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Mycoremediation: fixing contamination with mushrooms  RSS feed

 
John Elliott
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For those of you who don't want to trip over a 7-syllable word, here are 6: fixing stuff with mushrooms. I want to start this thread to be a Q&A about chemical and biological contamination problems and what are quick and easy ways to tackle them using fungi local to your area. Anywhere plant matter is decomposing, you can find fungi. Generally, they will get around to decomposing the problem that you have, but there are ways you can greatly speed the process up instead of just waiting for the right spores to blow in.

I first broached this subject in another thread on contaminated grass clippings, but I think it needs more exposure so that it can become a regular tool in the permaculture tool box. The first thing I do when I get a load of wood chips from a tree service company is inoculate it with locally collected fungi. I don't have much of a compost pile, just a little 3'x3'x3' box for the kitchen scraps and the grass clippings, I rely on piles of wood chips heavily inoculated with mushrooms to do most of my recycling and build my soil biology.

If you are still hesitant, listen to the master (paul stamets) describe what can be done:


But you don't have to have a PhD in mycology to use these techniques, just like you don't have to have a PhD in agronomy to practice no-till. So bring your problems here and let's figure out how to use fungi to solve them. I will keep kicking this thread to the top by periodically featuring common mushrooms that you may come across and can use in building your permaculture.

 
David Hartley
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All politics aside... This reminds me of the golf spill a few years ago. The "stuff" they dumped into the water was WAAAY more toxic than the crude oil (which breaks down into lush fertilizer)... They could have used an isolate of oyster mushroom (from Paul Stamets) to catalyst the breakdown across the shoreline.
 
John Elliott
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David, don't get me started. When that spill happened, I sent letters to my Congressman, Senators, and Obama. I contacted EPA Region 4 and asked them what they were going to do about it, did they need contractors with mycoremediation experience. I went down to Mobile to attend a symposium on clean-up that was put on by EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. I contacted county officials in areas where the tar balls were washing up. I sent my suggestions in to the BP information desk. I contacted universities in the area and spoke with researchers in bioremediation. I spent a good 3 months trying to sell the idea of mycoremediation, and didn't get anywhere with it.

Why? Because BP is a private company and it knows best what to do when it comes to oil. And what is best to do is to cover up the problem as expeditiously as possible and start a PR campaign that everything is fine, come on down and enjoy the beaches.

Grrrr

Which is why I come here, to an audience that I hope will be far more receptive to the idea.
 
M Mitchell
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In the discussion on bioremediation on the "composting contaminated grass clippings" thread, John says this:

"Now, how do you do this on your lawn? Here is a reasonable plan of attack: (1) get a truckload of mulch that contains lots of tannins. Oak leaves would be perfect, what you want to avoid is actual structural wood like pine logs or lumber or wood shavings or newspaper, those things are all cellulose."

My question: how important is it that the leaves in this step have a high tannin level? I'd love to try this, but I don't have access to oak leaves. The rest of your instructions I get, but the tannin part gives me pause.

I'd post this on the "composting contaminated lawn clippings" thread, but it seems to have gone from a discussion of bioremediation back to "it can't be done, we're doomed" and/or "this is how to test your compost to tell if it has picloram and the like."

 
John Elliott
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Miss Mitchell wrote:In the discussion on bioremediation on the "composting contaminated grass clippings" thread, John says this:

"Now, how do you do this on your lawn? Here is a reasonable plan of attack: (1) get a truckload of mulch that contains lots of tannins. Oak leaves would be perfect, what you want to avoid is actual structural wood like pine logs or lumber or wood shavings or newspaper, those things are all cellulose."

My question: how important is it that the leaves in this step have a high tannin level? I'd love to try this, but I don't have access to oak leaves. The rest of your instructions I get, but the tannin part gives me pause.



Good question. I am using tannins here as an indicator of lignin. Lignin is the component of biomass that is randomly polymerized organic molecules and that randomness makes it resistant to bacterial decay. It is the complement to cellulose, a repeating polymer that can be broken down by many microorganisms, including fungi. But only fungi have evolved the enzymes necessary to break down lignin, and these enzymes will also break down new man-made chemical compounds that have no other natural mechanisms of decomposition. Bacteria and protozoans have no idea what to do with a chlorinated molecule, they can't break it down; but the peroxidases given off by fungi will attack the carbon-chlorine bond and move it along to CO2 and chloride ion.

What else has lignin and how can you test for it? Look for the brown color. Cellulose is white, lignin is brown. Cotton and paper are 99.99% cellulose, they are white. Tea leaves, bark mulch, coffee grounds, their brown color indicates the presence of lignin. If you get a truckload of mulch from a tree trimming service, you are getting a mix of cellulose and lignin. If it has a lot of leaves, pine needles, bark, roots, twigs, pine cones, seed pods, etc., the mix is going to be heavy on the lignin. If it is thick branches and chipped up trunks, it is going to be heavy on the cellulose part.

By selecting some lignin rich starting material, we can favor the growth of white-rot fungi. They eat the browns (lignin) and leave the cellulose (white).
 
John Elliott
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Had enough rain yet? Here in Augusta, we had just shy of 11" of rain in June; last month we had only 2.25". This is climate change for you, it's not just about the world getting warmer, precipitation patterns are changing. More and longer dry spells, punctuated by a couple weeks of seemingly continual rain.

But on the bright side, mushroom collecting is excellent! I've been out every day for the last three days with my bucket. Boletes and russulas and laccarias, a couple odd Agaricus, Amanitas of all size, shape and color (all with their ring and volvulus to tell you they are poisonous), chanterelles and others trying to fake being a chanterelle. Why is it that the most prized for eating, the red chanterelle, is the smallest one in my bucket?

Well no matter, I'm not going to cook up any of these, I have a different plan in mind. I am adding some biochar and water to the bucket and using an immersion blender to make an inoculation solution. Sometimes I season the soup with a little peat moss or manure tea or potato peels to enrich the media, but I'm still experimenting, looking for the right recipe. All the fruit trees are getting a cup of soup, and the blueberry bushes, and the kiwi vines, and the.....oh what am I rattling on for, it goes on everything.

Mycology is not as developed a science as, say chemistry. Chemists can not only tell you what chemical reaction is occurring, they can go on in detail about concentration effects. Mycologist are still discovering new species of mushroom and are so busy with the descriptive science, that they haven't yet gotten to studying the effects of population, i.e., spore count and mycelial mass. Some studies will report results like "we observed a reduction of pollutant X by Y percent over an incubation period of Z days". Good stuff to know, but the database of X, Y, and Z has a lot of empty spaces waiting to be filled in.

Next time you see a mushroom, pick it up and take it home. Identify it. Find out where it will help in your permaculture. Blend it up to make some inoculation medium and apply it where it will do some good.
 
Angelika Maier
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Mushrooms are very important in the ecosystem, so please take care not to harvest too much. For inoculation maybe one or two would be enough? I am no mycologist, better said I have no idea. I only harvest what I eat and try to inoculate the garden with small parts of the stem which I would discard anyway.
Back to the topic: I always wonder if mushrooms are so great in sweeping up toxins are they toxic waste after sweeping up? For example they take up a lot of
radiation and it is still not advisable to eat European mushrooms. Or do the mushroom break the heavy metals, radioactive elements and other poisons down?
 
John Elliott
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so please take care not to harvest too much.... I only harvest what I eat and try to inoculate the garden with small parts of the stem which I would discard anyway.


You're not really helping the fungus as much as you could by being so timid. Mushrooms need help from animals to spread their spores far and wide. If you step on one while you are walking in the forest, spores will be spread with every step you take. If you shred it to pieces and cast those bits over a large area, that's more area that the spores can colonize. Fungal spores can even pass through an animal's digestive system and remain viable (unless they got cooked). Think of how a truffle propagates; the spore-body for this fungus is completely underground. It is dependent on burrowing animals (or pigs) to take a bite out of it and travel some distance away before they pass the spores.

A mushroom has a lot in common with an acorn. On their own, neither one can travel very far from their parent. But with the help of animals, they can go a lot farther. And while one oak tree may produce thousands of acorns, of which few will survive to grow into an adult tree, a mushroom can produce millions, even billions of spores, each one capable of growing into an adult mycelium if it finds the right conditions.

I always wonder if mushrooms are so great in sweeping up toxins are they toxic waste after sweeping up? For example they take up a lot of
radiation and it is still not advisable to eat European mushrooms. Or do the mushroom break the heavy metals, radioactive elements and other poisons down?


Elements are called that because they can't be broken down. Some elements we need (N,P,K) and so we look for these in fertilizers and try to keep them cycling in the environment . Others, like heavy metals, can accumulate to problem levels. At that point, if there is a plant or a fungus that bioaccumulates it, that plant or fungus is going to be toxic. But this is still beneficial, because you can collect them up along with their accumulated toxic (and/or radioactive) element, and bury them deep, someplace where the geology will keep them out of the biosphere for a long time. There is some scientific study of how to do this type of bioremediation, but a lot more needs to be done and furthermore, put into practice.

 
Logan Simmering
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John Elliott wrote:
Elements are called that because they can't be broken down.


Well, they can be, unfortunately, that's where radioactivity comes from.
 
John Elliott
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Well, they can be, unfortunately, that's where radioactivity comes from.


A newly discovered twist in the science of chemistry. Even radioactive elements, once they have gone through their decay chain, end up as stable elements -- ones that aren't broken down any further. Yet, even for radioactive elements that undergo alpha or beta decay with a measurable half-life, how they are chemically bonded doesn't change their radioactive decay. If it did, radioisotope studies would not be possible.

To get back to the gist of the original question, mushrooms may pick up heavy metals and radioactive elements, and no, they are not going to break them down. What they DO break down are organic molecules, even synthetic organic molecules that man has invented which aren't metabolized by other living organisms, plant, animal, or bacterial.
 
Parker Maynard
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Hello, interesting thread...First thing, why are the few books I've seen on this topic $100+. I've been fascinated with the idea of mycoremediation for years so my instinct has always been to "get the book" but the couple I've found from various sellers are through the roof. Any suggestions for reading material?

Some friends and I recently started a non-profit soil building co-op. Our main project is recieving and composting food waste from a high volume source and hauler...about 40 tons per week. Leaves from deciduous hardwoods make up 98 percent of our carbon source and we mix it 3 to 1 with the food waste which is primarily produce. Conventionally grown produce. We are concerned that the pesticide/herbicides used to grow this produce parent material will persist through the composting process. My first inclination was fungus. Any suggestions on how we could start innoculating a pile and what species we should use to get this research going?

Thanks for sharing your passion and especially the bit about lignins and cellulose.

 
John Elliott
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Parker Maynard wrote: why are the few books I've seen on this topic $100+. I've been fascinated with the idea of mycoremediation for years so my instinct has always been to "get the book" but the couple I've found from various sellers are through the roof. Any suggestions for reading material?


Very esoteric subject matter of a technical nature with a small audience ===> high priced books. Unless you've been trained as a research scientist and have access to a university research library, it makes finding material difficult. However, the Internet has come to the rescue in the form of Google Scholar, where I find a lot of interesting and useful stuff. Some of which finds its way into my posts.

About your specific project, hardwood leaves are an excellent source of media for a fungal culture. Probably have plenty of spores on their surfaces already and all they need is to be piled up and watered for hyphae to start growing. However, there are two things to be careful of: (1) If the leaves start to stick together when wet and form into a clump and the whole mass starts to stink of sulfur, you are getting anaerobic bacterial action, which is not what you want. Things that are rotting by fungal action have an earthy, "mushroomy" (for the obvious reason) smell to them. Your nose really can be a good guide to what kind of microbial action is going on. And (2) check the food waste that you are adding to the pile. If it has any vegetables that are rotting with liquefaction, like leafy vegetables that turn to green goo between your fingers, those are plant pathogens and you want to sterilize those to get rid of the pathogen. You wouldn't want your compost to spread any of them. Here you have to use some discretion; an orange that is green from penicillium mold is perfectly OK to toss in the pile, because there is no orange crop in western PA. However, if you see some rot on a vegetable or tree crop that is grown locally, better to cook it before you add it to the pile.

Any suggestions on how we could start innoculating a pile and what species we should use to get this research going?


Here's a quick and easy way to get some spawn cultures going: Collect up some 2-liter plastic bottles. I like to use the apple juice ones because they have a wider mouth than a soda bottle and they are flat, so you can lay them on their sides and stack them. Sometimes they even come in brown, which is nice because it excludes light (which keeps competing algae from growing). Take a bowl of your media and microwave it with water for a good 6 or 8 minutes, enough for it to come to a good boil. Let it drain in a colander and get rid of all the excess water. Now you can pack it into your plastic bottle, making sure to leave a good bit of airspace, after all, you want your fungi to breathe.

Now it's time to put a piece of mushroom in to inoculate this new media. Any fungi you find growing on a dead piece of wood, could be a stump, could be a fallen log, could be the siding of an abandoned house, these are all saprophytic fungi and most are lignin decomposers. You don't need much, even a piece the size of a fingernail has enough spores to inoculate your bottle. Put it in and shake it aroung to dislodge the spores onto the media and then put the bottle away in the dark to incubate. You don't want to cap the bottle tightly, remember that the fungi has to breathe, so just engage the threads of the cap, or better yet, stuff a wad of cotton in the top.

Every few days, you want to check and see how the bottle is doing. If you can tilt it upside down and liquid drips out, it's too wet and you should let that excess drain out. Otherwise, take a spray bottle and squirt a few shots inside over the rotting mulch. You can even add a teaspoon of ammonia or urine to the water in the spray bottle, the nitrogen will be beneficial to the fungi. In not too many weeks, you should have white hyphae growing all over the media in the bottle. Now the mycelium is at the "plug spawn" stage of growth, and this is where, if your media was a bunch of chopped up dowels, you would package it up for your customers to use for inoculating logs. For your purposes, this is when you want to withdraw some of the media to use to inoculate other piles. You can either dump all of the contents on a new compost pile you want to inoculate, or you can just dump out half and keep the culture going by topping up the bottle with new, sterilized mulch.

Try this method with any wood decomposers you can find on your trips through the forest. You should soon be able to amass a collection of mycelial cultures that you can use for your own mycoremediation experiments. And since the field is so new and unexplored, you might learn something useful in the process.



 
Parker Maynard
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Thanks for explaining the method for propagating mushroom spawn culture. When you say:

Take a bowl of your media and microwave it with water for a good 6 or 8 minutes, enough for it to come to a good boil.


Is it best if I use the drier bagged leaves that have less likelihood of already being thoroughly colonized by bacteria/fungus? Also, is this microwaving process going to stink pretty bad and piss off/gross out my wife? If I wanted to pasteurize (?) more material than can be done in a bowl in the microwave without getting high-tech could I a) boil the media in a large pot over a fire outside or b) use a pressure cooker and quart mason jars?

With regard to the precautions you advised when inoculating the compost pile you wrote:

check the food waste that you are adding to the pile. If it has any vegetables that are rotting with liquefaction, like leafy vegetables that turn to green goo between your fingers, those are plant pathogens and you want to sterilize those to get rid of the pathogen. You wouldn't want your compost to spread any of them.


I'm assuming these pathogenic bacteria are the result of anaerobic conditions in the bins before we receive them. There is definitely a liquefied component to our food waste stock, maybe 5-10%. Some of it is kale and other greens we grow on the farm. "Cooking" this slop in the way you suggested the leaf media is out of the question. Could we treat the slop with lime to alter the pH outside of the range of these bacteria's survival? Any other suggestions for eradicating these pathogens?

My last questions regard the inoculation process...
The first phase of composting is to stockpile the parent material in a proper ratio. This starts with a base layer of woody tree trimmings, wood chips, and course leaf material laid 2-3 feet thick on the ground in a long wind row. The next four days we are receiving the food waste, 10-15 tons a day and laying it on the base material about 18" thick. Each day covering the material with another 1-2 feet of pure hardwood leaves. The next week we repeat the same process on the same pile resulting in a pile approx. 7 feet tall and 12 feet wide. We blend the pile with a backhoe at this point and put an 18" layer of leaves over the pile. During the blending we are busting up clods of leaves and adding moisture if necessary. I'd like to inoculate with spawn at this phase. I'm also thinking we could lay 6-8" perforated pipe through the pile with the ends open to the air and cover the rest of the pile with tarps. Will the darkness provided by the tarps give the spawn a leg up in colonizing the pile? Will the excess heat from the tarp make it harder for the fungus to grow? These are questions I will address with ongoing research. I'm asking these questions based on the assumption you like hypothesizing about this kind of thing. Thanks again for sharing your passion and insight.
 
John Elliott
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Also, is this microwaving process going to stink pretty bad and piss off/gross out my wife? If I wanted to pasteurize (?) more material than can be done in a bowl in the microwave without getting high-tech could I a) boil the media in a large pot over a fire outside or b) use a pressure cooker and quart mason jars?


I recommend that playing with fungi be separate from other household activities; separate blenders, separate microwaves, separate storage areas, it's something you want to do in the garage, better yet, a detached shed. You do it in the house and you never know what spores are going to escape and waft into the kitchen and live on your food in the refrigerator. But the other way around is OK. Any moldy cheese or vegetables, that forgotten Tupperware in the back of the fridge that has green stuff in it -- toss that on your mulch pile.

You bring up some interesting questions in scaling up the size of the operation. Heat sterilization is very effective for small batches of media, but problematic when you are talking about dump truck loads of mulch. When working with large quantities of material, I rely on a large amount of inoculate to overwhelm all the other microbes in the pile. For example, if I get a new load of 10 yards of mulch, and I don't know what nasties might already be present in it, I can blend up say a gallon of turkey tail mushrooms I have collected in 5 gallons of water and throw this all over the pile. Let it wash in real good. That amount of inoculate is going to overwhelm other microbes in the pile, and if they don't kill them outright, they may outcompete them, not leaving any food for other microbes. In the Stamets video where he shows his success with oyster mushrooms, with mushrooms popping out of the pile everywhere, you can guess that he put a LOT of inoculate on that pile.

At the scale you are working, you might want to consider laying some perforated tube, like the kind used for French drains on the bottom where you have your pile. Connect it up to an air pump or a regenerative blower to get some good air flow from the bottom of the pile to the top. Is this going to stink? Well, if it does at first, then you know it is a needed step. If the stink persists after a few hours, then you need a bigger air pump. If you stand 10 yards downwind of the pile, you want to have a natural smell, like a field of cut grass or a cave.

I would recommend not using a tarp on the pile. If the leaves covering the pile can stay in place and don't get blown away, then let the rain fall on it and leach through the pile (and divert the leachate from your pile to the flower garden). Also, if the tarp is heating up the pile, that is detrimental for fungal growth, since it favors more anaerobic bacterial growth. If you have a source of wood chips, that would be the best material to top the pile with, because they won't blow away in the wind.

I'd like to point out another difference here between composting and fungal decomposition. We've all been told how it is necessary to turn your compost, you want to get the bacteria evenly distributed through your compost. That's true for bacteria, but the opposite is true for fungal composting -- leave it alone, let it sit. Let the hyphae grow throughout the pile on their own, they don't need your "help" to grow throughout the pile. If you think you need to help it along, pee in a 5 gallon bucket, fill it up with water, and pour that over the pile for a little added nitrogen.

Is 7 feet too tall for your pile? If the material at the bottom is getting too compacted and has an anaerobic sulfur smell to it, then yes, you have too much weight piled up and you should distribute it out more. When I get a pile of wood chips from the tree trimmers, it's usually about 4' high when the dump truck lays it down. After months of (fungal) composting, it may compact down a few inches, but not much. And if I dig down to the bottom of the pile, like when I am getting a load of mulch for the garden, I find that the material at the bottom has a fine white fuzz (hyphae) all over it --perfect.

 
Parker Maynard
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Microbe Wiki!? are you serious!?... I followed the "contaminated grass clipping" link http://www.permies.com/t/24476/composting/Composting-grass-clippings-treated-lawn#199603 down the rabbit hole which answered many questions I had brewing about this fungal decay/composting synergy we've been discussing. Specifically, which of the saprophytic fungi is the baddest mama-jamma in terms of breaking down lignans?

I like that Phanerochaete chrysosporium leaves behind the cellulose. The heavier woody branches in the pile help keep the pile aerated. After we screen the finished compost we'll toss these bits back in to help keep the pile breathing.

As I started composing this symphony of decomposing movements in my mind...fungal, then bacterial, aerobic and moist etc etc. I realized I was really looking to marry the benefits of leaf mold with the benefits of compost. Seems as though leaf mold is really good stuff in its own right. This thread was really helpful...
http://www.permies.com/t/13602/organic/Leaf-Mold

Just good ol leaves, broken down by the virtues of ubiquitous fungi yield a very pleasant product HIGH in minerals (but relatively low in nutrients N-P-K) that will increase the cation exchange capacity (CEC) of the soil, impart growth accelerating hormonal ques for plants called gibberellins, and improve soil structure among many other great things.

In terms of achieving this hybrid decomposition I think the key is in keeping the ratio of blended food waste and leaves at 3 to 1 or higher and keeping an approx 18” layer of white-rot fungi innoculated leaves over the blended compost pile.

Now, with regard to real life remediation of the persistent herbicides that may lie within the parent material for this compost, whether in the yard waste (mostly leaves) or the food waste...from the thread link above regarding PERSISTANT herbicides...

there are really only two decomposition pathways for this first step: (1) sunlight, which you mentioned in an earlier post, where the UV rays of the sun can break the bond and toss in an oxygen, which then makes it possible to reenter biochemical pathways and (2) cleavage by some oxidative enzyme excreted by a fungus. You already told of the counterproductive aspects of tilling and tilling and tilling, hoping to expose more soil contamination to UV rays. That's really wiping the slate clean before anyone can think of what kind of permaculture they can try to start.


Our plan is to use a manure spreader to cover 3-4 acres of pasture with this compost after running the sickle bar mower through it. After a period of exposure to UV rays (any recommendation as to the time of surface exposure?) we will use a 26” single shank sub-soiler to introduce some of the compost into the subsoil, more evenly distribute water using key-line principles, and begin the reclamation of our strip-mined soils. We'll initially grow grasses, legumes, and tillage radish/turnip here for forage and soil conditioning. THEN, incorporate the cattle and sheep bedding and manure into the composting process.

We have our initial soil tests results but it'll be another 2 months before we have finished compost to test. Penn State can provide this service but I don't know if they are able to test for persistent herbicides. Do you recommend a certain lab?

I'll keep you updated as we see progress.

A million Thank You's for helping me develop a recipe and method for this leaf mold-compost pile project. There's much DOING in front of me.
 
John Elliott
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We have our initial soil tests results but it'll be another 2 months before we have finished compost to test. Penn State can provide this service but I don't know if they are able to test for persistent herbicides. Do you recommend a certain lab?


I was never much into sending samples to the lab. For a good many years, I built instruments for putting out into the field to make remote measurements and log the data. There are portable spectrometers that you can use out in the field, and once you get them set up, you can make all the measurements you want and you are not paying by the sample for an analysis. You might want to look into that if you are concerned about the number and cost of running samples.

The nice thing about such an instrument is that most fungi fluoresce strongly and so you can make a fiber optic probe to stick in your mulch pile and by seeing how much fluorescence is present, you can decide if you need to add some more inoculate.
 
Logan Simmering
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I'm curious, are thre any good examples of field deployment of mycoremediation techniques? Or have attempts at moving beyond the experimental/demostration scale been stymied by the same sort of buracratic resistance that John Elliot mentioned regarding his attempts to help with the BP spill?
 
John Elliott
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Logan Simmering wrote:I'm curious, are thre any good examples of field deployment of mycoremediation techniques? Or have attempts at moving beyond the experimental/demostration scale been stymied by the same sort of buracratic resistance that John Elliot mentioned regarding his attempts to help with the BP spill?


I try to keep up on this, looking for people and projects, but they are few and far between. Stamets seems to make more money running his fungi perfecti business than he does doing mycoremediation out in the field. I'll bet he has stories to tell that are frustrating and disheartening. But I think we have to keep at it. Maybe after people have tried all the things that don't work, they will decide to take a risk on something that does.
 
Uwe Wiedemann
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John Elliott wrote:
I always wonder if mushrooms are so great in sweeping up toxins are they toxic waste after sweeping up? For example they take up a lot of
radiation and it is still not advisable to eat European mushrooms. Or do the mushroom break the heavy metals, radioactive elements and other poisons down?


Elements are called that because they can't be broken down. Some elements we need (N,P,K) and so we look for these in fertilizers and try to keep them cycling in the environment . Others, like heavy metals, can accumulate to problem levels. At that point, if there is a plant or a fungus that bioaccumulates it, that plant or fungus is going to be toxic.



I heard something different from a professor in ecology and a mycological society: It's right that fungi take up heavy metals, but these are bound and not available from passing our digestive tract. Mushrooms contain a lot of indigestible substance, which passes right through. That also means, the radioactive elements, if they are there, pass through (they are heavy metals). The danger with radioactive isotopes is, when they are deposited somewhere in the body. The danger from having a few isotopes passing through is very little compared to a long term exposure. I have collected and eaten mushrooms from the woods every year since Chernobyl and I don't feel any negative effects. I think this fear of mushrooms, 2000 km away from Chernobyl, is and was from the beginning WAY unrealistic.

I wonder about something else: Fungi can break down organic matter like oil. So, what happens, when they grow on areas with high levels of herbicides or other organic toxins, like besides a road? It might well be, that they break these also down and are perfectly edible, just like Paul Stamets' oysters growing on the oil slush.
 
John Elliott
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I wonder about something else: Fungi can break down organic matter like oil. So, what happens, when they grow on areas with high levels of herbicides or other organic toxins, like besides a road? It might well be, that they break these also down and are perfectly edible, just like Paul Stamets' oysters growing on the oil slush.


Let me point out the difference between eating a mushroom and eating a tuna. When you eat a tuna, you are eating all the other fish that the tuna has consumed in its lifetime. All the organic molecules that those fish couldn't process, but accumulated in their tissues, accumulate in the flesh of the tuna. And they are available for you to accumulate as well. A mat of fungal hyphae, on the contrary, exudes digestive enzymes that break down organic molecules and then the cells of the fungi absorb the nutrients. Sometimes they pick up the odd heavy metal atom here or there, but as you say, they bind it and it is not made available to you when you eat it. What they don't pick up are undigested organic molecules like herbicides and pesticides. Pretty much the only way you are going to find herbicide or pesticide on a mushroom is if it was sprayed after it emerged from the ground.
 
Uwe Wiedemann
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John Elliott wrote:

What they don't pick up are undigested organic molecules like herbicides and pesticides. Pretty much the only way you are going to find herbicide or pesticide on a mushroom is if it was sprayed after it emerged from the ground.


This would mean, they are still edible - great! How well is this investigated? I can imagine, that it differs between the mushroom species and the various contaminants.
When they don't pick up such molecules from the ground, and most mushrooms grow so fast that there is not much time to deposit a lot on them, even mushrooms from alongside a road or a sprayed field should be ok...
 
John Elliott
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How well is this investigated? I can imagine, that it differs between the mushroom species and the various contaminants.


There's this interesting paper that looks at uptake of metals in a number of fungal genera. Unfortunately, it is all done by AA analysis, so we don't have any idea how the metals are bound in the mushroom and what their bioavailability is. Still they go on the assumption that it is bioavailable and go on to calculate how much exposure someone might get by eating them.

Here's another paper that studies uptake of 7 metals. What I find interesting is the metals that fungi actively take up and the ones they leave alone. They seem to like cadmium (toxic to animals) and leave the iron alone (which is essential to those organisms that make hemoglobin). Then there is copper, which some mushrooms will pick up and is an essential micronutrient mineral for animals.

And lastly, there's this paper which is another study showing that while mushrooms may incorporate metals, they mostly break down organic molecules and incorporate very little of those pesticides/herbicides in their tissues.

What I didn't come across in this short bit of research is what the mushrooms are doing with the Cd. Presumably, if they have a mechanism to reject Fe and pick up Cd, there is some reason that it evolved; some enzyme they are making with the Cd or some way they use it. I guess that is a research question for another day.
 
Uwe Wiedemann
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John, thank you for the papers, these are also interesting. But how about organic contaminants, is there similar research?
 
David Hartley
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Taken from Mycelium Running:





I want to say that Trametes versicolor (Turkey Tail) uptakes aluminium; but I'm not 100% sure on that off-hand.
 
John Elliott
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That chart is enough to make you swear off of boletus edulis. Be very sure you collect edibles from a clean, clean place.
 
diana todd
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what if we cannot find or see and fungi on our land? Is it there and I just do not know what I am looking for? Our acreage is in North East Texas bordering the drought areas. It is very dry here ponds are drying up.
 
John Elliott
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diana todd wrote: what if we cannot find or see and fungi on our land? Is it there and I just do not know what I am looking for? Our acreage is in North East Texas bordering the drought areas. It is very dry here ponds are drying up.


One of my tricks is to go mushroom hunting at the mall. Yes, the mall with acres and acres of blacktop for parking cars. The mall here in Augusta has poor landscaping practices where they overmulch the trees (pile it up 1' high around the trunk) and then they overwater them. They are too lazy to look at the plants and see how much water they need, so they just put it all on sprinklers that are on a timer. I doubt they even think to reset the times on the sprinklers if it's been raining steady for two weeks. Consequently, with all this mulch and all this water, there are mushrooms popping up under the few shade trees in the parking lot all the time.

Just grab those mushrooms and put them through the blender and apply them to your problem areas.

In answer to your question, the fungi are still in the soil, despite the drought. They may be dormant now, but before they went dormant, they sporulated and left spores in the soil that are waiting for the next rains to soak the soil. Since fungi can sporulate, they have no concept of time and have far more patience than any human. Our task as permaculturists is to get them to learn how to punch a clock, work day in and day out. In order to do that, we have to create the conditions for them to grow. Number one condition for fungal growth is humidity. That's why the mall with their daily watering cycle is so conducive to getting mushrooms to grow.

Any live oaks growing on your property? If so, they probably already have mycorrhizae growing on the roots and if you kept them mulched and watered, they could be good sources of fungi.
 
John Elliott
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Speaking of live oaks, I have to share what I found on a live oak stump in downtown Augusta:



The Chinese know this as "lingzhi", the Japanese as "reishi", and the scientists put it in the genus Ganoderma. It falls in the category of white-rot fungi, meaning that it metabolizes lignin, and in doing so is capable of digesting all manner of toxic organic molecules that man has polluted the biosphere with.

Should you find one of these, you can (a) put it in the soup pot and simmer it until you have a nasty tasting broth -- medicine! or (b) put it through the blender with some water and use it as inoculate for a mycoremediation project. I'm much more familiar with how to use it in the latter application; I still have a lot of reading to do to learn about the medicinal properties of this little treasure.
 
Ben Plummer
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Paul Stamets has an article in this month's Permaculture Magazine about cleaning up radioactive contamination with mycoremediation.
 
John Elliott
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Ben Plummer wrote:Paul Stamets has an article in this month's Permaculture Magazine about cleaning up radioactive contamination with mycoremediation.


Excellent article, until you get to step 8. You don't need to separately incinerate them, dehydrated mushroom can be fed directly into the vitrifier or shoved into a radwaste barrel. In fact, leaving the mushroom cells intact but dessicated probably isolates the Cs-137 better than having it in friable ash.

Only problem with this technique is you need a forest type environment. In desert places like Los Alamos, you're never going to have enough water to get decent growth of fungi. But there are other ways to uptake a radioisotope. Jimson weed is native to the Los Alamos area and has quite a healthy appetite for radioisotopes.
 
Ella-J Jade
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Hi all,

I am a Msc student in sustainable agriculture and food security. I very recently found out about Mycoremediation, and find it absolutely fascinating: I would very much like to make it my research paper's (thesis) subject. I don't know much about it yet, as I litterally heard about it a few weeks ago (I only just started my Msc)! I don't know yet exactly what I'll be looking at, but I'll do a review paper, and a research paper. For my research, I'd like to conduct some experiments to back up my thesis. I've already spoke to my lecturer, who thinks it is a fascinating idea, but that I have to know what the timescale would be.

For the experiments, I want to test the effects of the fungus on contaminated soil; however I only have about 13 months to complete my research... Will this be enough time to collect data and study the benefits on the contaminated soil? I've had a look around but haven't found a timescale yet.

If anyone here could help, I would appreciate it very much!
 
John Elliott
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Welcome to Permies, Ella!

Many of these mycoremediation projects take place on the order of weeks, so it's reasonable to plan one for your research. As I have mentioned up-thread, mycoremediation is not really suitable for heavy metal contamination, and in that regard is just like other types of remediation where you end up with a biomass accumulator that you still have to dispose of somehow. Mycoremediation is better suited for organic compounds that can be broken down by the enzymatic action of the mycelium such as herbicides, pesticides, PCBs, and hydrocarbon pollution.

A very fine review of the technology is 'Mycoremediation: Fungal Bioremediation' by Harbahan Singh, who works for EPA Region 4 in Atlanta. Google books has extensive excerpts of it here.

Do you have a contaminated soils problem locally that you can study? That would make your work more applied than creating a demonstration experiment where you deliberately contaminate some soil and show how it can be cleaned up.
 
Ella-J Jade
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Wow, I wasn't expecting such a quick answer! Thank you very much John, this is golden information- i'll have a look at the book, we might have it in our library.
I am hoping to find a suitable polluted area on which I can base my reaserch. I might have to do it under lab conditions if for some reason I am not able to find a suitable area, but hopefully it won't be the case So glad I found this place, it'll be very useful to me.
Also please excuse any errors, english isn't my mother tongue!
 
Andy Cook
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Hi John,

Here is the list I've received for the biocides used at my current school:Roundup, Beta Cyfluthrin, Bromadiolone Country Chlorpyrifos 500, Cypermethrin, Solfac. I have the data sheets for the last 5.

The school already has the compost bins. . .The vegetation from the school grounds is being collected and thrown away.

The school is in southern India.

Ironically, I was asked to be a member of the Health & Safety Committee soon after arriving at the school. Before my first meeting I had observed one of the workers spraying a section of lawn (no protection, wearing flip-flops). At my first meeting I asked the corporate representative what was being sprayed, and was told Roundup. . . . As the blood drained from my face I asked for a list of all pesticides. I got the list just this week.


Thanks,

Andy

 
John Elliott
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Hi Andy,

That's quite a list, even given that Solfac and Cyfluthrin are essentially the same thing. What is it that you intend to do? Wean the groundskeepers at the school off of toxic chemicals? Or are you afraid the chemicals are making their way through the compost bins and onto vegetable crops?

Some of the ones on your list are resistant to bacterial degradation, which means that they are not going to get broken down in a bacterially dominated compost heap. You'll have to cool the compost heap down by adding a lot of brown materials and inoculate it with some fungi to get fungal dominated decomposition, which will break them down. What kind of mushrooms are available in the local area to use as inoculants?
 
Andy Cook
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The compost project has not started yet. The Elementary Principal asked me to get it going since parents were asking about it. My reply was the school can't in good conscience involve the students in handling biocide ridden material, and then sell it to the parents as "lovely compost".

The immediate goal would be to start teaching the school admin, students and parents about mycoremediation. I have been in India for just three months, and it is my first time living in the tropics. Therefore I'm not familiar with the ecology. That being said, I'm pretty sure I could find some mushrooms in the area. Early last month I led the Biology students on a fieldwork trip to the rainforest of the Western Ghats. The forest was full of shelf mushrooms growing from fallen trees and limbs. We are still in the northeastern monsoon season, so finding some locally shouldn't be to hard. The students would love to be involved.

The longer term goal is to turn the school grounds into a permaculture demonstration site. The project can be integrated many ways into the curriculum; dye and fiber plants researched, planted and used in the Visual Arts, concepts of community and conflict in Humanities, soil ecology and chemistry, maths, physics etc. . . An integrated education that takes students out of discrete disciplines and classrooms separated by age and subject, and into a permaculture-centered community model.







 
John Elliott
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Andy Cook wrote: Early last month I led the Biology students on a fieldwork trip to the rainforest of the Western Ghats. The forest was full of shelf mushrooms growing from fallen trees and limbs. We are still in the northeastern monsoon season, so finding some locally shouldn't be to hard. The students would love to be involved.



I would suggest going back with a rucksack and getting samples of the shelf mushrooms. You might even find some Ganoderma, like the picture upthread. Shelf fungi, since they grow on trunks and big pieces of wood, are usually white-rot fungi since they need to be able to use all the lignin in their food source. Being able to degrade lignin means that the mushroom is going to be able to decompose all the problem chemicals in your list. If you inoculate your compost piles with these fungi and let them sit for a few weeks, then it will be lovely compost and your conscience need not trouble you.

You can also make the field trip a mushroom identification lesson. If you need help identifying what you collect, MushroomExpert.com is a good place to start.
 
Andy Cook
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Thanks John, I'll find the 'shrooms a little closer to home though. It is an 8-10 hour train/bus trip back to the Ghats.

 
Adam Buchler
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John Elliott wrote:Had enough rain yet? Here in Augusta, we had just shy of 11" of rain in June; last month we had only 2.25". This is climate change for you, it's not just about the world getting warmer, precipitation patterns are changing. More and longer dry spells, punctuated by a couple weeks of seemingly continual rain.

But on the bright side, mushroom collecting is excellent! I've been out every day for the last three days with my bucket. Boletes and russulas and laccarias, a couple odd Agaricus, Amanitas of all size, shape and color (all with their ring and volvulus to tell you they are poisonous), chanterelles and others trying to fake being a chanterelle. Why is it that the most prized for eating, the red chanterelle, is the smallest one in my bucket?

Well no matter, I'm not going to cook up any of these, I have a different plan in mind. I am adding some biochar and water to the bucket and using an immersion blender to make an inoculation solution. Sometimes I season the soup with a little peat moss or manure tea or potato peels to enrich the media, but I'm still experimenting, looking for the right recipe. All the fruit trees are getting a cup of soup, and the blueberry bushes, and the kiwi vines, and the.....oh what am I rattling on for, it goes on everything.

Mycology is not as developed a science as, say chemistry. Chemists can not only tell you what chemical reaction is occurring, they can go on in detail about concentration effects. Mycologist are still discovering new species of mushroom and are so busy with the descriptive science, that they haven't yet gotten to studying the effects of population, i.e., spore count and mycelial mass. Some studies will report results like "we observed a reduction of pollutant X by Y percent over an incubation period of Z days". Good stuff to know, but the database of X, Y, and Z has a lot of empty spaces waiting to be filled in.

Next time you see a mushroom, pick it up and take it home. Identify it. Find out where it will help in your permaculture. Blend it up to make some inoculation medium and apply it where it will do some good.
John this is a little off topic but if I want to speed up the decomposition of some leaf mold can I just pick some local mushrooms and put them in a blender with water and then dump that on my pile of leaves? Is it really that easy to make a fungal inoculate?
 
John Elliott
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Adam Buchler wrote: Is it really that easy to make a fungal inoculate?


Yes, it is. The only hard part is knowing which mushrooms to toss in the blender. The most common mushrooms you buy in the store are Agaricus bisporus and they are not the best because they are primarily cowshit mushrooms. They will decompose leaves, but other species will do it faster. Like oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus Ostreatus), which are a little less common, but usually carried in the higher end grocery stores.

If you are out and about looking for mushrooms, keep your eyes open for the ones that pop up under oak trees after a heavy rain. Oak trees host lots of mycorrhizal fungi, and those are the kind of fungi you want to be mulching your plants with. After they have broken down the leaf litter, they will take up residence on the plant roots and continue to feed them.
 
I agree. Here's the link: http://stoves2.com
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