Mycelium, Mushrooms ,fungi, Fungus. The world beneath our feet is full of wonder and mystery. From microbes and beetles to worms and larvae the soil beneath our feet is a hive of activity turning organic matter and rock into a rich moist medium we rely on for our survival. So what role does mycelium play in all this ? and just what the hell is mycelium ?
Simply put mycelium is the white thread like fungus that permeates all healthy soil. Mushrooms that we see popping up in meadows are simply the fruit of these organisms. The mycelium spreads through the soil consuming organic matter converting it into food and waste products. One cubic inch of soil can hold over eight miles of mycelium spreading out in a vast planet wide network. This network develops using the exact same mathematical system that governs how the internet develops. And like the internet this organic network has the capacity to share information , things like temperature, humidity,moisture content, contaminants and food sources. Living in the soil, surrounded by bacteria and other vectors for disease and because the threads of mycelium are only one cell wall thick, they have evolved the ability to secret anti-bacterial and anti-viral compounds.
Mycelium has the potential to help us repair the damage we have caused. The large network of interconnected threads has the ability to filter out bacteria and protozoa. Using the anti bacteria compounds the trapped bacteria are killed and consumed. This ability can be used for mycofiltration. Helping to clean up our waterways from agricultural and industrial pollution. Myco-remediation use’s mycelium’s ability to break down the hydrocarbon structure of cellulose and lignin that makes up plant matter to break down man made hydrocarbons. Compounds such as petrol, diesel and oil. Taking contaminated soil, inoculating it with suitable mycelium species and leaving the mushroom to complete it’s life cycle results in healthy clean soil.
So what does all this have to do with the permafuture project ? Well after reading Paul stamets book mycelium running we realised the potential that mycelium had to help us in our goals of helping people become more self reliant as well as repairing our environment . Its another tool in our armoury. And so, using a technique called stem but grafting we are growing our own oyster mushroom’s. The stem butt is exactly what it sounds like, the bottom or butt of a mushrooms stem that is in contact with the soil. The mushroom is dug up. The stem is cut of about an inch above the stem and the mushroom eaten !! This stem butt is placed on damp cardboard and is left for a few weeks. The mycelium “leaps off” onto the new food source and we have an inoculated substrate allowing us to move or “run” the mycelium into various substrates. And its cost us less than 50 pence to do.
Using this and other techniques we can repair polluted soil’s, improve agricultural land, clean rivers and stream and generally heal our environment. Leading to better health and better quality food for all of us.
Not bad for a humble mushroom.