A fungal experiment

I bought a huge clump of oyster mushrooms in the store a couple days ago. Josh and I refer to them as the beef jerky of the plant world – when crispy-fried in olive oil with just a sprinkle of sea salt and a dash of soy sauce glazed onto them at the last minute, they are unbelievably rich and meaty.

Anyway, the big clump of mushrooms came still attached to its base, covered with little pin mushrooms and fuzzy mycorrhizal hairs and such. I’ve been looking into propagating mushrooms, given my swampy woods being a good location for mushroom farming, so I thought…. why not try an experiment?


My theory is that there might be enough mycorrhizae left on this “root” chunk to colonize some new organic matter with the oyster mushroom fungi. And once one has a big jar of fully colonized mycorrhizae, it becomes basically a “seed” for a garden mushroom patch. You crumble it up, layer it with damp straw etc., and wait for mushrooms to show up. So if I can get this little dab of mycorrhizae to grow… yay, free oyster mushroom patch for me!

Of course I have no idea if this will actually work from just a chunk of the roots. It might… it probably won’t (too little inoculant, under too much shock). But really, what am I losing but maybe an hour of time? Anyway, it’s interesting.

First step: finding an organic substrate. Good options are wheat straw, hardwood chips, some people use boiled cardboard, or coffee grounds. And boy did I have a lot of those.

The trick is to start with perfectly fresh coffee grounds so there are no competing mold spores in there. If mold gets in before your intended mushroom fully colonizes the jar/bag of substrate, it’s just over and done, kaput, dead. My coffee grounds were at least a couple days old, so I was wondering if maybe if I steamed them…? And of course Josh, smartypants guy that he is, immediately offered a solution: pressure can them.

Brilliant! Pressure canning kills all bacteria and spores across the board, poof. Plus then I’d have a nice store of sterile grounds that would keep indefinitely on the shelf in case it did work and I needed to top up with some more.

So this is how I spent my evening.


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