On November 23rd. we held a lesson in Integral Mycology. The lesson gave us some interesting insights for everyone to start cultivating mushrooms at home. Before we get to the easy part, which is growing the mushrooms, let’s look at what mushrooms are and why cultivating them in integral systems makes sense.
What is Integral?
What we commonly know and use for most products is the linear system. Here, we take resources and use them – and at the end of its lifecycle we dispose it. Some may also know this as cradle to grave. The opposite is a circular system where the resources are given back to the system to be repurposed into new products. Some may know this as cradle to cradle.
Now, integral is something in between and then not at all the same. The idea of integral systems comes from permaculture, and is a system build on webs or with a spiral structure. The idea behind integral systems is to use as much as possible from the resource to as many different purposes as possible. The idea of cultivating in an integral system came from observing how systems in nature works. It seems rather simple: when the rain comes and the sun shines, the plants will grow. But when we look beneath the surface there’s a whole system working together where the plants flourish together and help each other. With an integral system nothing becomes excess and thereby thrown out, for in nature, the systems knows how to work together even when there is too much of something, they simply find a way to fit it into the natural cycle.
If the integral system makes so much sense, then why aren’t we drawn more towards it? The answer is simple. If a circular system is rather complex, an integral system is very complex and the linear system is just so simple that it becomes easy to gravitate towards.
An integral system is not easy to understand nor is it to design, since the steps become more difficult and each system will be unique. It is therefore difficult to cultivate and pass on to other people. But on the other hand, an integral system is resource effective. While mimicking nature, it is as close to nature as one can get, which is probably why we should try and integrate the structure as much as possible. If you want to know more on integrating integral systems into the various steps in your daily life we highly recommend that you take a look at this book.
What is mycology?
Mycology is the branch of biology which is concerned with the study of fungi – better known as mushrooms. So let’s take a closer look at them. You probably don’t know this, but mushrooms are very close to humans if we look at genetics – fascinating, right? They breathe air, eat living organisms and need water to survive.
Mushrooms are made up by a network of spores. These spores can live for a very long time without any water, food or air, and when the spores meet other spores of the same species they will start to germinate. Sounds like the classic love story of how you went from being single, fell in love, to suddenly being married and having kids, right?
Mycelium is a threadlike bacterial colony beneath the ground, which we can call the mushrooms’ body. It is responsible for finding nutrients to eat. Each system of mycelium is unique, just like a human body, and has its own individual processes. The mycelium makes the mushroom colonize and spread, so that it can get all the nutrients that are around it, and once it has eaten all the food in the area, it will become a solid mass that can no longer spread. The next step is where the magic happens: After the mycelium has done its job, the mushroom goes into the primordia step where it will use all the energy it got from eating everything around it to bear fruit. In this face, the mushroom will start to look for air, and when this happens the fruit will rise to the surface. These are the mushrooms we find above the ground. When a mushroom is fruiting it will start to spore again, and the whole cycle will reoccur.
3 Different kinds of mushrooms
There are three different kind of mushrooms, which is important to know if you’re keen on growing them at home, since some are better for cultivation than others.
The primary decomposers are mushrooms such as Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms. These are easy to cultivate because they live off organic materials such as tree roots, where they will break down the cellulose.
The secondary composers are mushrooms such as button mushrooms – the ones you usually see in the supermarket. Even though these are the ones you probably eat the most, they’re not as easy to deal with as the primary decomposers. First of all, they live off bi-products and thrive in soil. They don’t like small amounts of soil, so they will need a lot to be happy. This makes them a bit messy to grow at home. On the other hand, these mushrooms are really good for companion-planting, because they thrive in complex relationships, making them a good friend of the garden.
You can cultivate them next to tomatoes or peas and see how the mushrooms and the plants will get bigger and happier because of their companionship beneath the ground. The way they work together is by sharing the nutrients and water, and they won’t compete with each other. Together, their root-mass will grow, and the mycelium will help to extend the roots so they can pick up water even further away.
This kind of mushroom is based on a complex root system which is still a mystery to scientists, and therefore, sadly cannot be cultivated. They like a very certain environment, but it’s not known what that environment exactly looks like. If you haven’t yet guessed it, the mushrooms of this family includes chanterelles and truffles (the best ones always play hard to get!). Since you can’t cultivate these gems of the forest, you need to go foraging in the wild, but remember to bring a friend who knows a thing or two about foraging, you don’t want to get sick! Mushrooms Demystified is a great book to carry with you if you’re going hunting for mushrooms in the wild.
Now we’ve covered the basics, so let’s get to the fun part!
Growing mushrooms at home
If you want to start cultivating mushrooms at home, you’re going for a small and easy scope. As we covered before, the primary decomposers such as Shiitake and Oyster mushrooms are the best mushrooms to go for, but remember that there are different species, and different species like to grow on different things!
Follow this guide or use these links: from getting started to running a business, growing mushrooms zero waste, advanced mycology and medicinal mushrooms. It can be difficult to find guides that are specific to cultivating edible mushrooms (mostly it’s magic mushrooms), but these have the essentials to start growing delicious mushrooms for your food. You want to find the best environment for your mushrooms to make it a success.
Something to eat and grow on
The mushrooms we cultivated at the workshop are grown on one material, but other materials could be used as well. This time we chose to use paper towels. You know those brown paper towels that people always use tons of to dry their hands after washing? Yes, that’s right, we got a bunch of those from an office and pasteurized them.
You pasteurize them by measuring the paper towels in grams and multiplying the number with 1.34. The resulting number is the amount of water in milliliters that you will need to add to the papers. Put them in a large container and boil water, pour it on top, move it around a little, and it will do its magic.
What to grow them in
Once you have the paper towels ready you will need a 900 ml. jar. A smaller or bigger one will do the trick as well, but it’s important that its size is suitable for the amount you put inside, and that there is enough space for resources for the mushroom to eat. That’s about the only time when the mushrooms will be unreliable.
Cut a small hole into the lid of the jar – this can be done with a normal screwdriver. The hole needs to be filled with polyfoam which you can get in pretty much every hobby store. You want the hole to be filled with the polyfoam so that it is tight, but not too tight – just so that the polyfoam is no longer moving. This ensures that the mushroom can breath.
Then you need to start filling your jar, and for that you will need some spawn. We got ours at shiitake.de. It’s important to check if the spawn is nice and fresh, it should smell a little earthy like a mushroom. If it smells mouldy or sour it’s not good. If you have extra, you can store it in the fridge.
Take a few pieces of the pasteurized waste paper and put them at the bottom, fill with some crumbled spawn, and add more paper. Don’t be afraid to put in too much, the more the better. You want to do this layer on layer technique until you reach the top of the jar. The ratio can be smaller, but for beginners it’s a good idea to put more spawn in and then practice using less when you get more used to growing it.
Close the lid and store them somewhere with natural light and approximately the same temperature, and then it’s time to wait. You will start to notice something that looks like mould after a few days, which means that the mushroom is happy and alive, it’s just eating it’s way through the jar. Once there’s no more food in there, it’ll become solid, which means that you will have to wait just one more week. Once it is solid and has stayed in the jar for a week, you can open the lid, and after a little while the mushrooms will naturally start to fruit, and you’ll be able to harvest delicious mushrooms for your food. It’s important to keep the mushrooms moist and damp after you have opened the lid, so spray a little water close to the mushrooms in the morning and in the evening. You can also keep a wet towel underneath them.
Why everyone should start growing their own mushrooms
Like many other things in life you will get the best outcome with giving the mushrooms good quality. Growing mushrooms is so easy that everyone can do it, it’s about being self sustaining but also about creating new ways of doing things. Cultivating on something that is deemed as waste is a unique chance to stir things up a bit.
Using paper towels is a great way to show, that what you consider as being waste might not be waste at all. By reusing them they’re given a second life. The more we use our resources, the less is needed to make new things, so it’s really about re-imagining what waste is. That is the core of creating integral systems. Instead of just throwing things out or recycling things straight after use, we find ways to keep using the resources over and over. As we said earlier, mushrooms can grow on other things like cardboard, wood and coffee grounds.
Mushrooms have so many great possibilities and they are just waiting to come to use! They can help us design systems differently and help clean up our mess in the nature. If you want to know more about this you can read our guide ‘6 Reasons Mushrooms Can Help Save the Planet’.
Here’s some pictures from the lesson: