Mycelium Running by Paul Stamets

By Dr. Markho Rafael

The best-selling book on "popular mycology," Mycelium Running, would be a useful reference book in every home, especially to anyone involved in farming (or gardening), forest management and environmental cleanup. The second half of the book is an instruction manual on growing delectable mushrooms for food and medicine.

Mycelium Running is filled to the brim with useful tips on things such as using mushrooms to improve soils and boost productivity in forestry and farming (gardening) with decreased use of expensive fertilizers and pesticides; filtering waste-water (mycofiltration); and clean up toxic waste from the land (mycoremediation).

For example, an easy do-it-yourself method of creating a mycofiltration bed for filtering waste water is delineated in detail. Recommended materials are listed along with suggested mushroom species to use and the ideal dimensions of the bed. In Stamets' examples, these mycofiltration beds are used to effectively filter and neutralize farm runoff but they could also be used to filter industrial waste water.

Added perks when using mycofiltration is that the beds also yield crops of scrumptious food mushrooms, and every 2-3 years, as the bedding material needs to be replaced, the old material can be spread on the farm fields as a rich fertilizer.

Benefits of no-till farming are described in terms of how it supports saprophytic soil fungi, which in turn help protect the soil from erosion as well as break down organic matter at a rate that is better paced to benefit plant life than if the stubble were to be plowed under and broken down by anaerobic bacteria.

In addition to helping decompose and recycle organic matter, saprophytic fungi can also help forestry by protecting its tree residents from parasitic fungi (blights), which may kill thousands of trees if left unchecked. Seeding saprophytic fungi in a productive forest may help out-compete parasitic fungi, thus functioning as natural fungicides; good fungi vs. bad fungi.

Mycorrhizal mushrooms can also be seeded to support the forest, or they may simply be encouraged to grow naturally by using more enlightened methods of forest management.

Mycorrhizal fungi help extend the reach of tree roots to better absorb nutrients and water, thus making the trees healthier and more drought resistant. Mycorrhizal fungi also manufacture and provide trees with natural antibiotics against many pathogens, especially parasitic fungi.

Mushroom mycelium can also be utilized to clean up toxic waste sites through a method known as mycoremediation. The term was invented by the author of Mycelium Running, Paul Stamets, but was in common use before the publication of this book.

Petrochemicals and biological warfare agents can be effectively broken down by mushroom mycelium, as can dioxin and toxic industrial waste. Even toxic levels of chlorine, which is used as the universal biocide, can be neutralized by some species of mushrooms. Bacterial contaminants like Staphylococcus sp. and E. coli can be killed, and heavy metals can be absorbed by mushrooms to then be removed from a site.

Mycoremediation has also been shown to be the most economical method of cleaning up toxic waste sites, up to 95% cheaper than some common conventional methods.

This plethora of information is merely the first half of this 300-page tome. Part III, which makes up the second half of the book, is an instruction manual on how to cultivate your own mushroom mycelium, which can be used for the above listed purposes, or to grow your own medicinal or culinary mushrooms. And seriously, who doesn't love gourmet mushrooms? In other words, this is a reference book for every household. - 29857

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