The Eden Hall campus farm doesn’t only provide us students with resources through our weekly harvests, our demonstration garden, and all of the student-based, community work embedded into our agro-ecosystem. It also provides us with a space to create meaningful and innovative research projects that enhance our learning experience and truly allow us to explore new sustainable agriculture techniques that we are passionate about.
Last spring semester, in the harsh cold of the winter, I began dreaming of the green colors of spring and the fresh harvests ahead of us. As I looked through seed catalogs in my growing sustainably lab, I thought more about how extending our growing season may not be limited to fruits and vegetables. Thinking back to a conference session about mushroom growing in greenhouses or hoop houses, I decided this would be my research topic for our semester long project. Meanwhile, the undergraduate mycology club began writing up a research plan for a similar project. After meeting as a team, we decided on different garden beds in the student garden to begin the project. This is a perfect example of how this space and the support of the farm staff and faculty fosters creativity and exploration for us as we learn about sustainable agriculture through hands on experiences.
The project used the methods of companion planting, a practice already used in the student garden, with fungi and plants. We examined how mycelium, the rootlike structure of fungi, affects the growth rate of both annual and perennial crops. The growing habits and pH tolerance of plants helped determine which fungi would grow best in each condition. We decided to use blueberries, black currants, and a variety of herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, and borage. We inoculated sectioned areas of mulch around the plants with species of fungi, such as Pleurotus (Oyster), Nameko, and Stropharia mushrooms.
We began with bed preparation and sterilizing the substrate that the fungi would inhabit. We used different types of mulch, including straw and woodchips. Then we spread each of the bags of spawn into the substrate, managed the irrigation, and monitored them.
Last week, we witnessed the first flush of the beautiful Stropharia mushrooms, commonly referred to as wine caps. Deep burgundy caps congregated around the base of herbs. The group harvested the precious fruits and took them home to prepare various meals. Whether added to a hearty vegetable soup dish or a simple vegetable omelette, the Stropharia bring a deep earthy and slightly nutty flavor into every bite. We are excited to continue to document the fruiting mushrooms and understand more about creating effective polyculture techniques!
(A special thanks to all of the staff, faculty, students, and club members who put in work to make this project successful.)