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dream, and down aisle after aisle of fruiting shiitake


mushrooms growing on sawdust blocks. This was in-
triguing, and overwhelming, and I had so many ques-
tions running through my mind. My mouth opened
all on its own and started peppering the owner with
questions, so many that in retrospect I realize that my
incredible inquisitiveness must have been annoying.
But I was in shock. Amazed.
Ten minutes later the tour was over. The owner
thanked me for stopping by and gave me a pound of
shiitake mushrooms. I felt like I had won a miniature
lottery. I walked out the farm door with my brain
buzzing. It was love at rst sight . . . with mushrooms.
I sadly returned to my car and climbed in, cranked up
the engine, and started pulling away when a sudden
loud bang hit the rear of my vehicle. What I thought
was a tire blowout was the owner of the mushroom
farm, who had chased my car down the driveway and
was trying to get my attention. Did I leave something
there? No. I rolled down the window and asked what
was going on. The owner, now panting, asked, Would
you like to work here?
I often think back to that moment when the owner
ran after me. If he hadnt caught up with my car, he
would have had no way to contact me. I was probably
just seconds away from missing out on the future I
would go on to explore with mushroomsstarting
with a job at the mushroom farm. That entire tour had
lasted ten minutes, but it triggered events that have
lasted me a lifetime.
Over twenty years later, I now frequent food and
sustainability conferences, lecturing and teaching the
values of environmentally responsible, low-tech and
no-tech mushroom cultivation projects that anyone
can apply to their home or small farm. I am against
the use of all chemical pesticides and synthetic fertil-
izers; I think nature knows best. Using mycorrhizae
When someone asks me if I grow magic mushrooms,
I always reply by asking, Arent all mushrooms mag-
ical? I have been growing, culturing, researching,
hunting, and learning everything I can about mush-
rooms for the last twenty years. I work with all kinds
of mushrooms, and I am fascinated by every single
one. The more you learn, the more your belief in their
magic will grow.
My journey with mushrooms did not start out
auspiciously. Although I loved the outdoors as a kid, I
was far more interested in walking down through the
woods to my grandparents lake in North Carolina to
go shing than in paying attention to the mushrooms
growing around me. By twenty, I was living with my
parentstrying to balance college classes and singing
in a bandand one day my mother suggested that I
stop by a nearby mushroom farm for a tour. She knew
I was interested in biology, it seemed like something
different and cool to do, and maybe it was her sublim-
inal way of telling me to get out and nd a job.
I knew nothing about mushrooms. Zero. Not even
basic varieties at the supermarket, which in 1994 were
white buttons and, newly, portabellas. But I called the
farm anyway. I remember it sounding very noisy and
active and the owner sounded out of breath. Sure, he
said, come on by later this afternoon and I can show
you around quickly if you want to see how mush-
rooms grow. When I arrived, the building seemed
very plain, with cinder-block walls and a metal roof,
and not very exciting. I wasnt at all impressed with
the looks of things.
The owner greeted me and quickly led me around,
showing me the entire place, from the sterilizer unit
cooking the growing media to colonization rooms
and, nally, the place where the magic hit: the fruiting
room. I will never forget the moment when I walked
into that strange, foggy space, like something out of a
Introduction
Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
viii
a wonderful food using what most would consider
waste or by-products of many industries. I hope this
book serves you well in giving you the skills necessary
to explore mushroom cultivation and empowering
you to dream up experiments and ideas on your own.
Part skill, part art, part intuition, mushroom culti-
vation will give you a lifelong relationship with this
incredible kingdom of life.
How to Use This Book
This book is designed to help you build skill and con-
dence, starting in part 1 with a thorough foundation
in both indoor and outdoor mushroom cultivation
using purchased spawn (a form of mycelium that is
physically plantable, being packaged in sawdust,
grain, or a wooden dowel). Although my eventual
goal is to help you become more self-sufcient by
culturing and cultivating your own spawn (as well as
to teach you how to grow mushrooms perpetually on
just about anything), using purchased spawn will help
you develop your skills and gain experience with a va-
riety of cultivation techniques before you make larger
investments of time and money. While the informa-
tion in part 1 can be considered more foundational
than the material in the latter parts of the book, my
hope is that even more experienced growers will nd
value in these chapters. Rather than simply focusing
on yield as an end goal, Ive strived for a more holistic
approach, one that pays careful attention to the mush-
room life cycle, to ecology, to fungis relationships with
the other kingdoms of life, and to developing the kind
of intuition that will teach you more about cultivating
mushrooms than a book or a workshop ever can. The
focus of this book is primarily edible mushrooms, but
you will nd a great deal of information on medicinal,
industrial, and mycoremediation applications as well.
Once you develop solid cultivation skills, you can
apply them to grow whatever kind of mushrooms suit
your goals, or fancy.
The chapters in part 2 are designed to help you
apply that foundational information to incorporate
mushroom cultivation into your life and landscape,
in whatever way reects your goals. It includes
and composted mushroom substrate lled with worm
castings, my gardens thrive and are highly productive
without compromising the soil and water quality.
I believe in creating perpetual and circular food
systems, using sustainable techniques such as water
harvesting and no-till cultivation, and using passive
energy or seasonal production to minimize the energy
use on my farm.
My work has also evolved into research, such as
creating mushroom rescue modules (discussed in
chapter 12) for use in regions struggling with poverty
or devastated by natural disaster, where shattered
habitats and cultures struggle to recover. On a recent
trip to Haiti, for example, I introduced mushrooms
to a group of children I met in the village of Cange.
They were intrigued when I told them that some of
mushrooms I had with me tasted like chicken and that
I could teach them how to cultivate these wonderful
mushrooms on paper or cardboard that we collected
in the street. The idea that they would fruit in just a
few weeks seemed magical to them. That trip was one
of the most memorable Ive ever taken. Here, I felt,
mushrooms could make a real difference as a potential
food source. I later returned to help set up a commer-
cial production facility and spawn production lab to
keep the process perpetuating.
Through such experiences, Ive found that sharing
what I know about mushrooms has become an imper-
ative. Mushrooms are an excellent source of protein,
and they have a wide range of medicinal properties.
With an estimated 1.1 million fungi on the planet and
only 150,000 collected and described (never mind
being screened for their potential), you can easily see
the implications for food production and medicine.
In these ways fungi have the potential to shape our
future for millennia to come.
This book is a compilation of knowledge Ive
gained from my experiences, from when I cultivated
my rst mushrooms up to the present, in which I now
conduct mushroom research and own my own mush-
room business. As you are reading, I must warn you
that you are embarking on a path that may change
the way you see yourself tting into this life. In
choosing mushrooms, you have decided to cultivate
Introduction
ix
at your goals is to learn the specic and subtle needs
of each mushroom you grow. Treat each one as an
individual, like someone you know (and want to
know better), understanding its individual needs and
differences. This takes time and patience and, inev-
itably, some failure. Give yourself the opportunity
to experiment before the stakes are too high. Seek
hands-on workshops, attend mushroom walks, and
join mushroom hunting clubs to meet like-minded
people and share knowledge and experiences.
Many people have commercial aspirations for
mushroom cultivation, and I have tried to include as
much information as possible that can be applied to
small-scale and environmentally responsible com-
mercial operations (including a chapter on marketing
your product). Again, weigh this decision carefully.
Only you can decide when, if, and at what scale its
right for you. But my hope is that youll have all the
tools you need to scale up if you choose to.
As you proceed through the book, youll notice a
focus on shiitakes and oyster mushrooms. This isnt
because those are the only mushrooms worth grow-
ing! I use oysters and shiitakes frequently to illustrate
specic phenomena or techniques because they are
two of the easiest and most satisfying mushrooms
to grow, and many people are familiar with them. If
you are a beginner, they are great mushrooms to start
with. But if you ip to part 4, Meet the Cultivated
Mushrooms, you will also nd proles of nearly
thirty mushrooms, with growing parameters and
suggestions for each. While most of these mushrooms
are primarily edibles, some have wonderful applica-
tions for use as medicinals, in mycoremediation, or
potentially in industrial capacities. Spend some time
looking through the proles and familiarize yourself
with the possibilities. Although you may want to start
with oysters or shiitakes, you can then apply much of
what you learn to the other mushrooms, factoring in
each individual mushrooms needs.
To me, this book is much more than a cultivation
guide. It is about healing the people and the planet,
one mushroom and one cultivator at a time, reversing
destructive cycles into creative forces. If we think
with an opportunistic yet minimalistic approach,
information for both urban and off-the-grid growers,
on making value-added products from mushrooms
(including mushroom-infused beer, wine, and spir-
its), and the incredible and largely untapped potential
of mushrooms to provide high-quality protein for
people in poverty- and disaster-stricken regions of
the world. Part 2 is full of useful and largely low-tech
ideas for bringing mushrooms even further into your
life. The goal here, as in part 1, is not only to help you
cultivate mushrooms successfully (though thats a big
part of it), but to help you develop an understanding
of the complex relationships mushrooms have with
bacteria, plants, and animals (including humans). I
believe that the more we develop that understanding,
the more potential we have for successful cultivation,
and the more we focus on linear goals of maximum
production, the more we risk failurein more senses
than one.
The chapters in part 3 cover more advanced and
experimental techniques such as basic lab construc-
tion, sterile culturing, and techniques for mushrooms
that are extremely difcult to cultivate, like morels.
While the material in part 1 and part 2 is mostly
low-tech, requiring relatively small investments in
infrastructure and equipment, the material in part
3 requires more rened skill and bigger decisions.
Some of it is research-in-progress, which Ive includ-
ed in the hope that as you build on your experience
as a mushroom cultivator, you will contribute your
own experiments and experiences to the body of
knowledge about mushrooms. There is still so much
to learn, and the more we understand about mush-
rooms and the fungi kingdom, the more we can use
that understanding to grow high-quality food and
medicinals, remediate polluted land and water, and
replace plastics and other industrial materials with
fungus-based textiles, building materials, and other
consumer goods. Although many researchers and
cultivators are protective of their knowledge, the only
way we can really build a collective body of knowl-
edge is through collaboration.
Dont be too quick to rush to an advanced chapter
or scale up your operation based on the information
in this book. The only way to improve and succeed
Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
x
natural cycles of mushrooms, no matter how small
they are. From old-growth forests to mulched urban
sidewalks to fruiting growths on debris oating out
at sea, fungi are everywhere, and theres much to be
learned from them.
much like a mushroom, taking what it needs to sur-
vive and then returning resources to its ecosystem
so they can be used by others, the future looks like
somewhere I want to be. Spend as much time as
possible cultivating, collecting, and observing the