The Powers of Mushrooms

I love mushrooms. They have to be fresh though – canned mushrooms just suck. Morals, of course are my favorite, as per usual in the Midwest. Button, Portabella, and Porcini come in next. I can do almost anything in the kitchen with mushrooms, but my all time best thing I love to cook is crab stuffed mushrooms, and it has to have bacon in it.

It’s funny how mushrooms can be such a diverse word. There’s typically 3 things you think of when someone says mushrooms. The mushrooms you get on a pizza Shroom chocolate, the mushrooms that get you high, and the mushrooms in the woods attached to the trees that can kill you. What a range, huh?

There’s recently been an uprising in home gardeners growing mushrooms at home. They get a brick of this white goo looking stuff, water it, and mushrooms come up. Genius. Pure genius. Now if someone could do a brick that will grow Morals, I’d become a millionaire in a day – here, they sell for $40 a pound, and that’s fresh and wild. Nobody even close to Iowa grows them.

One of the best things I like to do with mushrooms is compost. As i mentioned, we eat a lot of mushrooms in this house, so we have a lot of scraps. Either bad mushrooms from the store, stems, or some of the “dirt” that comes off of them when you wash them. I’ll put them in a gallon sized zip lock bag and freeze them. When the bag is full, I’ll thaw them out, blitz them in a food processor with a little water, then add it all to 1 cup of coir or potting soil. Throw it in an empty coffee container, shake it up, and let it sit in the closet. Mushroom compost has been my #1 top producing compost since i started growing.

There’s other things mushrooms can do, though. Sure, they’re delicious, beautiful, and good for compost, but did you know they can literally save the oceans from oil spills? Or how about the fact that mushrooms can get rid of ecoli and other dangerous bacteria? They can be used for medicinal purposes and can take an acre of bare, terrible soil that hasn’t had a single weed grown on it in 100 years and turn it into a luscious, green, growing forest AND kill carpenter ants and termites. How can this be? Every morning, millions of people wake up with a cup of coffee. Because of our addiction to the black drink of the heavens, about 1. 6 billion cups of coffee is drunk everyday around the world. What if we could use those coffee grinds to grow food and reduce landfill waste at the same time? Using such “waste” to grow mushrooms can be the way of sustainable farming and food production.

Being the recyclers of nature, mushrooms can break down plant matter into sugars using lignocellulosic enzymes. This means they can use a wide range of urban wastes like used teas, vegetable and fruit cuttings, dried leaves, sawdust, brewery waste, paper, and much more. In addition, they require less space than other crops; some mushrooms can have twice the yield mass versus compost mass used to grow them. Due to these properties, urban mushroom farms can be setup in relatively ease compared to traditional farms; best of all, many of these by products are given away for free.

Making use of urban wastes to grow mushrooms have always been part of the industry. During the 18th and 19th century, cultivated Agaricus bisporus, or white mushrooms, were grown on horse manure, which was plentiful during the time; plus, there was a need to get rid of them off the urban streets and horse tracks. Today, white mushrooms are grown using cattle and poultry manure mixed with straws.

Of course, there are some precautions when dealing with by-products and food. Most importantly, polluted industrial and agricultural wastes are concerns for mushroom growers using by-products of other industries. Mushrooms are known to accumulate metal ions. By-products tainted with mercury, lead, and cadmium will jeopardize the safety for consumption.

Another issue with some mushroom production is the use of logs as the medium to grow them on. Shiitake mushrooms are usually grown on wood logs as they are naturally decomposers of fallen trees in the wild. As such, 100, 000 trees are used yearly. This practice is of course not very sustainable. Using sawdust and straw blocks as a substitution can be used but some claim that the taste is inferior to natural log.

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