22 May 2011

Happy International Biodiversity Day

In which we embark on a new venture in Mycology
Shiitake mycelium, Day 2.
Funny thing is, the mainstream western press seems to have missed IBD completely. I guess the UN's announcement that today1(22 May) is International Biological Diversity Day was lost in the noise of all those species extinctions directly resulting from man-made global climate change. (Deny it all you like, the evidence is pretty compelling: we are the cause of global climate change.)

Serendipitously we started a new project last Thursday that can only help – in its own tiny way – to bolster our local ecosystems' robustness. We have started a Mushroom growing project.

Buoyed on by my success in culturing brewing yeasts (despite the significant limitiations of my "lab" setup) I decided to have a go at tissue culturing Mushrooms. The result you can see for yourself... the little grey smudge in the middle of the jar is (hopefully) the mycelium of Shiitake mushrooms-to-be. The other smaller greyish smudges towards the right of the jar are really dings in the agar medium where I cooled the knife prior to excising a tiny bit of flesh from a reasonably fresh mushroom prior to placing it on the agar substrate.

See, it's all part of a bigger permaculture-ish picture... three threads coming together...

Thread One: I've read, watched and heard quite a lot about "Hugelkultur" lately, mostly as evangelised by Paul Wheaton over at permies.com. I like the way that Sepp Holtzer, the guy who has been practising and working on this technique, refuses to get pigeonholed as "doing permaculture", thereby dodging all the Permaculture Dogma that tends to go along with Permaculture True Acolytes. I like his style so well that I think I'm going to steal it... The hugelkulture idea seems reasonable to me, especially since I daily observe decaying tree trunks and logs in the forests and plantations that surround our home, and it is blatantly obvious that the decaying wood serves as an effective water and nutrient reservoir. Then, too, I have long noticed that veggie beds that host a vigorous and healthy fungal life also host the healthiest and quickest-growing veggies.

Thread Two: Reading Paul Stamets' ideas for myco-permaculture, I've been researching mushroom varieties that would (hopefully!) work well in guilds and successions. Based on my reading in Stamet's excellent "Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms", I chose Shiitake for my first mushroom-cloning attempt. Shiitake should grow easily on the growth media most available to us – Pine logs, chips and shavings. The Shiitakes will play their part in decomposing the wood substrate, which should (if my understanding of the theory is not too broken) then be quite well suited, with the addition of compost and soil, to growing other mushroom varieties – probably Portobello (button) mushrooms, but maybe some other variety between them and the Shiitake. After that I should be able to grow veggies in the remaining bed.

Thread Three: I've been doing some work on modifying the brewery2 (described here, here, here and here), not to mention brewing up a storm. So I am ending up with lots of spent grain remains from brew sessions. A 40litre batch of beer produces around 25 or 30kg (wet weight) of bran containing some weak sugars in solution, cooked grain kernels, and a bit of starch left unmodified by the brewing process. Ideal stuff for growing mycelium! Then, too, yeast is just another fungus, and has, indeed, been used in experimental trials for sterilising/pasteurising mushroom growing media. A win all ways!


So I thought to myself, "Why wait for several years for a hugelkultur bed to gain a natural mycosystem? Why not hurry things along?" And thus was born my mycosphere garden-bed idea... (or is that a "Mike-o-sphere"?)

I plan to build some beds using pine logs, wood chips, shavings,... whatever I can lay my hands on cheap (read: free) and in abundance. These beds will be innoculated with (initially) Shiitake mycelium, and hopefully we will, in the fullness of time, harvest mushrooms. The Shiitake will be followed by further mushrooms in some sort of yet-to-be-determined sequence, thereby rendering the woody core of the bed quite well decomposed. After that I will convert the bed to conventional veggie production. The mushroom growing plays along extremely well with the brewery, and both endeavours demand a small amount of lab culturing, which has been fun to learn about. And, if the Mike-o-sphere beds work out anything like conventional Hugelkultur beds, I should be able to reduce the brittleness of our water-dependence in the garden, because, although the Offialdom Of The Kakistocracy no longer consider us to be a drought area, and. although we have experienced over 50% above average rainfall for May, we are none too convinced that the drought is truly over.

The Garden Route truly is a canary in the coalmine for global climate change...

We simply have to Adapt Or Dye.

[1] I guess the UN must have missed noticing that they were scheduling IBD day for the day after The Rapture. Oops.
[2] I'll write about the brewery redesign soon.

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