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winecaps / king stropharia - pits and compost

 
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Location: Louisville, KY - Zone 6b (near border of 6a), Heat Zone 7, Urban habitat
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I have two pits that are about a cubic yard each that were filled with chunks of red grandis, mahogany, sapele, and poplar (all from wood shop scraps from a friend) and the interstices filled by a large amount of poplar shavings. They have been going for about 2 full years now. They were covered by a wire cage and the cage covered by heavy burlap coffee bags for shade. In early 2019 I saw 3 mushrooms but that has been it. I checked the mix late summer 2019 and could smell and see mycelium throughout the shavings but the wood hasn't been softened much. The slower processing of chunks I expected. So I'm trying to be patient with those but I am eyeballing those spaces for rhubarb beds if mushroom spawn doesn't work out. I would rather keep the beds if I could kick-start them somehow. I have to buy poplar shavings so I don't want to continue if it's a waste.

We are near the end of leaf-gathering season here. This makes the backbone of our compost all year so we gather heavily. I have also been getting spent cracked grains from a local microbrew.The spent grains need covering almost immediately as they start to hot compost within a day.

In order to vary the output a bit I want to use winecap spawn as a test on a couple of bins. I layer leaves, spent grain, and other kitchen inputs. I also get SCOBY trimmings, lavender, tea, and other spent items from a local kombucha manufacturer about once every week or two as brewing has been irregular this year. Can winecap spawn make use of stuff like lavender waste, SCOBY, etc?

If I add the refrigerated spawn I have, how detrimental are the two extremes between compost and freezing winter air?

Anyway, the purpose for the current spawn was to aid in the processing leaves as the primary motivation and if some mushrooms manifest, so much the better.

I usually have too much composting to be turning piles so I'm hoping to see some way of addressing static piles that helps with breakdown. Other leaves go straight onto beds for the winter. In spring, anything not processed usually becomes mulch, gets buried, or moved somewhere so as not to interrupt or smother new growth.

So, thus far my two mushroom pits have been lackluster in performace. Now I want to try it in the compost bins on the North side of the house.

Any thoughts?
 
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I live in a region where fungal decomposition dominates. The mushroom fruiting is triggered by a sudden change in the environment. Different mushrooms, different triggers.

I'll go foraging a few days after a heavy rain, or when fall comes and the humid weather suddenly turns cool and humidity drops away.

You might have a situation where the spot is too stable. Maybe try triggering them into fruiting by heavily watering them in the heat of summer.

Alternatively, use these pits as a source of mycelium to inoculate areas all over your property. some will take, some will not. And some will probably fruit like crazy which means that is where they like it most.
 
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Hi Echo!

I love talking all things Wine Caps.  I personally find Wine Cap mushroom compost to be about the most amazing garden material available.

I could go into giving you a few pointers, but it would be helpful first if if you could give me some basic geography information.  I don’t want to pry into personal details and I totally respect your privacy, but if you could give me some basic regional information, average highs and lows, rain levels, etc. it would be helpful.  Wine Caps are perhaps the easiest mushroom to grow but they do have their own requirements and they can sometimes be finicky.  I was expecting more from mine last season, but I guess we will have to wait till next spring.

Anyways, if you can get that basic information, maybe I can help diagnose the problem with you and better yet, find a workable solution.

Eric
 
echo minarosa
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Eric:

I'm in Louisville, KY - Zone 6b (near border of 6a), Heat Zone 7, Urban habitat. It is very similar to southern IL. When I say urban, I mean that, not suburban. Roughly 45" annual precipitation. Hot summers, lots of sun. I've had to use supplemental watering during the hot summers for the last 5 growing seasons. When the pits look like they may dry, they get some water as well. For specifics:

https://www.weather.gov/lmk/clisdf

BTW, those summer temp averages are low compared to the last 10 years.

Today the high was about 50F. I took a temperature probe to the beds and compost piles. The temp on all of the beds in which I buried spent grain within the last month was about that of the air. The compost bins varied a bit but after the first few inches ran between 90-120F.

The pits have not had the wood chunks broken down but have slumped another 4" in the last few months. In the past when that happened, I added poplar shavings to about 4" over ground level.

BTW, I forgot to add that where the climate data is collected in the link above, they are a few miles away and outside our heat island we have over the urban area.
 
echo minarosa
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Nick:

You might be right on the stability. But when we do get heavy rains, the pits get every bit of it.

My compost bins are on the North side so they will get a little less rain and a LOT less brutal sun.

I have not tried using the matrix from the pits anywhere else yet as I wasn't sure they were doing much. They aren't turning the wood chunks punky and have had plenty of time now.
 
Eric Hanson
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Echo,

So urban heat island aside, you really are not all that different than me.

The reason I ask is that temperature and moisture play important roles.  I can’t quite tell from your post, but does your wood pile have contact with the ground?  Wine Caps really like to have some contact with the soil.  If you don’t have soil contact, perhaps you could add a little soil to the wood just to convince the Wine Caps that they are having soil contact as Wine Caps like some soil contact.

The wood described should break down with Wine Caps—not much does not.  That poplar should really decay quickly.  But the presence of large chunks might make decomposition take longer.  If you dig in, do you find white threads running throughout?  If so, the fungus is doing it’s job but probably is not done yet.  Fungi won’t produce a mushroom until after they have consumed their food.  After consuming the wood the fungi push up mushrooms in a desperate attempt to spread by spores that will spread by wind and maybe land on something else to eat.  If there are threads but still plenty of I decomposed wood, the fungi are not done doing their job.

If you are not seeing any threads, I would check for moisture and sunlight.  Wine Caps want moist wood and grow in a place with filtered sunlight.  Wine Caps are odd in that they don’t want total darkness.

Other thoughts are to add nitrogen.  I would think about coffee grounds, but some mixed in grass clippings would probably work as well.

I could go on, but these would be my starting place.  Check for white strands.  Check for moisture.  Check for sunlight.  Consider adding some nitrogen.

If these steps are fruitless, please let me know and we can brainstorm again.  Also, pictures help.

Eric
 
Eric Hanson
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Echo,

I thought I would add that although I love making garden beds made of wood chips broken down by Wine Caps, sometimes I get stumped as to when and why an apparently perfectly prepared bed goes through at least some decomposition but does not produce mushrooms, even after a year.

Right now I have a bed I prepared two years ago that I was positively CERTAIN would produce mushrooms this last spring.  None appeared.  Personally I grow Wine Caps for their compost first and I do have some good mushroom compost, but I am a bit flummoxed as to why I have not seen any mushrooms.  Granted, I did not pay especially close attention to the garden bed this last summer and we did have something of a drought—the heat and dry weather might well have set back some fungal growth.  But I have not given up.  I plan to add in some fresh chips, perhaps add some coffee grounds for nitrogen and might even add in some molasses to kickstart the fungi.

My point is that sometimes Wine Caps have a mind of their own.  Eventually the conditions will be correct and then the Wine Caps will be unstoppable.  Frankly, growing Wine Caps has made me a more patient person.

Eric
 
echo minarosa
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I've scraped together a few photos.

Today I used a fork to peel back existing burlap at ground level and show matrix within. There are a fair number of worms. You can smell the mycelium. Wood chunks are still hard and don't seem to have been colonized...or at least they've been very slow to colonize. I can add yet another bale of poplar shavings but that seems to be the only part breaking down. Note the lighter colored poplar shavings. They were deposited in October 2019.

StrophariaPits-20180603.jpg
The pits were dug June 3, 2018. The final dig was deeper than shown here. It's wet because I used a hose to blow the dirt off of the grass.
The pits were dug June 3, 2018. The final dig was deeper than shown here. It's wet because I used a hose to blow the dirt off of the grass.
StrophariaPits-20180619.jpg
This shot is June 19, 2018. The pits were staked and covered with heavy burlap coffee bags to provide shade. I wet them frequently for cooling in hot weather.
This shot is June 19, 2018. The pits were staked and covered with heavy burlap coffee bags to provide shade. I wet them frequently for cooling in hot weather.
StrophariaPit1-202001.jpg
This shot of bed 1 was taken January 1, 2021. Uncovered burlap and forked out a bit. Still smells like mycelium.
This shot of bed 1 was taken January 1, 2021. Uncovered burlap and forked out a bit. Still smells like mycelium.
StrophariaPit2-202001.jpg
This shot of bed 2 was taken January 1, 2021. Uncovered burlap and forked out a bit. Still smells like mycelium.
This shot of bed 2 was taken January 1, 2021. Uncovered burlap and forked out a bit. Still smells like mycelium.
 
Eric Hanson
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Very nice Echo!

I had not thought of covering with burlap but I might consider something similar going forward.  Personally I grow Stropharia for the compost first and the actual mushrooms as a secondary goal, but I do get really excited when I see a nice flush of mushrooms pop up.  Your wetted burlap idea might be a better way to go about this than I am presently using.

Again, nice job!

Eric
 
echo minarosa
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I am interested in both mushroom composting AND actually getting mushrooms. These pits were for mushrooms but I have a block of spawn in the fridge that I am thinking about spreading into the compost bins...again for both. I don't need huge marketable quantities of mushrooms but a fair amount now and then wouldn't hurt. I would like to process the compost piles a bit quicker. I don't turn the compost. Too much work and the tasking triage around here puts it low on the list.

I was also hoping the breakdown of the wood chunks would have shown more progress by now.
 
Eric Hanson
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Echo,

In my case, all of my beds are raised beds filled with wood chips.  The wood chips are decayed by Wine Cap mushrooms.  My experience with Wine Caps is that there are no mushrooms for 11 months.  Then for one month there are more mushrooms than you can possibly use.  But the compost is magically fertile.  In fact I add in no additional fertilizer or additives to my beds, only the biology of the fungi plus some occasional chop-and-drop comfrey.  Last summer I grew bumper crops of tomatoes that had roots only in wood chips about 10” deep.

But like you, I too love actually getting the mushrooms.

Eric
 
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Mine have been setup for 6 months now. I got precisely 2 mushrooms over the summer. Loved the flavour, fortunately. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that you "11 months" holds true.

I'd like to innoculate some more areas, now that my initial beds seem well established. Any tips on how to do that without setting back the existing beds too badly, or potentially interfering with the fruiting?
 
echo minarosa
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I did seed in some fresh coffee grounds with the spawn when I first inoculated both beds. I have added nothing but poplar shavings, burlap, and water since.
 
Eric Hanson
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Michael,

I would not try to spread fungi until it has had at least one good fruiting.  After that I think you can spread them safely, especially if you see mycelium running through the chips.

Also, for what it’s worth, if you got any mushrooms at all this year you did better than I did my first year.  I had high hopes my first year that I would get mushrooms by fall.  However, fall came and went and I had no Wine Caps.  It was not till just over a year that I got my first actual mushroom, and then they came with a vengeance for a month.

Last year I had two more beds inoculated and I had every reason to expect actual mushrooms in those beds—I even got mycelial ribbons in one bed—but I got no actual mushrooms.  In the other, first bed, I did get a nice flush of mushrooms but in the half I did not inoculate—the mycelia spread that far.

So good luck to you.  A lot of the eventual success depends highly upon the weather and mine seem to love wet, cloudy, cool spring weather.  Congratulations on at least getting those two mushrooms!

Eric
 
echo minarosa
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I am wondering if I actually should add more shavings. If I do, would that just mean more opportunity for mycelium to run thereby putting off fruiting? Or, if not, sensing it is running out of resources, would the mycelium fruit?

Also, if winecaps don't pan out, and don't eat the chunks, would I be able to add oyster spawn and have it take over? Has anyone done that?
 
Eric Hanson
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Echo,

I am pretty certain that the Stropharia will continue to munch its way through whatever medium you you can provide.  Certainly you could add more poplar to the mix, but yes, it may put off fruiting.  I am pretty certain that even if you don’t get fruits anytime soon, you will still be making some great mushroom compost.

If you really wanted to try out oyster mushrooms, I would want to make absolutely certain that the Stropharia are done doing their thing.  If there is any life left in the Stropharia, they will fight with the oyster mushrooms tooth and nail with neither winning out.

I am curious about experimenting with blue oyster mushrooms, but I need to know where to put them as my beds are full of Wine Caps.

Good Luck,

Eric
 
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I try not to step on mushrooms that I have seen mostly in my walking wood chips lanes between my beds.  They showed up mostly in spring.
 
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