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cardboard, glass, plastics, food—you are generating.
(This will also help you determine where you can im-
prove consumer packaging decisions, reducing your
plastic and Styrofoam purchases as you shift to pack-
aging that can be put to better use with mushrooms.)
In the United States, an average of 35 percent of home
waste and 60 percent of business waste is suitable for
use as a mushroom growing substrate. Mushrooms
can be grown on toilet and paper towel rolls, egg car-
tons, newspapers, magazines, coffee grounds, tea bags,
old cotton clothing, tissue boxes, shredded paper,
cardboard boxes, and many other common materials.
In addition to yielding a bountiful mushroom harvest,
these products can also be used to expand myce-
lium into a biomass that could conceivably be used
to inoculate larger waste streams or substrates for a
wide spectrum of applications, including composting,
mycoremediation projects, and creating value-added
consumer goods such as insulation or living paper
products, which are made of recycled mushroom
growing media, such as spent oyster mushroom
substrate, that are pressed into forms, and only need
water to begin the composting process.
To recycle and compost with mushrooms, start
by simply identifying your biodegradable waste.
Separate your weekly garbage for a few weeks to de-
termine exactly how much waste of each type—paper,
CHAPTER 1 0
Recycling, Composting,
and Vermicomposting
with Mushrooms
Pizza boxes aren’t usually recyclable due to the oils and food remnants
they contain. Oyster mushrooms, on the other hand, can eat them up
and then fruit, plus produce a beautiful worm composting feedstock after
two flushes.
Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
96
grounds you can expect to produce a few pounds of
beautiful oyster mushrooms a week—at which point
you’ll need to create an oyster mushroom dressing,
sautéing your harvest in a balsamic vinaigrette
and tossing it over fresh greens crumbled with feta
cheese. (Please note: although I have primarily used
this process for cultivating oyster mushrooms, some
European growers have successfully fruited parasols
from coffee grounds.)
Step-by-Step Cultivation
on Cofee Grounds
To begin, you’ll need a container with a lid, a steady
supply of coffee grounds (with or without paper filters),
and grain- or sawdust-based oyster mushroom spawn.
Step 1. Carefully collect the cooled and spent coffee
filter, grounds and all, and place it into the container
faceup. If using a press or strainer just add the grounds
to your container once they are drained well.
Step 2. Massage your mushroom spawn bag to separate
the grain or sawdust into individual bits to maximize
the spreading capability.
Step 3. Sprinkle the mushroom spawn sparingly over
the surface of the coffee grounds. You only need
a small amount. Crack the container lid so it can
breathe. The container can be located anywhere, such
as a kitchen counter, garage, or any other space where
there is indirect light, never direct sun.
Step 4. Add coffee grounds and filters daily, sprinkling
spawn sparingly over each layer as you add more.
After just a few days, mycelium will start to be visible
as white threads growing together.
Step 5. Fill the container almost to the top, leaving just
a few inches of space to make room for developing
mushrooms. When you stop adding filters and coffee,
the mycelium will finish colonizing.
Step 6. Once the container is completely colonized,
expose it to diffuse natural or fluorescent light at
Open your cupboards, look in your refrigerator, and
peek in your cellar for anything you are consistently
producing as waste. Check with local businesses
about the waste they pay to get rid of, and you may
be surprised to find them willing to let you cart off
some of their trash. Dumpsters and other sites where
debris is often piled up on street corners or behind
restaurants and businesses are also great areas for
collecting recyclable debris. Smaller companies that
cannot afford or don’t have the space for a recycling
Dumpster often just flatten boxes and stack them up
for trash removal; those boxes can be gold for a mush-
room cultivation operation.
I try to think of treating my home and life like a
“space bubble,” attempting to minimize the nonrecy-
clable goods I bring in, pretending that landfills do not
exist. Thinking this way involves a shift in conscious-
ness where you start to look at everything available in
terms of its potential to be recycled and its potential as
a cultivation resource. Here are a few of my favorite
mushroom composting and recycling projects.
Cultivating Oyster
Mushrooms on Spent
Coffee Grounds
Cultivating oyster mushrooms on spent coffee grounds
is a simple and enjoyable home activity for all ages,
resulting in some good edible mushrooms to boot. If
your home brewing doesn’t provide enough grounds,
try asking your local coffee shop or roaster if you can
leave a bucket for them to toss their grounds into,
especially if they would otherwise go into the trash. If
you’re not able to inoculate your grounds with spawn
right away, freeze them until you’re ready to do so;
otherwise molds will form within days.
Although the yields you’ll get from this method
are not as high as when you use commercial oyster
mushroom formulas, such as pasteurized wheat
straw or cotton waste, if you factor in the produc-
tion costs, the lower-yield coffee grounds method
becomes as economically viable as the more sophis-
ticated cultivation. If you simply recycle your own
Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms
97
room temperature. (If it gets direct sunlight the my-
celium and mushrooms will dry up and you won’t get
a harvest!) Keep the surface misted lightly and the lid
just cracked, to preserve moisture. If you have filled
a 5-gallon bucket or similar large container, you can
drill 1/2-inch holes around the sides, every 10 inches
or so, where the mushrooms can also emerge, but
you will need to either mist the holes several times a
day indoors or cover the container with a large, clear
bag to make a humidity tent until the primordia have
safely emerged and are no longer at risk of drying out.
Step 7. Two to three weeks after the colonization is
complete, mushrooms should begin to form. Remem-
ber that mushrooms only form when they run out
of food or space, at which point they recharge their
battery and fruit. Baby mushrooms will appear over-
night, so check your buckets at least once a day and
keep the surface misted, though not underwater. The
mushrooms should double in size every day. Harvest
them when the fruitbodies’ growth slows. You may
notice a powdery spore deposit forming underneath
the caps when they are ready to harvest.
Step 8. After you’ve harvested the mushrooms, allow
the mycelium to rest by not watering or adding any
additional growing media, and it may fruit again in a
few weeks. During the rest period no light is needed
if you need to move the container. Soaking the coffee
grounds with a generous amount of water after a few
weeks of resting can help shock the mycelium into
fruiting more prolifically. Once rehydrated, the bio-
mass will respond with additional fruitings.
Step 9. After the second flush, your coffee grounds
substrate will be pretty much spent as a mushroom
growing medium. However, being full of fungal life,
it has now become a living compost starter and can
be mixed into your outdoor compost pile to help
with the decomposition, or you can use it to inoc-
ulate cardboard cultures (see chapter 12). Worms
also love this spent media, so adding the grounds
to your vermicomposting bin could possibly start a
worm revolution.
Oyster mushrooms fruiting on spent coffee grounds and filters in a
1-gallon container. This cluster stripped away the threading and pushed
off the lid to escape—reminding me who is in charge here.
Oyster mushroom mycelium colonizing spent grounds and filters from a
local coffee shop.
Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
98
Cultivating Mushrooms
on Cardboard
There is cardboard all around us. The only thing
missing is a little water and a mushroom starter cul-
ture, which you can either purchase or make yourself
(from the coffee cultivation system above, if you like).
This method is best for fruiting oyster mushrooms, but
it works well as an expansion method for generating
pounds of mycelium from other wood-loving sapro-
phytes. (See chapter 12 for information on isolating
and expanding spawn on cardboard.)
Step-by-Step Cultivation on Cardboard
Step 1. Locate a large box or bin in which you can stack
sheets of cardboard. A plastic bin will work best, help-
ing to maintain humidity and promoting mushroom
formation only on the inner top layer of cardboard. As
a last resort you can use a cardboard box as a container;
you will need to water it more often, since cardboard
is prone to drying out, and mushrooms may form all
over the outside, which can reduce your overall yields.
Step 2. Stack all of your cardboard in the bin, and add
enough water to cover it. Let the cardboard soak until
completely saturated. This may take an hour or so.
After soaking, drain the excess water (into your gar-
den) and remove the soaked cardboard from the bin.
Step 3. Layer the bottom of the bin with a few sheets
of cardboard, then sprinkle a small amount of spawn
across the surface. Repeat, layering cardboard and
spawn,until the container is full.
Step 4. Set a lid on top of the bin, leaving it just
cracked open, or lay a plastic bag over it. You want the
cardboard inside to remain humid but also to allow it
to breathe.
Step 5. Monitor the moisture level inside the bin. You
want to keep the cardboard moist but not too wet. If it
happens to dry out, you can soak the mass overnight
and pour out the excess water the next day. Most
A few weeks after spawning, inspect the cardboard to see if it is ready
to expand further.
Sprinkle spawn onto soaked cardboard to create a mother culture that can be
expanded almost indefinitely into additional cardboard and cofee grounds.
Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms
99
fluorescent light at room temperature. Keep the lid
just cracked, and mist the surface and any holes reg-
ularly. Mushrooms will fruit, most of the time at least
twice, and you can then use the spent waste as spawn
or you can compost it for an excellent soil amend-
ment. Following complete colonization, it can take
several weeks to fruit mushrooms—typically slower
than commercial fruiting media, such as pasturized
agricultural waste. Still, the easy low-tech approach is
a winner when no other options are present.
Cultivating Mushrooms
on Clothing
I started growing mushrooms on clothes when I
first became interested in mycoremediation of waste
dyes and pigments. There was a textile mill near our
farm that manufactured denim for the production
mycelium colonize best at a warmer temperature,
between 65 and 85°F (18–30°C). Once the bin and
cardboard is fully colonized and completely white,
you have created a mother culture of cardboard
spawn capable of making many more.
Step 6. At this stage, you can expand the mycelium
in new bins; just separate the layers of spawned card-
board and shuffle them into additional layers of fresh
cardboard in new bins. Or you can leave it alone to
fruit. Fruiting will usually occur around the perimeter
of the bin. You may also consider drilling 1/2-inch holes
every 8 to 10 inches around the bin. These holes can
provide ventilation and a site where mushrooms can
emerge, but you’ll have to mist them several times a
day to keep the primordia from drying out.
Step 7. Once the growing medium in the bin is com-
pletely colonized, expose the bin to diffuse natural or
Spawning a pair of jeans. After inoculating the jeans with spawn, roll up each pant leg and let the pants sit for several weeks to allow the mycelium time
to colonize. At that point, you can either leave it to fruit or unroll the pant legs and layer them with additional clothing to further expand the mycelium.
Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
100
at the decolorization process, but what I learned is
that old cotton clothing can support fruiting oyster
mushrooms. (This could be potentially valuable
survival information for anyone directly impacted
by a natural disaster, where there is a huge amount
of debris, but food is scarce.) Old cotton shirts, bits
of rugs, hemp and sisal rope—any material composed
of natural plant fibers, including cotton, hemp, and
bamboo, can be used to cultivate mushrooms. It only
needs water and a bit of oyster mushroom mycelium
to get started.
Step-by-Step Cultivation on Clothing
Step 1. Soak the clothing in fresh water. The water does
not have to be sterile or clean, only free of heavy metals.
Step 2. Flatten the clothing on a surface. Sprinkle the
mushroom starter culture over the surface sparingly.
Remember, more spawn will speed the process, not
necessarily produce more mushrooms.
of jeans and other clothing. My wife Olga and I
went to the mill one day and were greeted by a few
friendly folks. I told them I was interested in remedi-
ating the indigo carmine they were allowed to release
into the waterway based on EPA daily allowable
standards. They looked at me a bit nervously, as if I
were a whistle-blowing undercover environmentalist;
picking up on that, I quickly told them about my
mycoremediation research and passions. The man I
was speaking to happened to be the owner, and he
was excited to hear about the prospect of lessening
the mill’s environmental impact. The following week
I decided to grow mushrooms on old jeans to see if
they could decolorize the indigo carmine that makes
them blue.
My first experiment was a success, with oyster
mushrooms colonizing and fruiting very well on old
cotton jeans, but the decolorization of the indigo
carmine that I expected was not evident. Turkey tail
mushrooms and a few other species are more efficient
White oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) fruiting on old jeans. Scraps of unused or unwearable cotton clothing can be collected and used to
produce edible protein in just a few weeks.
Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms
101
a great way to manage the end product of your culti-
vation efforts. In this way, your mushrooms can reach
their full yield potential while also producing a rich
and valuable compost.
Spent mushroom growing medium is essentially
fully colonized with mycelium, a worm’s favorite
natural food source. The sweet-smelling metabolites
in the spent medium lure worms from afar to make
a home and breed in the nutrient-rich substrate. Red
composting worms, also known as red wigglers, are
vertical migrators, which are the best option for my-
covermicomposting because they are able to penetrate
every cubic inch of the growing medium. Earthworms
are less effective because they tend to compost hor-
izontally, at the soil level where the fresh medium
meets the old, operating in a very thin layer. You can
find commercially raised composting worms online,
or you may be able to find them from local worm
farmers. If you have trouble finding the worms, it’s
possible to collect and raise worms that are native to
your area. Although they may not be as efficient as red
wigglers, it’s better than not having any worms at all.
Although spent mushroom substrate or myce lium-
colonized cardboard is a superfood for worms, there is
a missing component that is critical for worm health
and for your composting success. Worms need fine
sand or grit to process the food they eat, grinding it
Step 3. Roll the clothing tightly, or if you have more
than one article of clothing, stack it in spawned layers.
Place the clothing in a plastic bag or an enclosed con-
tainer with a few holes.
Step 4. Check the moisture content of the clothing
every few days during colonization to make sure the
fabric does not dry out; mist or water it as needed.
Room temperature or cooler is perfectly fine for colo-
nizing clothing scraps.
Step 5. When the entire mass of clothing seems to have
been completely colonized by the mycelium, increase
ventilation by adding more holes or cracking the lid
of the container, but not enough that the clothing
will quickly dry out. Keep the surfaces misted slightly
to induce mushroom formation. The colonization
process can vary from one to two weeks depend-
ing on how much spawn you use. At this point the
mushrooms are not interested in fruiting so no light is
needed to promote primordia formation.
Step 6. Once mushrooms begin to appear, which can
occur a few days to weeks after colonization depend-
ing on temperatures and spawn amount used, they
will double in size every day. Mist as frequently as
needed to keep the mushrooms from drying out at a
young state. When the mushrooms stop growing, they
are ready to harvest.
Mycovermicomposting
Composting with worms, known as vermicompost-
ing, is a lucrative business, providing worms for bait
shops, feed for chickens and other poultry, and some
of the best compost additives for creating organic soil
amendments that recharge and revive soils. Worm
castings are, ounce for ounce, one of the best and most
effective natural fertilizers you can use, and they can
easily be generated on home waste, including spent
mushroom growing substrate. Since the end result of
mushroom cultivation is the creation of soil, and since
red composting worms (Eisenia fetida) are extremely
fond of mushroom mycelia, mycovermicomposting is
This sign says it all. For a worm, spent mushroom substrate is where the
party is at. “Have Wine Caps, Will Travel!”
Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
102
The “last gasp,” or effort to fruit after multiple flushes, by these little white oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) just before we add them, substrate
and all, to our worm composting bins.
The worms quickly invade the entire pile, feeding on the sweet mushroom mycelium and growing medium.
Recycling, Composting, and Vermicomposting with Mushrooms
103
Mycovermicomposting
with Spent Columns
If you’re cultivating mushrooms in colums, when your
substrate is spent and your mushrooms are no longer
fruiting, there’s no reason to slice open the columns
and discard the spent growing substrate. Introduce
some red wigglers, and let the worms migrate from
up in their gizzard much as birds do. A small amount
of your native soil mixed in with the substrate or
cardboard will improve the health of the worms and
thereby the speed the rate at which they produce
castings. Using your native soil can also supply a dose
of beneficial microbes that the worms’ gut bacteria
need, giving your worm castings rich, beneficial
properties. Worm castings are loaded with beneficial
microbes that perform essential functions for plants.
A seedling selects the beneficial bacteria it needs,
and those bacteria form a symbiotic biofilm on the
plant’s developing root system. The plant responds
by cultivating the bacteria, allowing them to multiply
and spread with the growing root system for the en-
tire life of the plant. Using native soil for your worm
composting additive ensures that the many symbiotic
nuances are preserved and perpetuated throughout
your operation.
This is the same pile eight weeks later. If you don’t turn the compost, your substrate will be fully composted into worm castings in about three to
four months.
reversi ng
Mi crobi aL deserTs
Synthetic fertilizers are killing our soil mi-
crobes. When presented with the choice be-
tween synthetic and organic compounds, plants
will opt for the synthetic, since they do not
have to reciprocate any energy loss as a trade.
With the synthetic fertilizer as its “fast food”
source, the plants roots are no longer nterested
in forming a lifelong relationship with soil mi-
crobes, which include bacteria and mycorrhizal
fungi. The root systems then become microbial
deserts, and once the temporary fix of synthetic
fertilizer is consumed and gone, the sterile soil
has lost connection with the plant host and can
offer no support. Then the cultivator must re-
apply fertilizer, making matters worse. On the
other hand, when you remove synthetic fertil-
izers and provide your garden a more complex
source of nutrition such as worm castings, it
helps to restore the relationship among plants,
bacteria, and fungi, allowing the soil to return
its natural state of balance.
Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation
104
the plant openings, directing water from the biofilter
into the columns. Arrange the columns at a downward
angle to drain. Recapture the excess irrigation water
at the lower end, and either route the effluent back
through the filtration system or use it to drip-irrigate
yet another level of crops.
Mycovermicomposting in Pots or Bins
Worm composting is also compatible with a mush-
room cultivation operation using nursery pots—with
no modification needed. In fact, commercial myco-
vermiculture systems are essentially themselves a
series of nursery pots. Nursery pots have holes in the
bottom, which allow worms to migrate, so you can
simply introduce composting worms to pots of spent
growing medium and then stack them, placing a tray
at the bottom to keep the worms from escaping. (You
could do the same with any stackable containers, so
long as they have holes in their bottom.) Make sure
there is adequate bright light and even some dappled
sunlight to keep the worms from wanting to crawl
out and away. Add newly spent pots every few weeks
to the top and remove the bottom ones, which will
be filled with worm compost and castings. Once the
worms have exhausted the resources of one pot, they’ll
migrate to the new food source, so you’ll want to time
the addition of new pots with the worms’ progress
through existing media. When the substrate in the
pots with worms looks like finely ground wet soil,
add another pot on top. This encourages the worms
to migrate, which takes just a few days. As a bonus,
this means that when you remove the bottom pots
and harvest the worm castings, you don’t even have
to sift out the worms, making this system a potentially
flawlessly flowing addition to your cultivation efforts.
hole to hole. If you stack the columns, eventually all
of the columns will be threaded through with a worm
population that is composting the spent media in situ.
Mycovermicomposting combines two stages of han-
dling—removing the spent substrate and composting
it—into one, which reduces your work and simplifies
your operation.
Then the spent column can even double (actually,
triple!) as a planter. Six to eight weeks after introduc-
ing the composting worms, plant the columns with
vegetables and herbs, inserting rooted plugs or start-
ers, for a bonus crop of edibles. You can then recycle
the dried vegetative waste back into your mushroom
production system.
You can even incorporate the columns into a hy-
droponic system. Add drip irrigation emitters along
Once oyster columns are finished fruiting, you can lay them down and
introduce red wiggler worms to the holes. In six to eight weeks, you can
add rooted plant starters, such as these sweet potato vines, which will fill
the column with potatoes, making the harvest extremely easy!