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Mycelium. One of the most underappreciated organisms on our planet has just begun entering into the mainstream view of scientists, architects, designers, doctors, entrepreneurs and many industries. These tiny filament friends house an endless supply of adaptations and applications to our current challenges. Teaming up with these organisms bring many benefits to those who are in need of food, medicine and biodegradable materials. They even have the ability to consume our waste products, break down toxins in the environment and support a whole range of biodiversity just by breaking down matter and turning it into soil.
What is it?
We’re all familiar with mushrooms popping op from the ground in the forest or hanging from trees and rotting logs. If you look for them you can basically find these organisms anywhere. The mushroom is only the fruiting body of this creature though. It’s sole purpose is to explode from the ground, spread their caps, and throw millions and millions of spores into the air to reproduce. Then they mature, start to rot and decompose back into the soil from where it came. Inside this soil is the filament network of this mushroom. This is mycelium. Thousands of miles of these fungal threads can grow in a single cubic meter of soil. Digesting it’s nutrients and growing ever onward.
I could write for hours on this topic. but it is way easier for me to show you this video of Dr Paul Stamets. One of the most renowned mycologists alive today.
It was this video which triggered me years ago to dive into the world of mycology and since then I’ve spend a lot of time studying mycelium, Growing mycelium, and apply this knowledge in the following disciplines.
Straw, hay, wood chips, spent grains, grass, coffee grounds, logs, sawdust, biodegradable plastic, cardboard, paper, garden waste you name it. Mycelium grows on anything we consider waste and it grows FAST. Inhaling oxygen and exhaling CO2 with the right moisture content mycelium converts plant matter into edible mushrooms within 30 to 60 days. There is almost no other food source that is able to produce substantial yields in such a small period. I’ve tried out many low tech and more complicated ways to grow different types of mushrooms on different types of substrates and in my opinion it is one of the most energy and resource efficient ways to produce Food! And the waste product is fungi inhabited compost which is perfect for making highly fertile soil of even biodegradable materials!
Mycelium lives in the ground, rotting logs even in poo! Anyway these fungal threads encounter millions of bacteria, viruses, microorganisms and other pathogens. All of these are attacking, competing or trying to consume the mycelium. This is way mycelium evolved to create antibiotics, polysaccharides and all sorts of enzymes to protect itself from infections. Penicillin is one of the more known antibiotics derived from fungi, but there are many more being discovered every day with an never ending repertoire of applications in the fields of human health, environmental health and even Bee health.
3D printed fungal chairs, Mycelial leather, bricks, insulation, packaging, yes it already exists. Mycelium can convert agricultural waste into highly effective insulation material. Fire retarding, Water expelling, breathable, extremely light, and extremely strong. Quite good characteristics for a Biodegradable material. (I have noticed that insects and mice also thoroughly enjoy these characteristics in a material. So research has to be done in order to apply it. but the possibilities are there.
The waste product of gourmet mushroom production is compost! Consumed agricultural waste, wood chips or sawdust readily turns into soil since the lignin and cellulose are broken down in to it’s lesser constituents. Micro organisms love spent mycelium and soil fertility grows substantially with the supplementation of this waste product. Mycorrhizal fungi team up with plant and tree roots to exchange sugars for nutrients. Binds the soil like a sponge to hold more moisture, breaks down plant debris into available soil and nutrients and even acts as a communication network between plants and trees for nutrient exchange and immune response to pests and viruses. Mycorrhizal fungi are absolutely essential for every ecosystem, the production of fertile soil and biodiversity.
Currently I’m in the middle of scaling up my production. Mycology started out for me as a hobby. I started low tech, reading books, trial and error, no investments, learning as I go along. By now a few years later this hobby grew into a part time occupation for me. Slowly gathering equipment and trying out many different techniques. My next mission is to find a place and community where to take root and expand. I also have the ability to share knowledge and give workshops.
Teaming up with mycelium has many benefits and would be a great ally to pair up with on the way to living sustainable.
More info: Mushrooms as medicine by Paul Stamets
Here’s another good summary of the applications of mushroom mycelium in the field from the founder of mushroom mountain: Trad Cotter
This post took some preparation and I’ve had some progress to make in this discipline. I’ve collected a months worth of my paper trash, cardboard from delivered parcels, peanut husks and a couple of other waste products that otherwise I’d be throwing out in the garbage. Now I’m going to turn this collection of seemingly worthless material into a food source. Food for me and also food for insects, which in turn will become food for birds and fish and so supplying me and the biodiversity of this urban landscape with a new food resource. I’ve never tried eating insects, but I do enjoy fresh gourmet mushrooms like; oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus); Shiitake (Lentinula edodes); And Wine cap (Stropharia rugosoannulata). . (yes I had to google those names, can’t hurt to be precise).
So in the philosophy and science of circular economies I’m going to document the progress and share this with you in a relatively simple, but precise method. There are a lot of variables that come into play when growing mushrooms and it is really easy to do it wrong and discourage one from continuing to learn and invest time into this discipline. I’ve bin at it for 4 years now and I still make and discover mistakes in my method every now and then, ruining a lot of work and effort. The feedback when an error is make is quite relentless mostly coming in the form of a green mold or bacteria contaminating and conquering my carefully sterilized and inoculated substrates. Turning it into “expensive compost” and thus rendering all my work and effort put into that batch wasted. Despite that I’m getting great results by now and I have now arrived at the point where I can document my activities, methods, progress and results and share these with you. My goal here is to show what opportunities & applications applied mycology can have in project Kamp, or in any other off grid project/ community for that matter.
This field is quite extensive and a method can be quite dense in information. My intent is to give you a quick and complete overview of the progress of turning waste material into food. For more depth and information I will refer to the vast amount of information on this on other forums, websites and books. This way this topic stays focused on the progress of this application of mycology and doesn’t get lost in the endless amount of details in the field of mycology and mushroom farming.
From trash to food
OK. To turn my trash into food in a short time span I will have to do the following steps.
1. Collect trash
I’ve collected boxes full of cardboard, some straw, some peanut husks
2. Choose mushroom species
I’m going for the King oyster mushrooms, Their mycelium grows fast and colonize most plant based materials without effort. They’re also delicious
3. Get the mycelium running
To get the “mycelium running” I will have to do a grain spawn. This constitutes of dropping the mycelium culture into a substrate of sterilized grains. The mycelium will start to colonize this substrate within a couple of weeks. After that the grain kernels can be transferred to the next substrate (cartboard etc.). In this way the mycelium will have far more inoculation points in the second substrate than just a tiny amount of liquid culture and thus leaving less room for contaminations. (2 to 4 weeks)
4. Transfer the grain spawn to the second substrate
This can be any plant based material like cardboard, peanut husks, coffee grounds etc. Each individual grain kernel will be an inoculation point an will start colonizing bigger amounts of substrate in a short amount of time (2 to 4 weeks)
5. Initiate fruit-body development
When the second substrate is completely colonized the mycelium has nothing left to consume. It will now start to consolidate. If given the right (fall like) conditions like colder temperature, light and high humidity, the mycelium will start developing it’s mushrooms
Within days the mushrooms appear and spread their caps. This makes for stunning time-lapses (coming up) and for good eating. Mind to pick the mushrooms before they mature and drop their spores. This is when they start to rot and harbor bacteria that consume the mushrooms. This attracts insects that will lay their eggs in the mushrooms flesh. Which in turn will attract birds or can be food for fish!
I’ve collected the trash.
I’ve chosen the species of mycelium.
I’ve prepared and inoculated the grain spawn.
I’ve labeled the containers (very important ;))
The next step is to see the mycelium colonize the grain
I will post more about agar plates and petri-dishes later.
In the video’s/ photo’s below you can get a quick view of the progress. The first one is me preparing the grain spawn jars. The second one is me inoculating the grain spawn jars. The photo shows the labeled grain spawn jars inside of the cabinet where they’ll colonize for the next couple of weeks.
The containers inoculated with mycelium have been incubating for over two weeks now. The spores from the liquid culture syringe have germinated and started to colonize the substrates as rapidly as possible. The best results are seen on top of the agar plates that I’ve inoculated last time. These agar plates are ideal substrates to germinate spores onto and to see the mycelium running. The result is a beautiful white fluffy mycelium without any contamination. The agar (a gelatin like substance derived from seaweed) is supplemented with dextrose, yeast and potato extract which gives the mycelium quick and easy access to all the nutrients it needs. This is also the ideal substrate to grow any other kind of mold or bacteria. Mistakes in sterilization or a contaminated spore syringe are easily recognized as soon as the white mycelium grows along blotches of bacteria or wild molds.
Progress is harder to recognize in the grain substrate. Obviously because not all spores germinate on the surface of the glass but also because these first strands of mycelium have quite a new environment to adapt to. Quickly they learn how to digest their new habitat and the initial growth starts of slow but after a couple of days the mycelium starts to gain momentum.
Now that I have 3 colonized agar plates (and one control plate that hasn’t been inoculated to uncover any mistakes in the sterilization/ agar pouring process). I can use this pristine white fluffy mold to inoculate more sterilized grain jars. So I’ve prepared another batch of grain jars ready for inoculation. Because this mycelium is already up and running the initial colonization of these jars will be a lot quicker than the former batch which had to germinate from spores.
I also used one agar plate to start a small cardboard culture. Just to see how well this particular strain of King Oyster can adapt to consuming moist cardboard without sterilization. This way I can plan in advance if I need to sterilize my substrate (collection of trash paper and cardboard) or that the mycelium will be able to colonize the cartboard so fast that competitor organisms don’t stand a chance. That would be ideal because cardboard isn’t that nutritious to most bacteria and molds I might be able to skip the whole sterilization part of that run which saves quite some time and energy. Instead I’d just submerge the substrate in water for a week. Then all the molds and bacteria become anaerobic. After that I’ll drain the substrate and let air do the main sterilizing, killing of the anaerobic bacteria and molds. After that I will add heaps of fully colonized grain spawn and let the mycelium colonize before anything else gets the chance ;).
The next step will be to get the jars of grain fully colonized by the mycelium and to prepare the bulk substrate of cardboard & paper!
In the past few weeks the Grain spawn jars have fully colonized by hungry fungi. Consuming the outer layers of the grains each kernel has become a mycelium encapsulated vessel for rapid expansion. I’ve captured the process with a time lapse camera and the sped up footage of growing branching mycelium always fascinates me.
So while the mycelium was colonizing the grain spawn jars I prepared the next substrate for the fungi to feed on. First I’ve had a couple bags of straw and peanut husks laying around I was dying to get rid off. To prepare the substrate I:
– Chopped up the straw a bit
– mixed the straw and husks in a large kettle
– Submerged the substrate in water
– Added a tablespoon of gypsum (this contains supplementary nutrients the mushrooms need to grow) – Soaked it for 48 hours- Drained the excess water- Spread the substrate on a tarp to evaporate the excess moisture so that the substrate was moist but not dripping when squeezed
– Then I’ve bagged the substrate in myco bags (these have micro filters for gas exchange) – Then I’ve loaded the autoclave (pressure cooker) making sure the bags didn’t touched the sides or bottom
– Sterilized the substrate for 1,5 hours on 15 PSI
– And cooled the lot down in the laminar flow hood
After that I’ve inoculated the bags with one of the grain spawn jars. I shook the jars vigorously to break apart the individual kernels. In 3 bags I dropped 1/3th of the colonized grain and closed the bags up with a bag sealer. One of the bags remains un-inoculated so if this batch shows any signs of contamination I can see in this bag if I have made a mistake during the sterilization process, if not the grain spawn would have been compromised. Easy way to troubleshoot contamination.
The next few weeks these bags will be colonized by the mycelium, once fully colonized the king oyster mycelium will form sclerotium from which the mushrooms will fruit! Then I will put the bags into the fruiting chamber where I can film the fruiting of the mushrooms!
Hi Robb – thanks for sharing, as far as i know two of the most advanced developers of mycofoam are Ecovative (USA) and Krown-design (eric van klarenbeek is i believe the most noted pioneer developing this material in holland – if not beyond)
My own interest in mycofam (besides yummy meals) is the potential suitability for construction purposes,however, there seems to be little consensus or deeper research as yet into the behaviour and practical application in this context.
issues needing further attention would be IMO ;
-shrinkage and dimensional stability (during the different phases)
-moisture related behaviour (tranmission & accumulation )
-weather resistance/finishing options
-long term durability regarding the above (understanding degradation catalysts)
Thanks for your reply! Yes indeed, Eric Klarenbeek and Jan Berbee started a company named Krown
This is one of the companies in the Netherlands researching and developing mycelium materials for packaging, building and other purposes. Their products have some great attributes. They also have insulation panels which is a pretty good utilization of mycelium material.
So as far as I know is that Ecovative USA have a world-wide patent on the principle of applied mycelium materials and more. Last time I’ve checked (2017) Krown has a partnership with Ecovative. I suspect that this is the reason why there aren’t many other companies doing research and selling mycelium materials.
I have not found any studies of applied mycelium materials in actual construction (like insulation). The material has excellent properties, but one of the weak spots would be insects and rodents nesting in the material or even consuming it. Perhaps this could be prevented with using the right substrate.
Mediamatic has done some research on using spent beer grains for a substrate to make insulation panels.
I will do an update soon on applying spent mycelium blocks after I shoot the fruiting videos 😉 Apparently king oyster mushrooms like it cold, like 10C cold. And currently its still 20C out here, so the oysters refuse to fruit XD. So they have colonized the bags and formed sclerotia, waiting to fall sets in.
interesting point on the rodents – thanks.
after keeping a keen eye on the mediamatic gallery roof insulation project…unless i missed something it seemed to dissipate.
Eric is a very interesting guy and i had the luck of literally bumping into him recently.
i had contact with Eben (ecov..) about 6 years ago with his thoughts on the bioengineering suitability of “fungocellulose composite” for building applications….he didnt really seem to have any practical insight into the topic(but found it interesting all the same)…thats why i’m a little surprised he has so agressively patented what is essentially a natural process (“i found it on a log while walking in the woods”)
The mind boggles…was the log ever consulted 😉
patents can be both very expensive or misleading when you dig a bit deeper;
-what geographical locations does it cover?
-are the patents provisional? (ie cant be changed = cheap patent & less coverage, ie one slight change declares the patent null and void – P.patents are sometimes used for bluffing other developers or PR posturing/fake credibility generation for what can turn out to be placebos)
-Last but not least….is a patent really valid if the holder doesnt fully understand the process or have expertise to put it into practice?
i by no means seek to degrade the great work ecovative are doing, but do hope he respects this discipline enough to allow others to help develop its potential.
Did you know its illegal to capture,store and drink rainwater if you have a water utility connection in some states of the US?
Ps – i’m “logging” out now if you’ll pardon the pun 😉
I agree, patents are quite tricky to traverse for startup companies. I did notice that some of the dates on them are going years back. Ecovative has done a lot of research on the matter of growing materials, I suppose they share their results whenever a business comes into agreement on their terms of intellectual property. I haven’t seen other businesses starting with mycelium materials but I have noticed that lots of design students are interested in the subject!
Personally I find that the most impact mycelium can have is by providing people with food. The material aspect of mycelium is cool to explore and I cant wait untill there is someone publishing statistical results of the material properties. But personally i find that myceliums gratest talent is to grow dinner. Even growing just 50% of your own food consumption year round is a crazy amount of work requiring a lot of energy and resources. Most impact one has on the environment is due to food consumption. Utilizing mycelium to produce part of that food from agricultural waste is a pretty effective way to reduce the footprint.
I have found another crazy mushroom material which has really cool properties to it. Its the flesh of the birch polypore mushroom. (Betulinus Piptoporus/ Fomitopsis betulina) This one grows on dead birch trees and the mushroom itself can be easily picked and dried once its matured. The flesh of this mushroom has the properties of somewhat between leather and polymer. Easily carve able but pretty strong as well. It’s a popular mushroom among bushcrafters and medicinal mushroom foragers. You can derive an incredibly bitter tincture from it by making tea with the dried white flesh. Some use the material to sharpen their knives. I will harvest some of them when fall sets in pretty soon.
Hi there, Last weeks I’ve been battling a war against a battalion of mice trying to move into my workshop. Apparently now that fall has made it’s entrance and the temperature dropped significantly an entire family of mice have started to appear inside the building. (yes I’ve tried every trick in the book and I’m currently down to the last one [I-think]). As soon I’ve reclaimed back my territory from the rodents I’ll be able to continue filming fungi again. If you ever decide to build a house or workshop, make sure it’s rodent proof, these things have outwitted me on many occasions and yes, I do take it personally.
Either way I’ve been following another company that is developing another application of mycelium and fungi in the category of durable, environmentally friendly materials and that is Xyhlo Biofinish!
This is a type of wood stain product that has active fungi colonizing the outer layer of the treated wood. It is an interesting application and we we’re long overdue for a environmentally friendly way of treating wood as easily as with conventional (chemical) products.
They are also running a kickstarter to enable them to scale up the production process and make the product available for a wider range of consumers.
I’ve ordered a sample piece of wood treated with the xyhlo biofinish and it feels and looks like any other wood stain product. I’m pretty curious how it will hold up in the weather and sun for a couple of years but so far it looks like a solid product! (“disclaimer” I am in no way affiliated with this company and do not own any of the images below, but I am enthusiastic about this new development of applied mycology!)
yeah…rodents arent dumb huh dude…ours seem to be suckers for peanut butter
and do they eat the mycofoam?
i looked into The xyllo stuff a few years ago – but lost interest when i discovered it still needs periodic maintainance …but havent looked since
By comparison – what would properly detailed wooden construction do if left untreated? (referring to the old adage “dry wood doesnt rot” )
Discovered this startup from den haag at DDW developing construction related mycelium – http://www.fungalogic.nl/wordpress/
spoke with head researcher Joost,very smart and enthusiastic young guy – they seem open to relevant experiments
and good luck with the vermin 😉
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