. rugoso-annulata as "an exceptional species for aiding bees when challenged by multiple stressors that can lead to [colony collapse disorder]."
Regarding soil health, the yard is dominated by a black walnut and appears to have poor soil. I'm exploring use of permaculture concepts, including Stamets' proposal to treat fungi as an eighth layer, to improve soil health and mitigate the walnut's toxin. My walnut guild notes go into more detail.
Stamets' company Fungi Perfecti (FP) makes it easy to grow S. rugoso-annulata by selling outdoor kits.
Step 1: get wood chips
The kit instructions (pdf) state S. rugoso-annulata grows on wood chips or straw. I'm inclined toward the former because Stamets' hypothesis concerns bees visiting rotting wood: "…the mycelium of Stropharia rugoso-annulata does not produce these rhizomorphic cords until making contact with the bacterial genome resident in woody soils. This dynamic is likely to confer bees with more robust nutritional and immune support." 1. But where does one get wood chips clean enough to use for food-grade mushrooms?
FP sells alder chips, and I ordered some, but the kit instructions state most non-aromatic hardwoods will do, and I think sourcing local wood is the more sustainable option, so I kept looking. Additional research indicated chips should be more than a few weeks old, so the trees' natural anti-fungal properties have broken down, but not so old that other fungi have colonized.
Tree trimming companies are apparently eager to give away fresh chips to avoid disposal fees, eg Chip Drop, but require recipients to accept a full truck load of several cubic yards, which more than I need, and have space for a large truck to make the delivery, which I don't.
Some waste disposal companies, eg Bayview Greenwaste, allow individuals to visit and haul away wood chips for free, but I'd like a better understanding of where the wood comes from. Also, my town is full of trees. Surely, there's a source near home.
Around this time, I attended the Santa Cruz Fungus Federation's annual fair (notes). Justin Pierce gave a presentation on mushroom cultivation in which he mentioned Far West Fungi sources hardwood sawdust from local furniture makers. He also mentioned S. rugoso-annulata had grown vigorously on cheap, dyed-red chips in his backyard after a haphazard inoculation, indicating the fungus wasn't too picky.
One day, I noticed a large pile of chips in the parking lot of a local public park(!) I also saw mushrooms sprouting abundantly in mulched areas, indicating whatever was being spread over the years was at least edible by some fungi. I asked a park employee if I could take a cubic yard. He said it was mostly sycamore and encouraged me to take all I wanted; the chips were normally dropped off in the city's yard, but they were preparing to re-mulch the park; I could make an appointment to drop by the city's yard for more and from specific trees, but it's not generally open to the public. One of the unexpected rewards of this experience has been learning more about my local community.
The kit's instructions state the mushroom patch should be in a moist area out of direct sunlight. Luckily, the bee hives are near such an area.
Step 2: get mushrooms
After obtaining chips, I ordered the kit and supplemental alder chips mentioned above.
The kit arrived in a box with a sticker on the side stating it contained live culture and should be opened immediately, but instructions inside the box stated we should let the culture rest in the box undisturbed for a week before inoculation. What did "undisturbed" mean? Why not put a do-not-disturb notice outside the box if we should literally do nothing? I didn't want the fungi to suffocate or dehydrate.
A video for the indoor kit talks about opening the bag. Should I do the same for the outdoor kit? I called FP, who were friendly and helpful, and clarified the gas port on the bag is sufficient for respiration and the bag doesn't need to be unfolded or opened.
Step 3: inoculate, water & wait
The chips were wet from recent rains. As instructed, I broke up the sawdust in the kit and sprinkled it evenly over the chips. I then layered the alder chips on top, turned the chips over until I didn't see any mycelium-covered chips on the surface and watered.
Per the instructions, my job now is to water the chips enough to keep them moist, but otherwise wait and let the fungus do its work.
Update Summer 2018
We cut down a tree shading the original location of the chip pile. Although covered with cardboard, it was then in one of the hotter, drier parts of the yard, and I feared the worst after a couple months. In an attempt to salvage something, I moved the pile into a shaded location adjacent to our compost pile, which was regularly splashed with water. To my surprise, several inches under the surface, the mycelium looked moist and healthy and smelled great! Now, we wait to see if the colony survived the move.🤞