the missing link – some basic knowledge and the test stage

When growing mushrooms, there are three things you definitely need:

– mushroom mycelium
– substrate
– acceptable growing environment/conditions

The mushroom mycelium is a living organism, which expands and grows in dependency of the available energy (food) ressources. You can picture the mycelium as a tree and the actual mushrooms we eat as the fruit, which is growing on the tree.

When talking about edible mushrooms, apart from yeast and some molds, there are two big categories: Mycorrhiza mushrooms and saprotrophic mushrooms.

The mycorrhiza mushroom family is growing inside the soil, having a simbiotic relationship with different plants on who’s root system they are attached. The plants help out the fungi by providing energy, captured from the sun (sugar), while the mushrooms provide nutritions and water which they gather out of the soil. It is really, really difficult to grow mycorrhiza mushrooms, and until now, mankind is only capable of farming a few of them!

Birch Bolete (Leccinum scabrous) (by André Karwath)

The saprotrophic mushrooms „simply“ feed on dead organic materials.
Each saprotrophic mushroom species has a specific range of substrate they can feed on and a specific range of growing parameters in which they are able to grow.

Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) (by Maja Dumat)

So far the general basics of mushroom cultivation.

The big question is: Where do you get your mycelium from?! And how do you know on which substrate and in which environment the mushroom is growing (best)?!
In the internet you can find specialized mushroom mycelium providers. Close to Barcelona I found a company which sells the mycelium of a few mushroom species by mail.
So the first thing I did is to order one litre of oyster-mushroom mycelium to get to know the logistic conditions in spain (mailing time, do they find our apartment?) and the quality of the mycelium.

It turned out to be at our place after three days and it was fresh and in a healthy condition.

But one litre was 13,90 €, not even calculated the costs of mailing! To keep it simple: You can make a few mushrooms grow when using one litre of mycelium, but its actually not a lot. The price per kg of mushroom would be really high.
So, its an easy way of getting the cultivation started but not the right method if you want to grow mushrooms for yourself.
Therefore there is an other method: growing the mycelium yourself, out of mushroom spores or mushroom tissue.
How this is possible, and what equipment you need will be an own topic I will write about later.

As mushroom cultivation is going on for a while, cultivators have tested various growing substrates and techniques and wrote about their results in books and the internet. Some famous benchmarks are the cultivating books of Paul Stamets in which he gives exact parameters about almost every edible and growable mushroom.
Only about the availible substrates in the mediterranean area I couldn’t find any information, neither in his books nor in the internet, but that olive leaves have antifungal qualities and woodloving mushrooms hate pinewood.

So this will be a pioneer task!

I started with the inoculation of olive tree stumps and with a mix of basswood (linden) chips I could get from the local whittler and olive-leafs from the farmers cooperation which I inoculated in bag culture.

Log inoculation with my daughter (by Julien Rivera)

Basswood chips (by Julien Rivera)

Olive leaves (by Julien Rivera)

The inoculated olive logs I brought to the garden. There I searched for a shady place and burried one third of their lenght in the soil.

Olive logs inoculated buried in soil (by Julien Rivera)

It is not possible to control the inoculated olive logs, without destroying them. I’ll be able to see the results in a few month, when the mycelium hopefully has become strong enough to let the mushrooms fruit!

The bag I kept at our flat in a dark and warm place.The bag culture instead can be controlled easily, as you can see through the clear plastic bags. It turned out that the mycelium is growing really slow. I suggest this has its cause in the antifungal olive leaves, which I mixed together with the basswood chips. In such a substrate, a slow inoculation brings the risk of having competitor molds affecting the desired mushroom mycelium (in this case Oyster Mushroom) and making the substrate useless.

As I found a good mycelium resource, the project can continue. The next step, when inoculating more substrate at once, is to prepare a bigger area with the right environmental conditions.

Therefore we will built a dark and warm room in the garden where the mycelium can grow through the substrate. Beside we will built an area which can be protected from insects (flies). There the mushrooms will fruit.