In 2013 I wrote: I would like to take a course at the Agriculture extension school so I can become certified to grow and sell them. Not as a huge business, but say on the side with Kate’s business. Kate was a farmer at our local farmer's market who at that time grew her vegetables in people’s yards, one of which was ours. This statement is then followed by a story about how I tried to grow said mushrooms – the basis of my budding business – on waste materials with little effort. I was encouraged by the expansive writings of Paul Stamets, the undisputed Guru of modern American mushroom growing.
2013: Growing mushrooms on waste.
I read Stamets’ “Mycelium Running”. Stamets says you can cultivate oyster mushrooms on waste products like old newspaper. Now that spoke to my recycling heart! Next thing you know, I ordered two bags of grain spawn from Field and Forest. When I got it, I realized I wasn’t quite sure, from Stamets’ description, what to do with it. Like, what should the newspaper be contained in? What do I do to prepare the newspaper – is it just a pile of old newspapers, is it shredded or crumpled? I looked it up online and found a great article with pictures, crumpling newspaper and shredding into big pieces, pasteurize it in hot water (160 degrees for some number of hours) or bleach water, put into your old plastic bag, say from CVS, and wait. Wait for “pinheads” to appear to “initiate fruiting”. Now what the heck are pinheads and how does one initiate fruiting? On both questions – which seemed to me to be pretty basic to the mushroom project - the literature I found is silent. I suppose it is common knowledge once you know how to do it. Perhaps there are simple, complete, how-to-grow books or sites out there, but I did not find them.
Well, I figured I’d find out. Sure enough, a few weeks later, white mycelium – these are the filament-like threads part of a fungus – had covered large parts of the newspaper, and in some spots, it started to concentrate and grow tiny little white stubble. Hm. Stubble – those must be the pinheads! Super!
Now, how to initiate the fruiting? I still have not found the answer, but it has something to do with moisture. To initiate fruiting on logs, submerge the logs in water for 24 hours, then set out and sprinkle twice a day. I figured: keep the pinheads moist, so I sprayed twice a day (a lot more work than is sustainable for any one simple suburban farming project even if it is delicious oyster mushrooms!). Result…. Oyster mushrooms grew out of the bags! They were yummy! BUT: they were not very many. And only one bag produced mushrooms, once, the rest did nothing.
AND: all that spraying it too much work! Not a project I would sustain. I still had half a bag each of Gray Dove and PoHo Oyster mushroom spawn in the fridge and decided to find a better way. This took a few weeks of recovery time to get over the heavy-duty care required for the first batch of Oysters.
So much for my budding “not-huge business”.
I did eventually recover from slaving over those CVS bags (giving attention twice a day! O my!) and returned to Stamets. There, I found descriptions of how you can remediate whole forests from one mother culture of spawn grown outside on corrugated cardboard with some woodchips (but you can also keep it to a smaller scale, like what I was looking for). My I-love-recycling, looking-for-the-lazy-way-to-grow-mushrooms heart was once again inspired. When Spring came, I followed Stamets’ expert advice from chapter 9 in the book “Mycelium Running” and put the spawn in between wetted, clean pieces of old cardboard, pasteurized in hot water, with the corrugated side open to the spawn. I made a pile with wood chips (or straw?) and put the pile under a bush where it would remain nice and cool and moist. It was exactly the simple type of project I was looking for! Well, when Stamets does this kind of thing, he gets a bountiful flush of mushrooms after six weeks, and theoretically multiplies the result again and again to create 1,000,000 little colonies. Likely because he whispers Shroom. For me, all I got was a pile of decomposing mush and my nice spawn gone to waste. Dang! That too, took some recovery time!