The Power of Mushrooms
By Maura Bobbitt
Mushrooms often don’t get the credit they deserve. They are curiosities that appear as if by magic after a rainstorm or show up on a downed log in the forest. The mushrooms you find to eat at the grocery store like buttons, shitakes, and portobellos are only the smallest fraction of the culinary delights of the fungi kingdom.
On September 4th, the Cibolo is proud to host Louis San Miguel of Mycobuddy for a hands-on workshop on how to cultivate mushrooms in your own home. Attendees of the class will each make an Oystery Mushroom Kit to take home with them. These forgiving mushrooms are a great option for beginners, and require very little care. Within just a couple of weeks, you will be enjoying your own homegrown oyster mushrooms.
We will also learn a second method of mushroom cultivation using logs. We will inoculate logs with mushroom plugs as a group. This method does not yield a harvest as quickly, but it will continue to produce mushrooms for years to come. These mushroom logs will be set out at the Teaching Garden at Herff Farm.
Apart from being tasty morsels, mushrooms are also performing an indispensable service for the earth and the ecosystem as a whole. Together with bacteria and invertebrates, fungi serve as the “FBI”: the decomposers of dead organic matter.
Decomposition might not be at the forefront of your mind, but it’s incredibly important. Without out this process, we wouldn’t have soil as a growing medium, and old trees and fallen leaves would simply pile up on each other ad infinitum. Decomposers break down organic matter into building blocks that humans, plants, and animals can then use to grow and thrive.
The mushrooms you buy at the grocery store are only the tiniest fraction of the organism as well. The part you see above ground is called the fruiting body, and wherever you see a fruiting body, there is a vast network of mycelium underground. These white threads, or hyphae, act as a network that spread underground to find nutrients like nitrogen, carbon, potassium, and other elements needed for the mushroom to grow.
Mycelium networks don’t only provide this service for themselves, however. They also can act as a sort of internet for the forest, setting up lines of communication between the trees. Trees can then send sugars and other nutrients through the mycelium to other trees on their network that might be struggling.
While the fossil record is quite spotty, it is believed that fungi have been around for around 1 billion years. In fact, around 400 million years ago, when plants were relatively new to the scene, gigantic mushroom spires dotted the earth’s surface, reaching heights of up to 24 feet. They predate both humans and land plants. Come join us at the Herff Farm Teaching Barn to learn about the role that mushrooms play in the ecosystem and start cultivating them at home!