I’m delighted to break my silence to report the joyous news: my first mushroom-growing project has just borne fruit!
This is Stropharia rugosa-annulata, known as the Garden Giant, King Stropharia or Wine Cap mushroom (strophaire rouge vin, as it’s known in Québec). I ordered mushroom sawdust spawn from a company in Washington State called Fungi Perfecti and “planted” it into a garden bed in early May, in chainsaw shavings from the hardwood that we cut for winter heating. I planted sweet corn all around it in one ‘experimental’ bed surrounded by 3 ‘control’ beds of sweet corn with straw mulch, bare soil and mycorrhizal inoculation, alternately – to compare results. The Stropharia mushroom is supposed to form a beneficial alliance with roots of garden vegetables, increasing their production, at the same time that it diversifies production by adding another crop (the mushrooms) in the same patch of earth. It also quickly breaks down woodchips and straw to form rich, dark, moisture-retaining loam which is good for soil micro-organisms and for plants to grow in.
I have two of Paul Stamets’ books about mushroom cultivation – Fungi Perfecti is his company – and in one of them, Mycelium Running, he postulates that partnering with fungi may be what is needed to save earth and ourselves. Stamets writes,
“…fungi are the grand recyclers of our planet, the mycomagicians disassembling large organic molecules into simpler forms, which in turn nourish other members of the ecological community. Fungi are the interface organisms between life and death….
Fungi are keystone species that create ever-thickening layers of soil, which allow future plant and animal generations to flourish. Without fungi, all ecosystems would fail. With each footstep on a lawn, field, or forest floor, we walk upon these vast sentient cellular membranes. Fine cottony tufts of mycelium channel nutrients from great distances to form fast-growing mushrooms …
Humans collaborate with these cellular networks, using fungi, specifically using mushroom mycelium as spawn, for both short- and long-term benefits. Mushroom spawn lets us recycle garden waste, wood, and yard debris, thereby creating mycological membranes that heal habitats suffering from poor nutrition, stress, and toxic waste. In this sense, mushrooms emerge as environmental guardians in a time critical to our mutual evolutionary survival….
When we irresponsibly exploit the Earth, disease, famine, and ecological collapse result. We face the possibility of being rejected by the biosphere as a virulent organism. But if we act as a responsible species, nature will not evict us. Our fungal friends equip us with tools to act responsibly and repair our shared environment, leading the way to habitat recovery.
-Paul Stamets, Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World, p. 1.
We are all very small and are actions seem meaningless, to us. But we are all part of a bigger picture, too. There is great hope in small things, like gardens, and mushrooms, wild birds, bumblebees and other insects.
The monarch butterfly is in the midst of a great crisis, with its population severely reduced as a result of the combined pressures of deforestation in Mexico, genetically-engineered crops and herbicide usage in the United States, and abnormal weather patterns. This means they are not able to make their way up to Canada in the numbers that we once saw them. Hearing that these butterflies may soon go extinct has made me feel despair over the past few months. Yet I saw one today in the garden and my sad heart was lifted with a little hope. We all need a lot more forests, and milkweed, and things to look forward to in a continued future together.