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The Secret Lives of Fungi (newyorker.com)
107 points by Hooke 12 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 36 comments

My roommate moved out, and we couldn't fill the room in the coronavirus world, so we started a mushroom farm making a couple hundred pound of oysters per week and haven't looked back:


Stamets taught me that one cubic meter of soil has 7 miles of mycelium! I think we have a lot to learn from the digestive tract of nature :)

Make sure you keep a HEPA filter running so you don’t get mushroom lung from the spores. If you’re growing in the hundreds of pounds per week I wouldn’t even go into that room without full PPE.

Yeah thank you -- I have a squirrel box fan pulling 1800 CFM out of the room, but this is a legit risk for sure

Yeah definitely want negative pressure and to make sure the door and any vents are sealed.

I found it amusing that you offer a “mushroom column” rental where you grow oyster mushrooms for others, and they can track progress and eventually receive the fruits of their “labor”. Mushrooms as a Service?

Personally, I think they’re fairly easy to grow so I can’t imagine someone paying others to do so - however I wonder if this idea could work for other types of farming, especially if the user could interact with and adjust parameters for their “column” or plot, and eventually choose when to harvest it.

Think of it as a virtual community farm - where a user can manage a mini-farm and have control over various parameters for their plot: light, humidity, irrigation, etc. They could maybe even get a live stream of their crops, or receive time-lapse updates of progress weekly. Telefarming? Telehydroponics? I could brainstorm a couple other interesting directions to take this...

For 100% metric people, that means 1 cubic metre of soil contains ~11 kilometres of mycelium.

Personally I prefer very-mixed units and contexts, so why not:

61023.7 cubic inches of soil contains 1.97984 nautical leagues of mycelium.

For people outside the USA, the idea of mixed units, or even just the various interpretations of imperial/archaic, I suspect isn't as intrinsically droll as it perhaps is from within a culture that's still trying to work out whether to adopt a basic measurement system in use across 95% of the planet.

However, gripes aside, for fruity measurements you may wish to adopt (read: you may not be aware of, but if you aren't, I suspect you'd approve) the FFF [6] measurement system.

The above relationship would be expressed as 54 furlongs of mycelium per 1.2283533E-7 cubic furlongs. (I think)

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FFF_system

Ha! Nice.

Yes, I wasn’t aware of the FFF system.

I particularly like the fortnight as a unit of time!

I approve! :)

I thought that was funny. Too many fragile egos on HN with no sense of humor.

I`m still counting the inches in a light-year, so the nautical leagues perspective made me giggle a little.

Humour. And we have plenty of it.

No doubt. I`ve come across a few worthwhile perspectives.

Though I observed someone yesterday for the 1st time here that could not form their own conclusion/opinion and was agitated by their incompetence. I agree that the humour is pretty thick sometimes.

I try to find excuses to express density in an area in terms of miles per gallon, but it turns out to be surprisingly difficult.

This seems off by orders of magnitude.

From data (Mycorrhizal Functioning: An Integrative Plant-Fungal Process; Michael Allen) an estimate of 200cm per gram of soil is mentioned. This would translate to 2000m per kilogram and 2.000.000m = 2000km per tonne of soil. A cubic meter of soil should weight on average 2.6g/mL so it would come out even higher at 5200 km per cubic meter.

Just nitpicking :)

Yes! Please see my edit in a response (guess I took too long 'fore HN prevented me from editing op)

That’s very cool. Where did you get the spores? Resources for the whole process?

Agreed! I spend a couple hours a week packing bags basically and have found it as a way to relax.

I read Growing Gourmet and Medicinal Mushrooms by Stamets and subject myself to public shaming on /r/mushroomgrowers, got spawn from North Spore (though there are other several good ones I can recommend if you email me, would probably not recommend going straight to inoculate/spores as you need a more sterile env), bought a fog machine from a mini golf course, racks from home depot, using wood pellets (which come pasteurized as a side effect of pelletization, compared to pasteurizing yourself which is a huge PITA unless you can do it with lime in bulk imho), and a raspberry pi controller to monitor humidity to turn on/off fog machine

Please share more about this! I’ve been thinking about trying this myself, and I’d love to hear more, about both the tech / ops side, and the economic side.

I just ordered a couple of grow kits from you. Cheers!

No way! Nice! Keep me posted on them please :)

Edit: sorry, I mean 7 miles in one INCH^3 of soil!!

Wait really?

That's 4 orders of magnitude difference.

7 miles in an inch cubed... That's insane.

Totally insane. Think about the bandwidth it might be able to support...

If you're interested in mycology, I suggest you watch Fantastic Fungi from last year! It was really cool and had great time lapses!


I found myself not liking the film very much, despite finding parts of it educational and illuminating.

Particularly, I found it really bizarre that it discusses the stoned ape theory without mentioning any of the criticism or prevailing theories against it. The movie just passes it (and most other things Stamets believes) along as unchallenged gospel.

It took me out of it and made the film feel (even more) ideologically one-sided, despite the fact that the film is full of interesting detail otherwise.

My wife is a plant pathologist and mycologist and had a similar opinion: "some interesting bits, is too preachy".

The SAH has always seemed empty to me. If you don't propose an actual mechanism, do you even have a hypothesis?

Yeah it turned weirder and more opinionated towards the end. If you are a die hard tripper/stoner then that must have been delighting, otherwise not so much. Visual side for the first part is stunning though.

Fantastic film. Also recommend the book by the same title, as well as watching almost any of the (Ted) talks by Paul Stamets.

'in 2014 scientists reported that they had grown oyster mushrooms on a substance made from used diapers, reducing their weight and volume by eighty per cent'

This may refer to a study in 2015. [1] Along with Ideonella sakaiensis, bacteria which can also break down PET[2], there seems to be potential for nature to heal the wounds we have inflicted on it.

Can anybody explain what is preventing us from expanding this? According to this article, 'bacteria are far easier to harness for industrial uses'. [3] What limits these solutions to acedemia and studies instead of being used to reduce plastic pollution on a widespread basis?

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26291558

[2] https://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6278/1196

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/16/scientis...

A good rule of thumb is that everything an organism does costs energy. If a bacterium produces the proteins necessary to break down plastic, create gasoline precursors, etc, then it likely paid for that with a reduced ability to defend itself or otherwise compete outside of a sterile environment. The energy/labor cost to maintain that environment for your bioreactor can be cost prohibitive (either in the narrow sense in which you put yourself at a disadvantage because competitors use cheaper strategies or even in the broad sense where, e.g., energy costs are large enough to completely counteract any environmental benefits).

It's fairly common for the waste products to be toxic to your microorganisms (or to need a high concentration of the growth medium, etc). If that mixed output of partially digested waste, biomass, etc is not useful by itself (e.g. because it's a little less environmentally impactful than the raw precursors) then you're faced with the challenge of modifying or purifying it into something that is worthwhile.

There aren't a lot of economically sustainable business models you can build around "healing the environment," however beneficial it might be. If you aren't directly producing something profitable (e.g. construction materials made from fungi) then your main path to profitability is to rely on donations of some kind (sometimes charitable donations or crowdfunding, usually grants or other legal maneuverings). Mind you, I think that has potential to be a great outcome -- tax businesses proportionally to the damage they do (banning practices we don't know how to clean up) and simultaneously fund businesses who fix it. That funding route is still pretty unpolished though, and any business pursuing that avenue is fighting a regulatory battle on top of any biotech problems.


If you are into fungi you might enjoy this Joe Rogan episode with Paul Stamets


As a former relatively active amateur mycologist, the question we hated hearing the most from non-mycologists was "is it edible?"

Can't we be interested in fungi just for the sake of being interested? Why do fungi have to serve a purpose for most people in order to be interesting to them?

They're too tasty to ignore the edible aspect. Also knowing which ones are edible (and ones that are not) is a survival skill.

Great In Our Time episode about Fungi: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09r3nwl

One of the concerns I have is that there is a correlation between temperature and soil biology that appears to disfavor micorhyzzal symbiosis in warmer, wetter situations.

And while building these communities can sink carbon and make for more resilient temperate forests, doing so may take more and more effort over time, or become infeasible in some areas.

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