Fungi are any member of a large group of eukaryotic organisms that includes yeasts, molds and mushrooms. The major difference between plants and fungi is that fungal cells have cell walls that contain chitin, whereas plants cell walls are made up of cellulose. Fungi form a single group of related organisms named eumycota that all share a common ancestor. Fungi is mostly inconspicuous because of their small and sometimes microscopic structures and the hidden lifestyles in soil, on dead or decaying matter and as symbionts of plants, animals and other fungi. We only really notice the fungus once it produces a fruit body, either in the form of a mushroom or as molds. Fungi perform a fundamental role in decomposing organic matter, nutrient cycling and nutrient exchange.

Fungi perform an essential role in our lives. They have for centuries been a human companion, we use them as a direct source of food, as a leavening agent for bread, to ferment various food products, such as wine, beer and soya sauce. We also use fungi as potent antibiotics. Enzymes produced by fungi are used industrially and in detergents. Fungus is also used as biological pesticides to control weeds, plant diseases and insect pesticides. Some species of fungi contain mycotoxins such as alkaloids and polyketides that are toxic to both animals and humans. The fruiting structures of a few species contain psychotropic compounds that are used recreationally or traditionally in spiritual ceremonies. The size of the fungal kingdom is extremely large and expected to have more that 1.5 million members. Up to now we may have only dicovered about 5% of this species.

Most fungi grow as hyphae, which are cylindrical, thread like structures 2 - 10 microns in diameter and several centimaters in length. Hyphae grow at their tips; new hyphae are typically formed by emergence of new tips along existing hyphae by a process called branching. The combination of apical growth and branching leads to the development of mycelium, an interconnected network of hyphae.

Some individual fungal colonies can reach massive dimensions and ages as in the case of Armillaria solidipes, which extends over an area of 900 hectares and has an extimated age of 9000 years. 

Fungal reproduction is complex, reflecting the differences in lifestyle and genetic makeup within this diverse kingdom. It is estimated that a third of fungi reproduce using more than one method of propogation. This leads to both asexual reproductive steps and sexual reproduction. Some fungi exhibit a parasexual cycle that is a process of transferring genetic material without meiosis or sexual structures.   

During the autumn of 2014, I harvested and cloned a mushroom on my Farm that in my opinion looked much like the Pleurotus ostreatus strain (Oyster Mushroom). Looking at the culture running on PDA (potatoe dextrose agar) in a petri dish showed all the same characteristics as the other Pleurotus cultures I work with. Some spawn was produced from this culture and I inoculated one block of Black Wood shavings. 

The culture ran quite fast through the substrate and consolidated the entire substrate within 2 weeks. I placed the bag in my Grow Room and waited patiently for some pins to form. This however did not happen. I waited two more months and nothing happened. I was about to give up on this culture, but as luck would have it I had a rather large order of Elm Oysters to grow out and needed to heat up the grow room considerably.

As the temperature in the grow environment increased, I started noticing little pin sets on the wild culture block. I was very excited to see this, and kept a close eye on the rest of development.

Here is some pictures of my Wild Oyster Mushroom culture.

abundance wild strain pleurotus 3
abundance wild strain pleurotus 4
abundance wild strain pleurotus
abundance wild strain pleurotus 2

Over the last 8 years that I have been involved in mushroom production, I have seen a steady growth in mushroom cultivation in South Africa. South Africans are finding more and more interest in Exotic Mushrooms as well as medicinal mushrooms. There is a lot of potential yet for mushroom farming locally since we have such a large amount of organic waste products to contend with. "What is waste for the organic farmer is a substrate for the mushroom farmer."

For this reason I advize potential growers to look first and foremost for a suitable substrate in your area that can be consistently obtained for free or a small fee.

King-Oyster-MushroomsFor example: If you live in an area where you have access to wheat straw, or have it as a waste product from your other farming activities, it will be your first choice substrate for producing Oyster Mushrooms. Both the winter oyster and the pink oyster mushroom prefer wheat straw as substrate.

If you live in an area where you have access to Oak shavings, Black wood shavings/chips, ironwood, Forest Alder, Beech, Poplar and other broad leaved hardwoods you will be set to produce mushrooms like Shiitake, Reishi, King Oyster and Lions Mane. Oyster mushrooms will grow from a wooded substrate, but not as profusely as from wheat straw. And you will not harvest shiitake mushrooms sustainably from a wheat based substrate.

Commercial cultivation of Exotic Mushrooms in South Africa is still in the infant years. More demand for Shiitake and King Oyster mushrooms is slowly channeling interest into exotic mushroom cultivation and myco technology.

If you are a keen fungi explorer, a must have book is "Mycelium Running" by Paul Stamets. I have found this book to peak my interest into the world of mushrooms and the potential these life forms hold for us, both in health and remediating our planet and also a reminder to stay open minded.

For the first time grower, think simply. There is only a couple of major components to deal with and these can be overcome with a little bit of thought and ingenuity. Light, fresh air ventilation and moisture is the most important considerations. Most exotic mushroom breeds need light, fresh air, the correct temperature bracket and high humidity to produce viable mushrooms.

In designing your grow house consider adding a skylight or two for lighting, instead of using electrically powered light or design your lighting to work on a 12V system and power that from a solar panel and battery bank.

It is worthwhile investing in a good fan, to aid you in ventilating the grow house. Mushroom mycelium produce a large amount of CO2 as it grows and your grow house must be vented regularly to bring in fresh oxygen. There are natural air venting systems that can be incorporated in your grow house design, to minimize the use of electrical fans.

Up to date the best way I have found to humidify your grow house is using ultrasonic humidifiers. I started out using a high pressure misting system that proved to be very cumbersome over time and running the pump was a costly experience that took a chunk out of my pocket.  

Choose the type of mushroom that will produce well for the season that you are in, and by doing so, avoid high electrical bills for attempting to keep heaters going or air conditioning devices for cooling the grow house.

Other factors to consider is keeping insects out of your grow house and away from your mushrooms as well as minimizing foreign fungal colonies to take hold. I have found that by "keeping to the program" and regularly attending to your mushrooms, you can minimize contamination in your grow house without the use of expensive HEPA filters and large fans. Insects however are by far the most difficult issue to overcome.

Fungus gnats especially are a menace in the grow house and will spread contamination rapidly from one source to the next. Here I would recommend using sticky paper and natural traps for keeping them at bay. I also use carnivourous plants and some frogs in my grow room to aid me in keeping fungus gnats at bay.

biomimicry-SA

There will be a follow up mycorestoration/eco-machines workshop led by Dr John Todd at SPIER wine estate in October this year.

The workshop will include the theory and practice of restorer eco-machines in various settings, as well as design principles and concrete steps to design/engineering. Examples of Eco-Machines working to treat wastes and restore waters will be presented at the workshop. Their adoption and application potential in South Africa will be explored. A practical case study of application to a dam at Spier will be covered.

Day 1: the theory and practice of restorer eco-machines and discussion of their cost effectiveness and range of uses.
Day 2: the design process for Spier’s picnic dam restorer and other issues raised by the participants.

DATES: 5-6 OCTOBER 2013
TIMES: 8.30am for 9am-5pm Saturday, 9am-3pm Sunday
VENUE: THE MANOR HOUSE, SPIER, STELLENBOSCH
COST: R3,000 pp including tuition, lunches and tea/coffee. Discounts available for NGOs/educators/students (application for discounts by email).

Spaces are limited. TO BOOK CONTACT Jane at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by 20 September 2013

johntodd

Who should attend this workshop?
• Anyone interested in: restorative design, ecological engineering, biomimicry, water treatment, the genius of nature
• Engineers, water treatment specialists, ecologists, architects, urban planners, designers, wastewater specialists, businesses, government, students, general public, etc.

The workshop will be run by Dr John Todd and facilitated by Claire Janisch. Dr John Todd is a biologist and biomimicry expert working in the general field of ecological design. His principal professional interests have included solving problems of food production and waste-water processing. John Todd co-founded the New Alchemy Institute to do both fundamental research into aspects of biology and disciplines as well as to apply biological science to technology. This work has resulted in innovative new approaches to processing sewage and industrial waste water. Dr Todd is currently writing a book entitled A Designer’s Guide to Thinking Ecologically. He is also very active in a number of projects, including the remediation of petroleum hydrocarbons from the Blackstone River Corridor in Grafton, MA, creating a dynamic model and analysis of the ecomachine at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, working with John Todd Ecological Design to develop an eco-machine for creating ultra clean sea water for the culture and the holding of marine organisms in Gloucester.

 

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