Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Coffee With a Side Of Mushrooms

One of my goals this year is to learn how to cultivate mushrooms. What we typically refer to as mushrooms, i.e., what you see at the supermarket or growing on the ground or trees in the woods, is actually only a reproductive structure. The majority of the fungal body that created the structure is hidden within the tree or ground. Fungi are extremely interesting organisms and play an incredibly important role in ecosystems by decomposing organic matter, which allows the nutrients in the matter to be recycled and used by other organisms. In nature there really is no waste or pollution - everything is used by something else and cycled around and around. An interesting example of this is with beer. To make beer or wine you add yeast (uni-cellular fungi) to fruit juice or grain mash. The yeasts eat the sugars in the mix with their waste product being alcohol. Thus, one organism’s excrement is another organism’s Friday night.

A good permaculture plan also tries to minimize waste and to reuse outputs from other elements in the plan. We call this “closing the loop”. Take coffee grounds for example. I wonder how many people take their morning coffee grounds and either throw them out into the garbage or wash them down the sink. That is an example of an open loop. The output from your morning coffee is literally going down the drain. What a waste! Coffee grounds are high in nitrogen and make an excellent fertilizer. You could compost them, sprinkle them in your garden or simply throw them on your lawn. Not only will this fertilize the plants, but it will also keep some harmful bugs away (note: any bidder or strong tasting or smelling plant likely contains natural chemicals that repel insects and animals that may otherwise eat them. Of course some plants have flowers and fruits that attract insects and animals to pollinate or to carry their seeds elsewhere.). In addition, you would be diverting the coffee grounds from the landfill. I remember seeing someone on the Internet selling fertilizer based on used coffee grounds. They were also selling a liquid coffee based fertilizer as well. While this is an ingenious method of closing the loop and making some money, I for one would not pay for used coffee grounds and twice brewed grounds to fertilize my plants, but I suppose there are worse things that one could spend their money on...

In permaculture, we try to cycle are inputs and outputs as many times as possible in order to milk their energy for all they're worth. This is where mushrooms and coffee grounds come into play. I had previously read that one can grow oyster mushrooms on coffee grounds. Doing this would allow the coffee to be used one more time before being used as compost or fertilizer. As I had always wanted to grow mushrooms, I ordered some oyster mushroom (Pleurotus ostreatus) spawn on from a nursery for around $15. Oyster mushrooms are ear-shaped mushrooms that decompose wood and are widespread in the temperate and subtropical forests of the world. When the spawn arrived, I started dumping my morning coffee grounds into an empty yogurt container and added a few tablespoons of the sawdust based spawn. I kept topping the container up with grounds until it was full and then placed it in a dark cupboard. After a few days I could see the white fluffy filaments of the fungal mycelium growing through the coffee. Interestingly, the mycelium and grounds have a very perfumery odour. There are also sometimes drops of water on top of the mycelium, which I call mushroom dew. I have been thinking that maybe I could bottle it and sell it as a fragrance called “Eau de Pleurote”? In any case you can see the fungus growing throughout the grounds photographs at the end of the post.

To get the fungus to fruit I am going to cut some slips on the side of the container and dipped it in ice water for a couple of hours. This stresses the fungus and causes it to start growing the reproductive structures that are so tasty fried in a little bit of olive oil.

If you want to learn a little bit more about the interesting world of fungi take a look at the following short presentation by leading fungi expert Dr. Paul Stamets, a, entitled, "6 ways mushrooms can save the world."

Finally, if you have any mushroom growing experiences please feel free to write about them in the comments section. Alternatively, if you can think of any ways we can “close loops” you can write about those as well.

Yours permaculturally,

December 29, 2008January 2, 2009
January 4, 2009
January 7, 2009


Anonymous said...

Very interesting! How long does the whole process take? I.e. how long until you can be frying those mushrooms in olive oil?

Pureland Permaculture said...

I am now sure how long the process takes exactly as I have never done it before. They are starting to fruit but I may have let them get too dry we shall see. I have a commercial mushroom bag that is currently fruiting REALLY fast.

DJEB said...

Pleurotus ostreatus also makes a great motor oil disposal system. Just pour the use oil into the mushroom substrate and let them convert it into CO₂ and mycelium.

Ceccers said...

Have you ever tried Kombucha ( My family used to make it as a health drink and it can be very good for the body.

Keep it real. Cara.

Pureland Permaculture said...

I haven't tried it. I have tried to find it before but no luck!