Mark is growing mushrooms on his old blue jeans and underwear in the basement…
It all started last year at Christmas, when I gave him Mycelium Running, a book about how mushrooms can save the planet. Parts of it are a little weird—the author refers to mushrooms as the “nervous system” of the planet—but much of it is really interesting. Mushrooms can rehabilitate contaminated soils, soak up heavy metals, and increase the growth of garden plants, among other things. Mark read it, a few pages at a time, for months. Every time we went for a walk, he would stop and examine various fungi, attempting to identify them and lecturing me on tidbits from the book. He ordered a mushroom kit from the author’s website and grew a batch of oyster mushrooms in the Cozy Room, which was pretty cool, but was unable to keep the spores going for another crop. The cardboard base dried out. “Maybe,” he thought, “I need another substrate that will hold water better.” About the same time, his socks started to wear out and he realized that he still had blue jeans that he had brought with him to our relationship. His plan was hatched.
First, he talked Jen, the woman who runs The Mushroomry, the local mushroom booth at the Farmer’s Market. It was slow going. He put out a feeler one week last winter about using cloth to grow mushrooms and she looked intrigued. “Tell her your plan,” I urged from behind two weeks later. He did. She was very intrigued. This fall, they discussed appropriate mushrooms (not all mushroom diets are alike) and she brought in a bag of elm mushroom spawn which he carried home from the market in his old purple backpack.
“First,” Mark announced as he gathered his materials, cutting his ancient jeans into strips, “I need to pasteurize my cloth. I have to boil it for thirty minutes. Do we have a big pot?”
“You can use the canning pot downstairs,” I told him. “It has a lid.”
“Then I need to make sure the tub is clean, so that there’s no competition from mildew to mess up the experiment.”
“Spray the tub with bleach water and let it set for a few hours so that the chlorine dissipates.”
“OK.” He was off. I went to school. When I came home, he was all set up in an old blue tub that once held his red worm composting bin. I looked in. Strips of blue jeans, a black sock, and…something white.
“What’s that?” I asked.
“Oh, just some old underwear I had hanging around. I thought I’d see how it does with mushrooms. The piece I have in the compost is finally starting to break down, so…but look, I mixed the spawn in here and laid some cloth over them. I think I’ll put it in the dining room so it stays warm.” He pushed the tub under the sideboard. After a week or so, mycelium started to appear—white threads and fuzz moving out from the center, slowly covering the cloth. Within two weeks, every piece of cloth had some on it and small bumps started to appear. Mark moved the tub into his basement office and took off the lid. The bumps grew, stretching towards the light, like pale corals, fingers of plant matter reaching upward. “It smells really good in that bin!” he told me one night, “Like mushrooms!”
“I think I have mushrooms started,” Mark announced one evening a week larer. He took a photograph and printed it out to bring to Jen the next day. When we picked up our CSA box at the market, he scooted over to The Mushroomry to announce his success.
Last Friday night, he harvested his first crop and brought it upstairs—about eight cups of mushrooms in my big old yellow bowl. I made Hungarian Mushroom soup out of them and we ate the experiment for dinner. It was tasty. We are still alive. There are still mycelium in the bin, blue jean material covered in white threads….and a compostable Burgerville cup sitting nearby. I think his next plan is to fill the cup with jean strips and spawn and sell them at the Farmer’s Market—eco-friendly mushroom kits for the Green Set…