“The Mushrooms are Here!!”

Such was the excited exclamation of Jeanette when I bumped into her a couple of days ago. Jeanette was one of the 40 or so volunteers who came to our two installation work-bees in July, 2012 when we began the initial work of transforming the Townsite Anglican church grounds into an emerging permaculture paradise. And part of that work included the inoculation of oyster mushroom spawn into a long narrow strip bordering on the parking lot beside the site.

Just four months later, and the first Pleurotus ostreatus have put in a bold and exciting experience. Welcome!! We are glad you decided to join the party! We have big hopes and plans for you so please stick around, and tell lots of your friends to come too! (OK, so I talk to mushrooms – you got a problem with that??).

Every element in a permaculture design is selected and placed with great intention. We did not randomly throw mushroom spawn all over the installation site. Rather, we thought carefully about what roles we wanted our fungal friends to play, and how we could best connect them to other elements in the design so they could succeed in their role and help other elements with their roles too!

Most of our oyster spawn (obtained from Western Biological in Aldergrove BC) was jammed down into the stumps of the holly hedge that had been cut to ground level. Holly can be very persistent and we wanted to eliminate it from this location. So after composting all of the branches, we drilled holes into the stumps and packed in the spawn. Then we mulched over that heavily with cardboard and added our remaining spawn into the cardboard layers. So far, no sign of the holly coming back – score one for the fungi!

Another key function intended for the fungi, is to turn the woody stumps, cardboard and mulch into finer nutrients that can be taken up by the surrounding plants, particularly the espaliered fruit trees planted along the same strip. Already that strip of hard packed ground is feeling a lot spongier, thanks both to the mulch and the work of the fungi and countless other organisms who have been actively chowing down. Oyster mushrooms are saprophytic, meaning they live off of dying or dead organic matter, cycling otherwise unavailable nutrients back into plant and animal life. The humus is on the rise! Score two for the fungi.

Of course, oyster mushrooms also make very good eating and we have intended this garden design to provide a variety of food yields. As these first mushrooms broadcast their billions of spores into the mulch of the surrounding areas, with a little good luck, we’ll have a great harvest of oyster mushrooms for a few years to come. Score three for the fungi!

And there is one more (amongst others)  important function that these amazing organisms are playing for the system: mycoremediation. The vast majority of the bio-mass of a fungi is below the ground – the mushroom represents just a tiny fraction. As these oyster mushrooms continue to grow, they will send their mycellium through literally thousands of km’s of soil, creating a dense mat that functions as a lens to filter out ground level pollutants. The lens will trap any contaminants (such as possible hydro carbons from the cars in the parking lot) in their physical structures and will break them down into their constituent elements, using them for food and rendering them far less toxic or harmful. Score four for the fungi!

Oh yeah, then there’s the fact that fungi prevent erosion by holding soil particles together, and that they store tremendous volumes of water in their bodies often making that available to plants helping to stave off drought conditions. And they are a keystone species in the forest whose presence enables far more bio-diversity to exist below and above ground … .

Way to go fungi! Let’s make a date for an omelet soon … .

R Berezan

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