Thanks to some suggestions to make the decomposition quicken/progress over winter, I took my first actions in the chip pile in months. I decided to use the human-urine-as-compost-accelerator-approach. My initial plan was to dig a hole near the top and fill with used rabbit and hamster bedding that is piled nearby. I went ahead and peeled off the top foot or so of the wood chips (they were frozen into a solid crust), and below that top portion the chips were cool but not frozen. Further, these chips were quite dark as you can see from the pictures. 8 months ago these chips were a bright white/blonde so some significant decomposition has already taken place, though the pile has a lot further to go. I decided to forgo the bedding addition as it looks like there was ample microbial action in the pile already.
For the last 2 days I had been peeing into a 2 1/2 gallon cat litter jug. I got about a gallon of urine and I added about 1 gallon more of lukewarm water to give it more volume (and a bit of heat to keep it from freezing immediately after pouring in). Finally I covered up the top of the pile. I plan to repeat this action several more times.
To be clear, I am not expecting to see any major decomposition any time soon as I know that it is winter and therefore cold. Rather, I thought I might just boost the microbial action a bit with the added N and when the pile does heat up as the weather turns warmer, I will be one step ahead and not have to be thinking constantly "is it time to worry about decomposing chips yet?"
Given that I live in Southern Illinois, winter is a hit-or-miss affair, and despite some freezing temperatures and even a little snow in the beginning of December, we have had about 3 weeks of rain and temperatures between about 40 to 60 degrees.
Though I do not (and would not expect to) see any mushrooms in my chip bed at this time of year, I just checked on it while walking the dog and the bed was moist and sponge-like, almost like the chips are thoroughly rotting after all. Moreover, as this bed grew tomatoes in fertile holes of manure last summer, I can plainly see that the chip bed has dropped about 1-2 inches. The old fertile holes are now fertile mounds that protrude up about 2 inches where the old tomatoes were planted. During summer the bed was perfectly level.
I think this indicates decay, and judging from the chip-level drop, it seems like it has dropped more that when I last posted about a month ago. Is it possible that the wine cap mycelia have continued doing their job over these last wet, cool weeks? Given I had the dog, I could not really dig in to get a better perspective, but I can get out soon, dig in and get some pictures back.
Please let me know your thoughts. This fungi project has me bursting with anticipation.
This time I went out with a hand rake and no dog. I dug into the top few inches of the wood chips and about 1/4 are thoroughly colonized by strands of white mycelia. All of the chips are dark and crumbly and while wood chips are still present, they are outnumbered by the much smaller crumbly looking material all around each larger chip.
As of right now, the consistency of the mulch looks perfect for planting and while planting season is still 3-4 months out at the earliest, is this material ready for planting yet? Certainly it will get better with time, but it feels like a good planting medium, almost like peat moss.
Would the medium need NPK amendments or would the mycelia provide their own nitrogen? I am giving serious consideration to planting legumes to help with fertility (I really should have done this in fall, but I can do this with my next beds).
Where I grew tomatoes last year I am planning on growing summer squash, probably in the same fertile holes where the tomatoes grew. I also thought I would grow beans to fix nitrogen. Redhawk has given me some suggestions about getting bacteria into the mix and I will be doing this shortly. I have also been advised to add urine for fertility and to feed bacteria.
So my end questions are:
1) would urine harm the mycelia? I would think that some dilute urine would be fine but I don’t know this for certain.
2) is there anything else I can do in the meantime to speed along the decomposition process or help add general fertility?
Thanks so much in advance. Prior to 8 months ago I would never have thought about deliberately using mushrooms as a compost agent, nor using mushroom compost as a growing medium. Thanks to everyone who helped make this pie-in-the-sky idea a reality.
This thread has evolved dramatically since I first started it. I am now a lot more familiar with fungi than I was just months before and I think I have done my garden a lot of good by adding the wood chip and mushroom compost. Thanks so very much to all those who helped me, guided me away from using 10-10-10 for composting and for generally encouraged me along the way.
I still have some questions as were stated in the last two posts I have made. The first question is basically "is this composted enough that I could direct seed into?" The material is dark, smells earthy and is spongy. It feels so much better than it did even just a few months ago when I last posted pictures. The weather has been nearly perfect for fungi--cool but not cold, wet and very, very gray skies.
My second question is about adding anything to increase the bacterial count. I will take Redhawk's suggestion and add the rice/spoiled milk mixture, but I was wondering about adding my own dilute urine (perhaps with molasses) as well. I have heard mixed information about nitrogen. Too much and it seems to hurt the fungi, but some is necessary for the bacteria and even some is needed for fungi? Do I have this about right?
I am asking now because I want to take action early in anticipation of spring and not wait for spring to come around when it is too late for the early season. I apologize for the out of focus picture, the camera just would not focus on the mycelia strands no matter how hard I tried.
I am attaching these pictures because I think they represent the condition of the bed as a whole and show some of my findings.
Picture 1 is simply a picture of the bed for perspective.
Picture 2 is a close up of picture one but dug just under the surface
Picture 3 is sadly out of focus, but does show mycelia
Picture 4 is a picture of the surface that until today has never been disturbed since innoculation
Picture 5 is a close up of picture 4
Picture 6 is a small dug up portion of picture 4 that shows mycelia on my little hand rake
I really look forward to your responses. Optimistically I hope I can direct seed into this material, meaning if today were April and not January, I could just go out and seed right into the chips. If this is not the case, please tell me and help me get this bed into plant-worthy condition.
I should have added this in yesterday but I forgot.
If you look at some of the pictures, there is some grass growing, but I can not tell if this from blown seeds or if it is from seed in the straw on the top. I did pull out one clump of grass that looked like it had developed a root mass in the chips. Today we got our first sunlight in about 10 days and I can see from looking and poking at the material that it is plainly spongy, almost like a whole mass responding to the force of my finger or foot pressing into it and not like the chip pile from a month ago that refused to give way easily to my poking and prodding. Is this indicative that the last 3 weeks of dreary but mild weather have really helped break the material down?
I want to apologize for not getting to this post sooner.
The spongy feel of your heap is caused by 1. fungal hyphae becoming well established (step one in mushroom production) and 2. the lignin breakdown by bacteria which are the food for the mycelium.
I would expect the heap to be fairly well moisturized now that the fungi have become well established. (they tend to hold moisture in place very well.
At this time I would try to not disturb the heap so the hyphae can fully inhabit the heap of wood chips which will cause the breakdown to move along quicker than it has previously.
If you were to make additions at this time items like spent coffee grounds and greens would be the best choices as long as you mix them with something like straw bedding or even hamster litter.
I expect you will get a nice flush of winecaps come late spring.
I would try to hold off on using this heap in gardens until you have gotten that first flush of mushrooms, once you do incorporate it in the gardens, the process will continue there.
We love visitors, that's why we live in a secluded cabin deep in the woods. "Buzzard's Roost (Asnikiye Heca) Farm." Promoting permaculture to save our planet. you can call me Dr. Redhawk
Absolutely no worries about response time and thank you very much for your insight as always.
Glad to hear that you think this is headed in the right direction. I think will mix in some coffee grounds into our growing pile of hamster litter and rabbit bedding (my daughter’s hamster now has a new neighbor --a lion head bunny), maybe even add some of my own urine, mix the whole concoction up and apply it as a layer over the wood chips and cover with straw--once the torrential rains stop.
First off, thanks to everyone who has helped me along with this project. I feel like I have sort of grown up into a Permie by making this mushroom compost. My thanks go out especially to Redhawk, who as we all know is a sage about all things compost and microbial. The good news is that the wood chips have further visibly broken down from just a couple of days age. I really did not think that I would see results in this time span, but the surface of the chips looks more and more like peat moss than a pile of chips. The weird good news is that the little bits of grass on top are growing quite well, I think indicating a good supply of nitrogen.
I don't know if anyone knows the answer to this, but does the wine cap compost provide any nitrogen? Adding some certainly will not be an issue, I just like to use this unusually warm spell this time of year to really promote all things rot and decay in the chip bed.
So I am keeping this thread updated to chronicle the progress of a garden bed going from a literal pile of wood chips to hopefully a highly fertile, productive garden bed that produces a bounty of vegetables and maybe even some mushrooms to boot. I have not posted in the last 3 months or so as the progress in the bed has been very slow and steady--nothing dramatic happening. Among the observations that I can make are the fact that the surface level of the chips continues to drop. I can measure this by comparing the surface level of the chips to the surface level of the topsoil I placed in a fertile hole. At the time of putting in the fertile hole, the topsoil actually stopped about 2 inches from the surface of the chips (the topsoil itself was covered with 2 inches of wood chip mulch). By now, the fertile holes are now fertile mounts that protrude perhaps 2-3 inches above the surrounding chips surface.
A second observation that I can see is that the chips in the center of the bed have degraded to the point where they now look like coffee grounds as opposed to chips. The top inch or so still looks like chips that are breaking down, but under that layer, the chips are now looking/feeling like sawdust. Their friability feels perfect for planting and they retain moisture as well.
Apparently I am going to have to weed after all. Several volunteer plants are coming up on their own and look nice and green. This does include a couple of weeds that I am pretty sure are legumes so I am not surprised that these are nice and dark green. However, I do have some volunteer grass that is coming up and it too is dark green and when I pull the grass gently up strands of mycelium are wrapped around the roots. I am encouraged by the fungal activity, but I am curious as to where the nitrogen for the grass came from.
Final observation, and I may have to get a picture for this, is that I have peas growing in the bed. I planted about 300 of them about 2 weeks ago and now I have several that are about an inch or so tall. I am not growing these so much as a crop but rather for putting nitrogen into the chips, both via their roots and by having their vines rot down after they die back this summer. Just to be extra scrupulous about the nitrogen, I am planning on following the peas with beans this summer.
At any rate, this is an update to the thread to chart its progress. With a little luck, this summer I will be growing summer squash where the tomatoes grew last year and I intend to plant some leafy greens into the chips soon.
Thanks to all who have offered up input and advice on this project. I was going to use 10-10-10 to accelerate decomposition, but I am really pleased that I went with biology over chemistry.
I am keeping this thread periodically updated as circumstances develop in order to chart progress for anyone trying a similar project. It has been about 3 weeks since my last post and at that time I had no mushrooms. Starting about 2 weeks ago I got my first baby wine cap in a small cluster of about 4 mushrooms. Since that time, the mushrooms have been growing exponentially. It is somewhat odd to look at the garden bed now as it appears that about every two days I get another flush of mushrooms that literally spring to life overnight. I mean this in the very literal sense--I checked the bed last night and many of the mushrooms that are plainly visible this morning were simply not there yesterday evening. Some of these mushrooms are absolutely huge! I got a picture of one mushroom that was larger than my hand with fingers outstretched. I would estimate that most of the mushrooms are about the size of the palm of my hand (I do have large hands, so in the pictures you can get an idea of the scale).
I have tried a couple of the very few mushrooms that I caught while still small and they have a nutty-woody taste, not unlike a portabella, but perhaps a bit woodier. I am enclosing pictures from this morning just so that you can get an idea of the sheer size of the mushrooms and the fast rate at which they grow. Additionally, I am not the only one who thinks that the mushrooms are tasty as something in my garden keeps eating the mushrooms! That is alright by me as my main purpose is the mushroom compost underneath the surface. When I started this project I was terribly nervous about things not working out. Really, all I needed was time and more patience. I am planning on inoculating three more beds soon at which point I will be done buying wine cap mushrooms as if I ever want any more for any reason, I will simply dig up some of the mushroom compost I already have.
I will continue to add chips to the surface as the fungi are clearly eating through much of the volume.
And again, I am enthusiastic about the appearance of mushrooms mostly for the fact that the mycelia have done a very thorough job of breaking down my wood chips into some very nice garden bedding. This whole enterprise was an attempt to make my own gardening "soil" (perhaps bedding is the right word, I am not exactly certain). I am attaching some pictures to show just how many mushrooms are popping up all over the bed. I will continue to update as major changes take place.
I am keeping track of these in the hopes that this record might be of help to someone else who is trying wine cap mushrooms for the first time. I have learned a tremendous amount of information from these forums and if I can pay it forward, so much the better,
If you open the box, you will find Heisenberg strangling Shrodenger's cat. And waving this tiny ad: