My name is Ariana, I am a long term volunteer in the biology department and today I would like to tell you more about our recent forays in the realm of fungi, that special kingdom not quite plant not quite animal.
Mushrooms are divided into different categories according to the substrate they live on; saprophytic mushrooms that break down organic matter and replenish the soils, parasitic mushrooms that colonize living organisms and mycorrhizal mushrooms that form symbiotic associations with plant roots.
Aside from performing important functions in nature like decomposing and recycling nutrients, mushrooms have a wide range of applications very useful for humanity. In Europe they are most famous for their culinary use, whereas in the East they are most widely employed in medicinal use; in Japan most cancer treating drugs are derived from mushrooms, and in China a huge variety are sold dry as health tonics.
Mushrooms have also been successfully used as barriers for excess nutrient in a process known as mycofiltration, as cleaning agents for toxic pollutant contamination (mycoremediation), and as inhibitors of undesired plant growth (mycopesticides). Mushroom propagation is a low impact very accessible technology that can be adapted to a range of climates, skills, time and materials available.
To propagate mushrooms here at CAT we use, an incubator to keep a stable warm temperature so that the original culture becomes established, an autoclave for sterilization of cheap grains (which the culture can use as a food source to get stronger), and a variety of woody wastes from CAT as substrate for mushroom fruiting.
Hardwood logs plugged with mushroom spawn have been part of the displays of the biology department as an example of ways to grow valuable protein sources on a shady corner of a garden or a forest. This year however, we are conducting experiments to increase the viability of the crop, and hopefully establish a production system that might allow us to do some more research on other exciting applications of fungi. To start with we are collecting different waste products from the many activities that go on at CAT (glass bottles and coffe grounds from the restaurant, bits of straws and hemp from the graduate school, woodchip and sawdust from the building department, cardboards…) and testing them for their suitability as substrate for oyster mushroom production, a species that will be a welcome addition to the restaurant kitchen.
Stay tuned for fruiting developments!