Life on earth, as we know it, wouldn't exist without mushrooms. Mushroom's are the fruiting bodies (reproductive structures) of mycelium. You can think of mycelium like an apple tree, and the mushroom is akin to an apple. Fungi produce fruiting bodies, so as to distribute spores over a large geographic area. Spores are distributed by wind, water, insects, birds and animals. When two spores of the same species land close together in a favorable environment, they combine and make mycelium. This is a form of sexual reproduction, as each spore only contains half of the genetic material (similar to gametes) required to make a viable offspring.
Fungi are responsible for breaking down all kinds of difficult to digest long chain carbohydrates like lignin, that mammals and most bacteria struggle with. As mycelium travels through a substrate, they produce complex enzymes that are very efficient at breaking down organic matter. As these organic molecules and minerals are broken down into simpler substances, they become more bioavailable for bacteria and plants to use. Mycelial mats can spread out over several square kilometers, stabilizing soil, increasing water content and even transporting nutrients around. Experiments have been conducted using radiotagged nutrients showing mycelium moving the nutrients between tree's as demand for nutrients change. In other words, two trees of different species are connected by a common mycelial mat. One tree is producing too much, another doesn't have enough. The mycelium was shown to move the nutrients from the over-producer, to the under producer. An interesting strategy, ensuring that the mycelium doesn't lose one of its hosts! Mycelium can act like a nutrient highway between plants.
Mycelium, in some cases, form symbiotic relationships with plants and tree's called mycorhyzae. In latin, this literally means fungus-roots. The mycorhyzae surround, and permeate root systems of plants, protecting them from bacterial invasion, as well as making more nutrients available for the plant to absorb. In exchange for this protection, the plant provides nutrients for the fungus to eat. Famous examples of this include the whole truffle family and all legumes.
Experiments have been done with Douglas fir plantations, showing that seedlings planted with fungus innoculated woodchips around the base grow faster, and produce a bushier more healthy tree than seedlings without. (Source). Truly, fungi are our friends.
The ultimate goal to my experiment is to try and fabricate outdoor raised vegetable patches by innoculating large beds of wood chips and straw with locally adapted, wild edible mushrooms. Hopefully, the mycelial mats that develop with excel at retaining moisture and making tons of natural bio-available nutrients for plants to grow in.
n his book, Mycelium Running, Paul Stammets describes several methods on how to reproduce wild mushrooms using simple aseptic techniques. Outlined below describes how you make a spore print of a mushroom on clean corrugated cardboard, and then grow a mycelium mat used to innoculate a substrate such as woodchips or straw. Stammets suggests using local, wild mushrooms as they have adapted to the local host of competing bacteria and protozoa. This means that it is less critical to work in absolutely sterile environments typically seen in mushroom grow farms, as the mushroom has developed ways to defend against these competitors.
Equipment and Materials
- Wild Mushroom (The one I used is likely a member of the Leucoagaric species. Some of which are edible, some of which are not. They can look like the "destroying angel" mushroom, which is highly poisonous. I won't be eating this mushroom, as I can't be sure as to the identity.)
- Corrugated Cardboard
- Rubbing Alcohol/Isopropyl alcohol
- Ammonia water solution (Just buy a bottle of cheap household ammonia cleaner).
- Boiling water.
- Plastic Container/Ziplock bag.
- Spray bottle for ammonia solution
- Pyrex Dish
- Saran Wrap/Cling Film
- Fill a spray bottle with ammonia sanitizer solution.
- Fill your kettle, set it to boil.
- Cut the cardboard to size, it should lay flat in a ziplock bag or plastic container.
- Thoroughly clean your hands with warm water and soap.
- Wipe down your work surface with a clean papertowel, and sanitizer solution. Let dry.
- Wipe down your work surface and hands with paper towel and alcohol.
- Put your cardboard in a pyrex dish, fill with boiling water. Cover with Saran wrap, let sit for 1 hour.
- Once water has cooled down, wash your hands, wipe down the area again. Wipe the inside of your incubating chamber with alcohol.
- Squeeze out all of excess moisture from the cardboard. Remove the smooth upper layer, exposing the corrugations.
- Gently place your mushroom cap gills facing down onto the corrugations, and place your mushroom in the plastic container. Close the lid. Place the top layer of cardboard over the mushroom cap.
- Wait 12 hours, Clean your hands, remove the mushroom cap, leaving the top smooth layer on the corrugations.
- Put your incubation chamber into a dark, warm location...and wait!
Step 1: Collect a Wild Mushroom
Go for a walk, and collect a mushroom. The one pictured here may or may not be edible. I'm using this one, as I found it just outside my house, and will just be used as a proof of concept.
Step 2: Prepare Your Cardboard.
- Sanitize your work area and hands
- Soak cardboard in a covered heat proof container for 1 hour
- Sanitize work area and hands.
- Squeeze out excess moisture from cardboard, so that it is soaked but water doesn't drip out when squeezed. This is known as field condition.
- Peel back the upper layer of cardboard, revealing the corrugations. Place mushroom cap gills down on corrugations, and then cover mushroom cap with uncorrugated layer. Lay the whole thing inside of a sanitized plastic container or bag for 12 hours.
- After 12 hours, spores should have dropped from the gills onto the cardboard. Remove the cap and discard (or eat, if using an edible mushroom.)
- Wait until mycelium engulfs the cardboard. If green mould shows up, try again, but me more dilligent with sanitizing everything.
Step 3: Day 1
Pictured here is the mushroom cap on the cardboard, waiting for spores to deposit. No mycelial growth thus far. More pictures to follow, as I remember to update :)