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Herbicide Removal with Mushrooms

 
Dominic Muren
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In Paul's most recent podcast, he and Bill are lamenting the herbicides that have been sprayed on Bill's property. Paul offered a few options for remediating the problem -- but most involved tilling to UV-degrade the chemicals, or adding additional soil in the form of sheet mulch in order to dilute the chemicals.

A third option is advocated by Paul Stemets -- using mushroom-inoculated mulch as a source of enzymes which digest the long-chain organic molecules which make up the herbicides.

This is not totally insane. In fact, in Mycelium running, Paul relates anecdotally some studies which were carried out feeding diesel-soaked dirt to oyster mushrooms to clean up an old parking lot. Other more recent examples of mushrooms eating organic molecules are here:
http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/this-could-be-big-abc-news/more-mere-magic-mushrooms-154207424.html
and here:
http://www.realitysandwich.com/intelligence_mushrooms_environmental_restoration

There have actually been extensive studies carried out in the scientific literature on mushroom's (usually oyster) ability to break down environmental toxins. One example, using atrazine, is discussed here:
http://www.appalachianfeet.com/2010/03/02/how-to-use-mushrooms-to-get-rid-of-atrazine-and-spare-male-frogs-from-castration/

paul stamets's strategy is simple: spread 1 inch of fresh wood chips over the site of the contamination. Wet well. Spread grain spawn, sawdust spawn, or myceliated straw or cardboard over the chips. Then cover with 3 inches of further wood chips. Don't go too deep, because the mycelium need oxygen.

Over the next 2-4 years, the mushrooms will grow through the wood chips, digesting them, and sweating digestive enzymes from their hyphae, which will then wash into the soil, where they will attack the organic molecules of the herbicide.

Be careful not to seat the mushrooms from these contaminated areas, since they will take up the herbicide into their tissue before they digest it. Also, double-check whatever mushroom species you use to see if it accumulates heavy metals, since fields with lead, selenium, or other minerals can be concentrated in the mushroom fruits.

Mycelium Running is an amazing book to get started with, and has a huge number of potentially awesome ideas for permies.
 
Isaac Hill
gardener
Posts: 356
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
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Stamets is one of my personal heroes and I rank him high in the list of geniuses/innovators... the stuff that he's working on has the potential to completely change the way we live.
 
Lori Crouch
Posts: 104
Location: Amarillo, TX.
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What is done with the mushrooms after they have grown and soaked up all these toxins? Can they be kept on site and composted or will that just re-leach the toxins back into the soil. Would you then have to dispose of them at a land fill?
 
Max Kennedy
Posts: 480
Location: Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada
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They don't soak up the toxins, they break them down into innocuous compounds so there is no disposal problems. Though they are safe to eat, based on extensive analysis, when I was in the field the mushrooms were ground up and fed to the final vermicomposting stage and so just became that much more good soil. Not sure what current practices are.
 
Lori Crouch
Posts: 104
Location: Amarillo, TX.
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Awesome! Thanks for the reply. There doesn't seem to be any reason NOT to use mushrooms!
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 20430
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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The magic ingredient here is: do they do anything with aminopyralid, clopyralid and/or picloram?

I think it is possible/probable that oyster mushrooms can break down other stuff and ignore these.
 
Max Kennedy
Posts: 480
Location: Kirkland Lake, Ontario, Canada
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Don't know about those compounds. would be interesting to do such a study.
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