Mushroom Cultivation: Low Tech Microbial Method

I have been interested in fungus for some years and my interest did not necessarily come from an interest in the amazing tastes and therapeutics of mushrooms (which is something that I discovered as I learned more about this world). My interest came from the amazing ability of fungus and decomposers to transform a lifeless mass of molecules into new life by the redistribution of those molecules. I remember an ecology course that I took during my Masters studies at Vermont Law School. My question to the professor was naïve, "What is the most influential realm of the study of ecology into the future?" The professor answered: microbiology. The microbiome: the vast network of communities that ebb and flow throughout every surface of the planet in the most common of trash heaps to the most hostile of sub-oceanic volcanic vents. The microbiome is the silent master of the ecological systems, the smallest holds the most power.

The ships are waiting to enter the Ashdod Port.
Sunset over the Mediterranean

Fungus as opposed to the microbiome is both seen and unseen. The vast mycelial network spreads throughout soils, and organic matter undetected. Then the beautiful, varied, diverse mushroom appears. A reproductive method that spreads uncountable amounts of spores, to stake out new substrates, and new genetics. The fungus does not age, rather can migrate through nutrition sources and live eternally. Their mortal flaw is unfavorable environmental conditions and running out of nutrition. I found myself with my head down during hikes, scanning the forest floor for signs of a mushroom, I found prized edible mushrooms and poisonous mushrooms. I browsed identification guides and took spore prints. My interest began to take on a new form.

Found in Ein Hardalit, Israel
Mustard Polypore

When I felt comfortable enough, I started to forage some of my finds. I could absolutely positively identify chantrelles, that were prevalent in my local forests and easily discernable by the lack of true gills and unmistakable apricot smell. Laetiporous Sulphurus or Cincinnatus is another that is unmistakable in the forest and just jumps out at you. I read about cultivation but there were some aspects that didn't sit well with me. The main issue was pasteurization/sterilization of substrate. As I read more into the body of material, I noticed that the common practice is to sterilize or at least pasteurize the substrate, and the logic is this: if you kill all pathogens or contaminants as they are potential competitors to the mycelium, then your product will be able to grow unhindered and produce a quality and reliable product.

I tried at my hand at this method and the step of sterilization is a pressure cooker and pasteurization in a sous vide, just did not do it for me! As I was pondering this question, I came upon a microbial powder sold by r/DRMyc on the Reddit forum. As the thought progressed in my mind, I became fascinated with a biodynamic approach.

The idea is this: there are constant threats in our environment, and yet the vast array of immune system defenses are able to eradicate most threats. A healthy immune system comprised of native and extra-corporeal microorganisms that keeps balance within the system. Every immune disorder is a result of imbalance in the system. There is no such thing as a "bad" organism. There is an organism that causes harm in order to preserve balance. If balance is maintained, then the "good" and the "bad" microbes are harmonious.

If a strong immune system is encouraged and balance is introduced into the cultivation system, then the mycelium that I want to grow will successfully any invaders and maintain their space. When I see "contaminants" I give them their place, introduce biological vectors and wait for balance to be maintained.

Oyster Mushroom Blocks w/o Sterilization or Pasteurization

With this whole forward about philosophy of cultivation, I will explain my growing method, which is cheap and low tech. I use a five part substrate: straw, coffee grounds, hardwood sawdust and cardboard and water. I add enough water so that the substrate can stick together in my hand. I continuously hand test the water amount throughout the mixing process. I first mix my substrate so that it is uniform. Then I start to layer the substrate into 5 quart buckets. For each layer I add a handful of substrate, spray the layer with a microbial solution the apply a layer of grain spawn mycelium. In this case, it is Oyster Mushroom mycelium, which is one of the easier and less picky species to grow. When the bucket is full of typically 4 or 5 layers, I will add another layer of substrate and some cardboard pieces. I will inoculate around 18 buckets and let them incubate for about two weeks. After the mycelium is developed throughout, I remove the buckets and add the blocks into my misting regimen.

Once the blocks are colonized, the fruiting stage will begin. My blocks are outdoors so natural light is their indicator and each block can continually produce mushrooms until the nutrition is spent or the environmental conditions become inhospitable (mainly too dry).

The main pest that I am dealing with is the fungus gnat that infests its eggs in the fruiting bodies and feed on the mycelium. I am taking a proactive approach by adding "mosquito dunk" microbiological pest control into my microbial mix. In addition to starting the microbial communities during inoculation. I also treat the blocks with the microbial solution on a proactive basis.

As I mist, I keep an eye on all angles to watch for "pinning" and then watch them develop into bouquets, as shown above. I usually like to harvest at the first sign of spores dropping from the mushrooms. This is a white dust-like substance in the case of Oysters. Every mushroom has its own distinct spore print. When I harvest the mushrooms, I pick from the base of the block and pinch so the bouquet stays intact. I make sure to wash the mushrooms thoroughly in a hydrogen peroxide dunk to wash the mushrooms thoroughly.

This is my current method, which I am sure will evolve during each grow. I feel this is a privilege to spread this material in the world, which I see makes every place better than fungus found it.

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