What is mycoremediation? Mycoremediation is the use of various species of fungus as a technique to clean toxins and excess nutrients out of an environment. Some common mushroom species that can be used include but are not limited to Pleurotous ostreatus, Stropharia rugosoannulata, Trametes versicolor, Sulfur tufts, Psylocybe family members and more. Environments that can be remediated include fields, roadsides, ditches, mainly terrestrial environments (but check out P. Stamets’ research on coastal mycoremediation: http://www.fungi.com/mycotech/petroleum_problem.html). The fungus depending on the species will secrete enzymes and can chemically change the chemicals that surround it, often turning toxic solutions into non toxic soil! Heavy metals is another issue that mushrooms take on;they accumulate heavy metals such as mercury or cadmium and then can be harvested and disposed of-a pretty cool way to remove metals from a landscape!
How we got started: I think Shay and Amandine had wanted to do a mycoremediation project and were on the look out for a place where they would be able to, Pat Rassmussen was also helping them, organizing presentations to educate people and hopefully find a polluted site that needed some mycoremediation. I was out of the scene during the very beginning, but I believe it started with Shay and Ciron doing a mushroom/mycoremediation workshop for some children and they were approached by Kim who works for the South Sound Salmon Enhancement Group and she was working on the site in the Nisqually and they started talking.
About the site The site we found is located in Washington State, about 30 miles from Mt. Rainier and about an hour drive outside the city of Olympia. The site is on Nisqually land within the Nisqually watershed. The Nisqually Land Trust, a group that “acquires and manages critical lands to permanently protect the water, wildlife, natural areas, and scenic vistas of the Nisqually River watershed” (http://www.nisquallylandtrust.org/index.php) owns the land that we did our project on.
The site is on an old dairy farm–started by an original homesteader way back when–and since, has been taken on as a huge restoration project headed by the Nisqually Land Trust and the South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group(http://spsseg.org/). Among the hundreds of thousands of trees that have been planted and the re-curving of the stream back to its old way, the groups also had to deal with a huge storage pond that had been filled for many many years with cow manure.
Sooooo….that’s where we came in! We worked in coalition with Terra Commons, The South Puget Sound Salmon Enhancement Group, and The Nisqually Land Trust. Before we were to put in our mycoremediation project, the groups had hired contractors to suck out all of the cow manure sludge, distribute it over the valley restoration area(so that there wasn’t just one big spill) and then flatten out the built up pond back to the natural contour of the land.
Photo of the old dairy farm.
Photo of the pond one hot summer day, green algae growing thick and full of cow manure underneath.
Photo of the pond from below.
The view from the pond, looking towards the river and the future mycoremediation site.
How we did it
Our idea was to put in swales that go along the contour of the land, fill the swales with inoculated burlap sacks, the mushrooms would then incorporate themselves into the soil below the pond and when the rain comes down and brings all the manure nutrients down towards the stream, the mycelium will be growing strong, able to catch the nutrients before they wind up in the stream. When there is an over abundance of nutrients running into waterways, eutrophication can occur, and we wanted to help keep this from happening.
- Get a bunch of burlap sacks (from nearby coffee spots). Our goal was 200sacks-100 with inoculated alder woodchips and 100 with alder woodchips not inoculated.
- Get a bunch of alder woodchips
- Get a bunch of King Stropharia spawn
- Inoculate spawn into sacks filled 1/3 with woodchips at a rate of ___
- Let the bags sit in a damp shady spot to let the mycelium run
- Trek the bags to the site, with shovels and wheel barrows
- Dig swales along bottom of slope, in-between old manure pond and current stream
- Put bags in swales to filter out excess nutrients from running into stream
Trying to Growing the Mycelium We wanted to start from scratch, so we started growing mycelium. We made ourselves a lab space-as sterile as we could get. We used a friends old trailer, wiped it clean, lined the walls with plastic so we could easily keep them wiped clean when we started the cultivation process.
Photo of our lab space.
- Amandine bought a used laminar flow hood from Fungi Perfecti (fungiperfecti.com)
- alcohol for sterilization, paper towels and squeeze bottles, some bleach to clean the room too
- pressure cooker for sterilization
- agar and to make nutrified agar we used a malt, water and nutritional yeast recipe
- petri dishes
- burners for sterilization-with wick, alcohol, tops, aluminum foil
- spores in syringes
- culture from friend in test tube
We made some agar petri dishes, sterilized some jars of grain, and first tried to inoculate spores from FP syringes-Stropharia rugossoannulata and Pleurotus ostreatus. They didn’t do too good, contamination ensued, SteamBoatIsland was a bit far away, maybe they were too chilly in the evenings, maybe we should have built a box around the flowhood? Next we tried some cultures from a friend, no growth, must have been too old.
Oh, the mold we grew!
So we started growing mycelium. We wanted to star t from scratch. We made ourselves a lab space-as sterile as we could get. We made some agar petri dishes, sterilized some jars of grain, and first tried to inoculate spores from FP syringes-Stropharia rugossoannulata and Pleurotus ostreatus. They didn’t do too good, contamination ensued, SteamBoatIsland was a bit far away, maybe they were too chilly in the evenings, maybe we should have built a box around the flowhood? Next we tried some cultures from a friend, no growth, must have been too old.
We started asking around for some spawn…
Since one of the petri dishes grew out pretty well, we decided to make some transfers. Some growth, less mold, but it was slow. The grow-op eventually petered out when we got some spawn donated to us from a nice local guy. Thank you!
Inoculating the Burlap Sacks We held a few different workshops (at Terra Commons, at the NW Permaculture Convergence and at Evergreen’s Harvest Fest) to gather friends and community members to help us stuff the sacks and teach them what we knew about mushroom cultivation and mycoremediation. We inoculated a 1/2 full kid’s pool amount of woodchips with one bag of King Stropharia (Stropharia rugoso-annulata) spawn, we mixed them all together in a kid’s pool and then divided this into 3 burlap sacks. That’s as good as a measurement goes, we usually eyeball it and figure it’s better to inoculate more than less so the mycelium has a better chance of survival.
When we inoculate bags with oyster mycelium we usually sterilize the wood chips first by soaking the chips in almost boiling water, but we ran out of propane one workshop so we couldn’t heat up the water to sterilize the chips. We decided to inoculate the bags anyways and the King Stropharia mycelium grew great! I’ve later read somewhere…that Stropharia rugoso-annulata doesn’t grow well on sterilized substrate (which makes sense that it didn’t grow very well on our sterilized agar petri dishes…).
Photo of some of the fully inoculated woodchips, beautiful and white!
Photo of the mycelium loving the burlap sacks.
The Manure Grow Test We came one misty morning to collect some manure before the team sprayed it all over the valley restoration project. It was really mucky but neither of us fell in! We wanted to collect someof the manure sludge to test growing the mushrooms on it before we began the big project. So we scooped up a few heavy smelly bucket fulls of manure and hawled them back to Terra Commons where we separated the manure into different tubs and inoculated some with Pleaurtous ostreatus and other with Stropharia rugoso-annulata. We checked the tubs a few days after inoculation and to our surprise there was no mycelium left in the oyster tubs and the tubs we inoculated with King Stropharia were thriving! It was clear that the King Stropharia loved all of the nutrients and other bacteria it was living with. We were originally thinking that we would use both Oysters and King Stropharia but after this experiment we figured we should go with the King Stropharia since it grew so well in the manure!
Photo of the manure pond in the mist.
We innoculated around 90 bags and filled 90 bags with just alder woodchips. We left some with only wood chips so that when we placed the bags in the ground, the mycelium would have more food to eat and also so that the uphill line of bags was mostly just woodchips to act as a pre-filter.
Next we loaded up our cars and trucks with bags one early morning. We loaded 4 vehicles as heavy as we could get them. It rained for days earlier so the bags were damp and loaded with rain water.
We loaded Tom’s truck up neat and full.
Here is a photo of the site from the road up above. The buildings that you can see, are remnants of the old dairy farm.
Pontwam is digging out a trench and laying the myco-bags down in the ground.
I am digging out the second trench, that serves as the pre-filter, filled mostly with un-inoculated bags of woodchips.
Digging and setting the bags in. Two rows
Tom, Amandine, Pontwam, and Justin working away.
The 2 rows of myco-bags! Old dairy in the distance.
We gathered straw to cover the laid bags, to add a little insolation.
Justin on the pre-filter row, probably sending growth energy to the bags through his feet.
Almost all covered.
Tom, Amandine, Justin and Pontwam proud to be done!