Grow Mushrooms on Your Jeans. Seriously.
Thinking about getting rid of that pair of worn out jeans? Think again. You could use them to grow mushrooms. That’s right, mushrooms.
Mycologist Tradd Cotter has been experimenting with mushroom cultivation for more than 20 years. Through his ongoing research he has not only discovered the best ways to successfully grow morels but also how to use fungi to help manage invasive species and reduce our dependence on herbicides. How Cotter figured out that mushrooms could be grown on old clothing perfectly illustrates how he’s constantly finding ways to learn from our fungi friends.
In the excerpt below from his book, Organic Mushroom Farming and Mycoremediation, Cotter provides an easy, step-by-step outline of how anyone can grow oyster mushrooms using the unlikeliest of materials – a pair of jeans.
Don’t have a lot of space? Not a problem. Oyster mushrooms are perfect for fruiting indoors and in small spaces. All you need for this fun(gi) project is some clothing scraps, water, a plastic bag or container, and a little mushroom mycelium.
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 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 remediating 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 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
- Soak the clothing in fresh water. The water does not have to be sterile or clean, only free of heavy metals.
- 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.
- 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 container with a few holes.
- 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 colonizing clothing scraps.
- 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 depending 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.
- Once mushrooms begin to appear, which can occur a few days to weeks after colonization depending 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.
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