I just did a quick check of my mushroomcompost bed. I have mentioned this many times, but just to keep people updated, the bed is approximately 6'x12' and is/was about 1' thick. The bed was first inoculated with wine caps almost exactly a year ago (4/10/18) with a mere 11 pounds of inoculate from Field Forest. In retrospect, I should have used much, much more spawn for a bed that size, but nonetheless, the spawn is spreading nicely. Today I went out to check the progress of the mycelium innervation deep in the bed and not just in the top 2 inches as I had done before. In previous checks, the top 2 inches were thoroughly colonized with nice white mycelium strands, but I never dug all that deep. Today I wanted to see the progress deep in the compost as in 6 inches to soil contact. My findings were a bit surprising and I wonder if anyone could shed some light on what is going on (I have my own idea, but I wanted to check with others).
So first, just a couple of other details of the bed. Last year I grew tomatoes by digging in 8 fertile holes with a manure-topsoil mixture. The holes were dug in an 2x4 pattern with the center of the bed (18" wide by 6 feet long or so) bracketed by 4 fertile holes. The center strip definitely showed the best evidence of decomposition over the last year. The chips are darker, more crumbly and the surface lower (I think indicating decomposition) that that of the edges.
Today when I checked on the fungi, I first dug a small diameter hole (4"-6" diameter) at least 8 inches deep in the corner of the bed where I was pretty certain that I had the least amount of decomposition going on. The hole in the chips was reassuring. Deep down inside the white mycelium strands dramatically innervated the chips to at least 8 inches and probably deeper. As I gently moved the material aside I kept finding more obvious signs of fungi. In fact, the whole of the chips from that little hole almost looked like the spawn I bought a year ago, almost like they were ready to be transplanted into another pile of wood chips. Although the surface looked relatively undisturbed (a thin layer of straw, followed by a bout 1 inch of mostly intact chips), the depth was obviously infused with fungi.
With that bit of encouragement in mind, I went straight to the center of the pile where the signs of decomposition are blatantly obvious. The surface had virtually no visible straw, nor any intact wood chips. The surface was also much darker, and lower than the edges. In previous examinations of the fungi progress, the center strip always had the most obvious signs of decomposition, especially plainly visible strands of mycelia. I dug in expecting to see even better results, but the results were more puzzling. Obviously decomposition had taken place. The "chips" felt more like coffee grounds. The "chips" yielded to my little trowel easier than the chips at the edges. However, I found relatively few strands of mycelium. There were a few to be certain, but nowhere near the levels of what was at the edges. This puzzles me as the center strip is obviously decomposed (I am sure it can break down further) and in the past had shown the most obvious signs of fungi. A totally novice/inexperienced eye (I consider myself to be only one tiny step ahead of this level) might not even recognize the signs of fungi at all, though they would likely still see the signs of decomposition.
So a thought I had was that maybe the wine cap fungi has thoroughly digested the center strip and is looking for more food out in the more plentiful material around the edges. Does this thought make sense or is it just wishful thinking? If the center strip is thoroughly broken down, then should I expect to see mushrooms popping up as the weather warms? Did the center strip fungi starve over winter? Is the decomposition complete from the standpoint of the wine caps? Am I missing something altogether?
Thanks for taking the time to read this post. I am planning on moving forward with more wine cap inoculation and wood chip decomposition within the next month or so, weather permitting. One encouraging note I found in the center strip: last weekend (10 days ago) I pushed about 300 peas into the chip bed in the hopes of fixing nitrogen, giving the wine caps some other roots with which to interact, and to get some vines of peas to provide dappled sunlight. In the center strip I accidentally dug up a couple of peas that were busy getting to work and developing tap roots about 2-3 inches long. There are no visible peas poking through the surface, but in the center strip, at least a couple of peas found the environment suitable for starting their growth. I tried the same trick with beans last summer in the barely decomposed wood chips and got nothing for my troubles. It may appear that the wood chips have decomposed to the point where the peas think of them as soil and not wood chips. I also might be overly optimistic.
Thanks in advance for reading through another long post and considering my puzzling (to me at least) observations.
I’m in my first year with a Winecap woodchip bed, so I’m of no help. I was digging around yesterday and have been wondering about transplanting some of the mycelium. I’m also wondering how long I can keep the bed going by feeding it more wood chips. I wasted too many mushrooms last year by not harvesting them soon enough and by improperly drying them out. It has been a fascinating project.
From what I understand, as long as you keep adding chips (or straw, or whatever) to the surface, you should be able to still get new mushrooms. Last year I only found 4 small mushrooms. I would think that if you wanted to spread your wine cap goodness to other beds, you could dig up a spadeful or two and inoculate another bed. I would just make certain to fill the holes with more chips and the cycle of fungus continues. I agree, this has been a fascinating project. One of my surprises this morning was digging into my center strip and finding that the chips had basically turned into coffee grounds. This should make for very easy planting when I do decide to use the bed a a regular garden again.
Please, keep us updated on your progress. I would love to compare notes and learn from each other's mistakes (In which case I am sure you will learn more from me--I am pretty sure I have made plenty of mistakes along the way).
I just got back from my chip bed where a few weeds are popping up. In particular I have some crabgrass growing and I want it out so I was pulling the weeds. Some weeds have a very well developed root system and were a bit of a challenge to remove intact. Interestingly, ALL of the roots I pulled out were deeply intertwined with mycelium hairs. In fact, I think there was more fungal activity around the roots than away from the roots, almost like the roots and fungi like growing together.
Does this sound like wine cap type of activity or more like some other type of fungi?
Location: 7b desert southern Idaho
posted 9 months ago
That is exactly like my bed. Complete with crab grass.
hau Eric, What you are observing is the way mycelium work and spread, that central area will need some new food to wake up the mycelium that sounds like it is going or has gone dormant for lack of food.
Just make an addition of chips in that area of the bed to bring it back.
Mycelium is the actual "plant" when we talk about fungi. The mushrooms will come when the mycelium has fully occupied the space. At that point the organism fruits so it can spread further afield via spore release.
For great mushroom beds, it is normal to have to add to the food supply along the way to first fruiting, at that point you would make an addition of chips so the organism can continue to have a food supply.
After you get those first flushes of fruits, you can "seed start" a new bed by simply taking a piece (or pieces) of the old bed to add to a new bed, then you just add in new chips to the old bed where you took out the seeding pieces.
I suppose I will be topping off my chip bed with more chips—I have plenty of chips to pile on. Does this mean that I could use a couple of shovel fulls of chips from this bed to start a new one?
Regarding the mycelium I found around the grass roots. Is this normal for wine caps to do this or is this likely another fungi at work? I have read that wine caps like to interact with roots of plants but I don’t know this authoritatively.
hau Eric, yes you can take portions of that first bed and start new beds (you can do this with any species).
If the wine caps mycelium is present, then the hyphae will seek out plant roots (wine caps are one of the exo (external wrapping) mycorrhizae), this is a great thing and one of the best reasons to grow them.
Wine caps are also one of the major players in the extensive fungal network, in the woods they rarely give off flushes because there usually isn't enough detritus for them to colonize thick enough to give off fruits.
Again, thanks very much. That bit of information is extremely helpful and adds considerably to my (admittedly limited) understanding of fungi and how they work. I already knew that wine caps were ravenous decomposers, but I did not know (but I did suspect) that they established a relationship with roots of plants.
This relationship with roots only adds to my reasons to have the wine caps in the garden in the first place. Given that the weeds I pulled out were clearly intertwined with hyphae, I suppose that this bed is ready for direct seeding, at least in the highly decomposed center section.
Thanks again Redhawk, you are truly a great asset here on Permies.
Sounds like a standard description of the healthy part of the colony 'running'.
Seeking new substrate for a satellite colony via rhizomorphs.
If the temperature and moisture were different, the colony may have chosen fruiting as a method of expansion.
If it looks like spawn, its spawn, but the really decomposed material won't have the active runners which jumpstart-inoculate a new pile.
Colonies can digest material and run away at high speeds - it's good to always be ready with more materials at the outer edges.
Examine your lifestyle, multiply it by 7.7 billion other ego-monkeys with similar desires and query whether that global impact is conscionable.
About two weeks ago my daughter and I poked about 300 inoculated peas into the loose, friable compost bed in the hopes that the legumes will fix nitrogen into my mushroom super bedding mix. Today the weather is beautiful, bright and sunny and just a little cool--perfect for peas, so went out to check to see if I had any peas coming up. There were peas!! Woo Hoo!! I did not count the number, but there were several little pea plants, mostly under 1 inch tall coming up all over the bed, both in my well decomposed center strip and along the outer edge that has more obvious signs of active hyphae growth.
With a little luck there will be pea vines crawling all over the bed shortly adding their nitrogen both via their roots and by their own green foliage eventually rotting down.
I just got back from weeding a part of my chip bed and every time I pulled up a weed (mostly grass) the roots were absolutely riddled with strands of fungus. It still amazes me that 10 years ago I would have seen this as a sign of disease and not a sign of health.
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