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CHAPTER 10 Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms In the United States, an average of 35

CHAPTER 10

CHAPTER 10 Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms In the United States, an average of 35

Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms

In the United States, an average of 35 percent of home waste and 60 percent of business waste is suitable for use as a mushroom growing substrate. Mushrooms can be grown on toilet and paper towel rolls, egg car- tons, newspapers, magazines, coffee grounds, tea bags, old cotton clothing, tissue boxes, shredded paper, cardboard boxes, and many other common materials. In addition to yielding a bountiful mushroom harvest, these products can also be used to expand myce- lium into a biomass that could conceivably be used to inoculate larger waste streams or substrates for a wide spectrum of applications, including composting, mycoremediation projects, and creating value-added consumer goods such as insulation or living paper products, which are made of recycled mushroom growing media, such as spent oyster mushroom substrate, that are pressed into forms, and only need water to begin the composting process. To recycle and compost with mushrooms, start by simply identifying your biodegradable waste. Separate your weekly garbage for a few weeks to de- termine exactly how much waste of each type—paper,

cardboard, glass, plastics, food—you are generating. (This will also help you determine where you can im- prove consumer packaging decisions, reducing your plastic and Styrofoam purchases as you shift to pack- aging that can be put to better use with mushrooms.)

CHAPTER 10 Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms In the United States, an average of 35

Pizza boxes aren’t usually recyclable due to the oils and food remnants they contain. Oyster mushrooms, on the other hand, can eat them up and then fruit, plus produce a beautiful worm composting feedstock after two flushes.

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Open your cupboards, look in your refrigerator, and peek in your cellar for anything you are consistently producing as waste. Check with local businesses about the waste they pay to get rid of, and you may be surprised to find them willing to let you cart off some of their trash. Dumpsters and other sites where debris is often piled up on street corners or behind restaurants and businesses are also great areas for collecting recyclable debris. Smaller companies that cannot afford or don’t have the space for a recycling Dumpster often just flatten boxes and stack them up for trash removal; those boxes can be gold for a mush- room cultivation operation. I try to think of treating my home and life like a “space bubble,” attempting to minimize the nonrecy- clable goods I bring in, pretending that landfills do not exist. Thinking this way involves a shift in conscious- ness where you start to look at everything available in terms of its potential to be recycled and its potential as a cultivation resource. Here are a few of my favorite mushroom composting and recycling projects.

Cultivating Oyster Mushrooms on Spent Coffee Grounds

Cultivating oyster mushrooms on spent coffee grounds is a simple and enjoyable home activity for all ages, resulting in some good edible mushrooms to boot. If your home brewing doesn’t provide enough grounds, try asking your local coffee shop or roaster if you can leave a bucket for them to toss their grounds into, especially if they would otherwise go into the trash. If you’re not able to inoculate your grounds with spawn right away, freeze them until you’re ready to do so; otherwise molds will form within days. Although the yields you’ll get from this method are not as high as when you use commercial oyster mushroom formulas, such as pasteurized wheat straw or cotton waste, if you factor in the produc- tion costs, the lower-yield coffee grounds method becomes as economically viable as the more sophis- ticated cultivation. If you simply recycle your own

grounds you can expect to produce a few pounds of beautiful oyster mushrooms a week—at which point you’ll need to create an oyster mushroom dressing, sautéing your harvest in a balsamic vinaigrette and tossing it over fresh greens crumbled with feta cheese. (Please note: although I have primarily used this process for cultivating oyster mushrooms, some European growers have successfully fruited parasols from coffee grounds.)

Step-by-Step Cultivation on Coffee Grounds

To begin, you’ll need a container with a lid, a steady supply of coffee grounds (with or without paper filters), and grain- or sawdust-based oyster mushroom spawn.

Step 1. Carefully collect the cooled and spent coffee filter, grounds and all, and place it into the container faceup. If using a press or strainer just add the grounds to your container once they are drained well.

Step 2. Massage your mushroom spawn bag to separate the grain or sawdust into individual bits to maximize the spreading capability.

Step 3. Sprinkle the mushroom spawn sparingly over the surface of the coffee grounds. You only need a small amount. Crack the container lid so it can breathe. The container can be located anywhere, such as a kitchen counter, garage, or any other space where there is indirect light, never direct sun.

Step 4. Add coffee grounds and filters daily, sprinkling spawn sparingly over each layer as you add more. After just a few days, mycelium will start to be visible as white threads growing together.

Step 5. Fill the container almost to the top, leaving just a few inches of space to make room for developing mushrooms. When you stop adding filters and coffee, the mycelium will finish colonizing.

Step 6. Once the container is completely colonized, expose it to diffuse natural or fluorescent light at

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Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms

room temperature. (If it gets direct sunlight the my- celium and mushrooms will dry up and you won’t get a harvest!) Keep the surface misted lightly and the lid just cracked, to preserve moisture. If you have filled a 5-gallon bucket or similar large container, you can drill 1/2-inch holes around the sides, every 10 inches or so, where the mushrooms can also emerge, but you will need to either mist the holes several times a day indoors or cover the container with a large, clear bag to make a humidity tent until the primordia have safely emerged and are no longer at risk of drying out.

Step 7. Two to three weeks after the colonization is complete, mushrooms should begin to form. Remem- ber that mushrooms only form when they run out of food or space, at which point they recharge their battery and fruit. Baby mushrooms will appear over- night, so check your buckets at least once a day and keep the surface misted, though not underwater. The mushrooms should double in size every day. Harvest them when the fruitbodies’ growth slows. You may notice a powdery spore deposit forming underneath the caps when they are ready to harvest.

Step 8. After you’ve harvested the mushrooms, allow the mycelium to rest by not watering or adding any additional growing media, and it may fruit again in a few weeks. During the rest period no light is needed if you need to move the container. Soaking the coffee grounds with a generous amount of water after a few weeks of resting can help shock the mycelium into fruiting more prolifically. Once rehydrated, the bio - mass will respond with additional fruitings.

Step 9. After the second flush, your coffee grounds substrate will be pretty much spent as a mushroom growing medium. However, being full of fungal life, it has now become a living compost starter and can be mixed into your outdoor compost pile to help with the decomposition, or you can use it to inoc- ulate cardboard cultures (see chapter 12). Worms also love this spent media, so adding the grounds to your vermicomposting bin could possibly start a worm revolution.

Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms room temperature. (If it gets direct sunlight the my- celium

Oyster mushroom mycelium colonizing spent grounds and filters from a local coffee shop.

Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms room temperature. (If it gets direct sunlight the my- celium

Oyster mushrooms fruiting on spent coffee grounds and filters in a 1-gallon container. This cluster stripped away the threading and pushed off the lid to escape—reminding me who is in charge here.

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Cultivating Mushrooms on Cardboard

There is cardboard all around us. The only thing missing is a little water and a mushroom starter cul- ture, which you can either purchase or make yourself (from the coffee cultivation system above, if you like). This method is best for fruiting oyster mushrooms, but it works well as an expansion method for generating pounds of mycelium from other wood-loving sapro - phytes. (See chapter 12 for information on isolating and expanding spawn on cardboard.)

Step-by-Step Cultivation on Cardboard

Step 1. Locate a large box or bin in which you can stack sheets of cardboard. A plastic bin will work best, help - ing to maintain humidity and promoting mushroom formation only on the inner top layer of cardboard. As a last resort you can use a cardboard box as a container; you will need to water it more often, since cardboard is prone to drying out, and mushrooms may form all over the outside, which can reduce your overall yields.

Step 2. Stack all of your cardboard in the bin, and add enough water to cover it. Let the cardboard soak until completely saturated. This may take an hour or so. After soaking, drain the excess water (into your gar- den) and remove the soaked cardboard from the bin.

Step 3. Layer the bottom of the bin with a few sheets of cardboard, then sprinkle a small amount of spawn across the surface. Repeat, layering cardboard and spawn,until the container is full.

Step 4. Set a lid on top of the bin, leaving it just cracked open, or lay a plastic bag over it. You want the cardboard inside to remain humid but also to allow it to breathe.

Step 5. Monitor the moisture level inside the bin. You want to keep the cardboard moist but not too wet. If it happens to dry out, you can soak the mass overnight and pour out the excess water the next day. Most

Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation Cultivating Mushrooms on Cardboard There is cardboard all around us. The

Sprinkle spawn onto soaked cardboard to create a mother culture that can be expanded almost indefinitely into additional cardboard and coffee grounds.

Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation Cultivating Mushrooms on Cardboard There is cardboard all around us. The

A few weeks after spawning, inspect the cardboard to see if it is ready to expand further.

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Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms Spawning a pair of jeans. After inoculating the jeans with

Spawning a pair of jeans. After inoculating the jeans with spawn, roll up each pant leg and let the pants sit for several weeks to allow the mycelium time to colonize. At that point, you can either leave it to fruit or unroll the pant legs and layer them with additional clothing to further expand the mycelium.

mycelium colonize best at a warmer temperature, between 65 and 85°F (18–30°C). Once the bin and cardboard is fully colonized and completely white, you have created a mother culture of cardboard spawn capable of making many more.

Step 6. At this stage, you can expand the mycelium in new bins; just separate the layers of spawned card- board and shuffle them into additional layers of fresh cardboard in new bins. Or you can leave it alone to fruit. Fruiting will usually occur around the perimeter of the bin. You may also consider drilling 1/2-inch holes every 8 to 10 inches around the bin. These holes can provide ventilation and a site where mushrooms can emerge, but you’ll have to mist them several times a day to keep the primordia from drying out.

Step 7. Once the growing medium in the bin is com- pletely colonized, expose the bin to diffuse natural or

fluorescent light at room temperature. Keep the lid just cracked, and mist the surface and any holes reg- ularly. Mushrooms will fruit, most of the time at least twice, and you can then use the spent waste as spawn or you can compost it for an excellent soil amend- ment. Following complete colonization, it can take several weeks to fruit mushrooms—typically slower than commercial fruiting media, such as pasturized agricultural waste. Still, the easy low-tech approach is a winner when no other options are present.

Cultivating Mushrooms on Clothing

I started growing mushrooms on clothes when I first became interested in mycoremediation of waste dyes and pigments. There was a textile mill near our farm that manufactured denim for the production

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Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation White oyster mushrooms ( Pleurotus ostreatus ) fruiting on old jeans.

White oyster mushrooms ( Pleurotus ostreatus ) fruiting on old jeans. Scraps of unused or unwearable cotton clothing can be collected and used to produce edible protein in just a few weeks.

of jeans and other clothing. My wife Olga and I went to the mill one day and were greeted by a few friendly folks. I told them I was interested in remedi- ating the indigo carmine they were allowed to release into the waterway based on EPA daily allowable standards. They looked at me a bit nervously, as if I were a whistle-blowing undercover environmentalist; picking up on that, I quickly told them about my mycoremediation research and passions. The man I was speaking to happened to be the owner, and he was excited to hear about the prospect of lessening the mill’s environmental impact. The following week I decided to grow mushrooms on old jeans to see if they could decolorize the indigo carmine that makes them blue. My first experiment was a success, with oyster mushrooms colonizing and fruiting very well on old cotton jeans, but the decolorization of the indigo carmine that I expected was not evident. Turkey tail mushrooms and a few other species are more efficient

at the decolorization process, but what I learned is that old cotton clothing can support fruiting oyster mushrooms. (This could be potentially valuable survival information for anyone directly impacted by a natural disaster, where there is a huge amount of debris, but food is scarce.) Old cotton shirts, bits of rugs, hemp and sisal rope—any material composed of natural plant fibers, including cotton, hemp, and bamboo, can be used to cultivate mushrooms. It only needs water and a bit of oyster mushroom mycelium to get started.

Step-by-Step Cultivation on Clothing

Step 1. Soak the clothing in fresh water. The water does not have to be sterile or clean, only free of heavy metals.

Step 2. Flatten the clothing on a surface. Sprinkle the mushroom starter culture over the surface sparingly. Remember, more spawn will speed the process, not necessarily produce more mushrooms.

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Step 3. Roll the clothing tightly, or if you have more than one article of clothing, stack it in spawned layers. Place the clothing in a plastic bag or an enclosed con- tainer with a few holes.

Step 4. Check the moisture content of the clothing every few days during colonization to make sure the fabric does not dry out; mist or water it as needed. Room temperature or cooler is perfectly fine for colo - nizing clothing scraps.

Step 5. When the entire mass of clothing seems to have been completely colonized by the mycelium, increase ventilation by adding more holes or cracking the lid of the container, but not enough that the clothing will quickly dry out. Keep the surfaces misted slightly to induce mushroom formation. The colonization process can vary from one to two weeks depend- ing on how much spawn you use. At this point the mushrooms are not interested in fruiting so no light is needed to promote primordia formation.

Step 6. Once mushrooms begin to appear, which can occur a few days to weeks after colonization depend- ing on temperatures and spawn amount used, they will double in size every day. Mist as frequently as needed to keep the mushrooms from drying out at a young state. When the mushrooms stop growing, they are ready to harvest.

Mycovermicomposting

Composting with worms, known as vermicompost- ing, is a lucrative business, providing worms for bait shops, feed for chickens and other poultry, and some of the best compost additives for creating organic soil amendments that recharge and revive soils. Worm castings are, ounce for ounce, one of the best and most effective natural fertilizers you can use, and they can easily be generated on home waste, including spent mushroom growing substrate. Since the end result of mushroom cultivation is the creation of soil, and since red composting worms (Eisenia fetida) are extremely fond of mushroom mycelia, mycovermicomposting is

a great way to manage the end product of your culti- vation efforts. In this way, your mushrooms can reach their full yield potential while also producing a rich and valuable compost. Spent mushroom growing medium is essentially fully colonized with mycelium, a worm’s favorite natural food source. The sweet-smelling metabolites in the spent medium lure worms from afar to make a home and breed in the nutrient-rich substrate. Red composting worms, also known as red wigglers, are vertical migrators, which are the best option for my- covermicomposting because they are able to penetrate every cubic inch of the growing medium. Earthworms are less effective because they tend to compost hor- izontally, at the soil level where the fresh medium meets the old, operating in a very thin layer. You can find commercially raised composting worms online, or you may be able to find them from local worm farmers. If you have trouble finding the worms, it’s possible to collect and raise worms that are native to your area. Although they may not be as efficient as red wigglers, it’s better than not having any worms at all. Although spent mushroom substrate or myce lium- colonized cardboard is a superfood for worms, there is a missing component that is critical for worm health and for your composting success. Worms need fine sand or grit to process the food they eat, grinding it

Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms Step 3. Roll the clothing tightly, or if you have

This sign says it all. For a worm, spent mushroom substrate is where the party is at. “Have Wine Caps, Will Travel!”

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Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation The “last gasp,” or effort to fruit after multiple flushes, by

The “last gasp,” or effort to fruit after multiple flushes, by these little white oyster mushrooms ( Pleurotus ostreatus ) just before we add them, substrate and all, to our worm composting bins.

Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation The “last gasp,” or effort to fruit after multiple flushes, by

Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms

Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms This is the same pile eight weeks later. If you

This is the same pile eight weeks later. If you don’t turn the compost, your substrate will be fully composted into worm castings in about three to four months.

up in their gizzard much as birds do. A small amount of your native soil mixed in with the substrate or cardboard will improve the health of the worms and thereby the speed the rate at which they produce castings. Using your native soil can also supply a dose of beneficial microbes that the worms’ gut bacteria need, giving your worm castings rich, beneficial properties. Worm castings are loaded with beneficial microbes that perform essential functions for plants. A seedling selects the beneficial bacteria it needs, and those bacteria form a symbiotic biofilm on the plant’s developing root system. The plant responds by cultivating the bacteria, allowing them to multiply and spread with the growing root system for the en- tire life of the plant. Using native soil for your worm composting additive ensures that the many symbiotic nuances are preserved and perpetuated throughout your operation.

Mycovermicomposting with Spent Columns

If you’re cultivating mushrooms in colums, when your substrate is spent and your mushrooms are no longer fruiting, there’s no reason to slice open the columns and discard the spent growing substrate. Introduce some red wigglers, and let the worms migrate from

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r eversing Microbia L d eser T s

Synthetic fertilizers are killing our soil mi- crobes. When presented with the choice be- tween synthetic and organic compounds, plants will opt for the synthetic, since they do not have to reciprocate any energy loss as a trade. With the synthetic fertilizer as its “fast food” source, the plants roots are no longer nterested in forming a lifelong relationship with soil mi- crobes, which include bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi. The root systems then become microbial deserts, and once the temporary fix of synthetic fertilizer is consumed and gone, the sterile soil has lost connection with the plant host and can offer no support. Then the cultivator must re- apply fertilizer, making matters worse. On the other hand, when you remove synthetic fertil- izers and provide your garden a more complex source of nutrition such as worm castings, it helps to restore the relationship among plants, bacteria, and fungi, allowing the soil to return its natural state of balance.

Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation

Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation Once oyster columns are finished fruiting, you can lay them down

Once oyster columns are finished fruiting, you can lay them down and introduce red wiggler worms to the holes. In six to eight weeks, you can add rooted plant starters, such as these sweet potato vines, which will fill the column with potatoes, making the harvest extremely easy!

hole to hole. If you stack the columns, eventually all of the columns will be threaded through with a worm population that is composting the spent media in situ. Mycovermicomposting combines two stages of han- dling—removing the spent substrate and composting it—into one, which reduces your work and simplifies your operation. Then the spent column can even double (actually, triple!) as a planter. Six to eight weeks after introduc- ing the composting worms, plant the columns with vegetables and herbs, inserting rooted plugs or start- ers, for a bonus crop of edibles. You can then recycle the dried vegetative waste back into your mushroom production system. You can even incorporate the columns into a hy- droponic system. Add drip irrigation emitters along

the plant openings, directing water from the biofilter into the columns. Arrange the columns at a downward angle to drain. Recapture the excess irrigation water at the lower end, and either route the effluent back through the filtration system or use it to drip-irrigate yet another level of crops.

Mycovermicomposting in Pots or Bins

Worm composting is also compatible with a mush- room cultivation operation using nursery pots—with no modification needed. In fact, commercial myco - vermiculture systems are essentially themselves a

series of nursery pots. Nursery pots have holes in the

bottom, which allow worms to migrate, so you can simply introduce composting worms to pots of spent growing medium and then stack them, placing a tray at the bottom to keep the worms from escaping. (You could do the same with any stackable containers, so long as they have holes in their bottom.) Make sure there is adequate bright light and even some dappled sunlight to keep the worms from wanting to crawl out and away. Add newly spent pots every few weeks to the top and remove the bottom ones, which will be filled with worm compost and castings. Once the worms have exhausted the resources of one pot, they’ll migrate to the new food source, so you’ll want to time the addition of new pots with the worms’ progress through existing media. When the substrate in the pots with worms looks like finely ground wet soil, add another pot on top. This encourages the worms to migrate, which takes just a few days. As a bonus, this means that when you remove the bottom pots and harvest the worm castings, you don’t even have to sift out the worms, making this system a potentially flawlessly flowing addition to your cultivation efforts.

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