The Humble Fungus: A Class on All Things Mycological

Past entries have sung the praises of my local mushroom vendor, and now I’m pleased to reveal that I was able to attend their first ever public class back in July.

The Humble Fungus, located in Lafayette, Colorado, specializes in both growing mushrooms for sale, as well as in teaching others how to grow their own at home. They’re the ones I visit each week at market to restock my supply.

Aside from the fact that they have consistent quality and a fantastic selection of mushrooms, more than anything I love how willing Jesse and his staff are to engage with and assist their customers. They’ve been phenomenal whenever I have questions or need to troubleshoot a home-growing issue; heck, they even have loads of tutorial videos posted on their site for anyone who wants to try at-home mushroom cultivation.

Foraging may be a skill I attempt at a later date… for now, growing at home is my primary go-to for culinary mushrooms!

Needless to say, they’ve earned a spot in the “highly recommended local business” category of my brain. If this topic is one you’ve been curious about exploring yourself, Humble Fungus will continue to hold both online and in-person (when possible and healthy to do so) classes.

Here are some big “what I learned” highlights from my class experience:

(1) Cleanliness, cleanliness, cleanliness.

When discussing spawn samples, cultivating mycelial colonies and even harvesting fruit bodies, this became the number one theme of the day.

With good reason!

Contamination can easily occur and destroy mushrooms at all stages of growth, whether black mold or penicillin or a variety of in-betweens. The simple solution of preventing this lies in care and cleanliness. New tools I’ve added to my “mushroom kit” include isopropyl alcohol for sanitizing, a dedicated knife, and a plastic Sterilite bin (more on this later).

So much discussion went into proper aseptic technique and ways to prevent contamination that it frankly made my head spin. For now, I’m keeping it simple with the pre-made fruiting blocks, but once I become comfortable with those I may try more complex methods.

Because science, you have to be on the lookout for contamination. It’s easily preventable.

(2) Mushrooms are just *freaking cool.*

Where to start with this? Despite fruiting into what seems to be multiple individual bodies above the surface of the soil (or a log, or a tree), that clump of caps is really a singular organism much bigger below the visible substrate than you’d think. Break up the mycelium, and it can reform back into itself. If a portion is taken away to grow elsewhere, it becomes a separate entity.

Even more fascinating — mushrooms can learn and adapt. Okay, yes, so can every intelligent species, but how many people include fungus as a category of credibly canny critters?

If you counted yourself among the group that hoarded such knowledge, you were a few steps ahead of me!

Back to my point: over generations, they can add new substances to their nutritional diet if the chemical composition is very close to something they’ve successfully decomposed previously. It takes them longer to process that new thing as a result, but once they figure it out, subsequent generations are able to easily consume it due to genetic memory.

To be honest, the science behind this terrifies me to a small extent, considering how much Dungeons & Dragons I play (looking at you, Ironrot Lichen), but it also opens up a range of cool possibilites when it comes to waste control. Jesse actually delved into this very topic in some detail, so I won’t spoil the fun for those wanting to take the class. 😁

Mushrooms can LEARN.

(3) You can grow mushrooms on various different substrates, including liquids.

While keeping in mind that certain species have preferences in terms of nutrition provided by both colonizing and fruiting substrates (this also blew my mind, COOL SCIENCE), mushrooms have successfully pinned and fruited on liquid substances such as honey water!

Further, if you happen to be a fan of mushrooms that like to grow on poop (not me, boss, at least to my knowledge), you don’t actually have to grow them on excrement.

Ew. Just… no. No thank you.

Jesse, much to our collective relief, offered participants several recipes for bulk blends — including for dung-lover mushrooms — that anyone can reproduce at home for fruiting blocks using easy-to-source materials… that don’t include poop.

I had no idea that the whimsical purchase of a fruiting block a few months ago would turn into a side hobby!

(4) A Sterilite bin is your friend.

Considering most of us don’t have access to vent hoods, the class extrapolated on how to use these bins in two ways: first, as a still-air box.

Think of those medical shows where they stick their hands in gloves connected to a glass box so that everything inside remains sterile and uncontaminated — same concept, but a heck of a lot simpler and easier to construct. I’ll give the advice here that Jesse shared with us alongside a few cautionary tales of truth:

Always let the isopropyl alcohol completely dry before lighting any flames in a still-air box.

Always.

*insert moment of grave silence accompanied by a deep, stern scowl*

Yup, looking at you. Heed the warnings and woe of others before you. Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeed ~

Second, you can use a separate bin as a humidity tent for fruiting blocks, as I’m now doing with my King Oysters. The idea is to sterilize the inside with alcohol (including the lid), let it dry, and then house the fruiting block inside it with some access to light. If misting water becomes needed, you can mist the inside of the box and leave the lid ajar. This allows more air circulation and less moisture in direct contact with the mycelium.

(5) This class was more than worth the cost!

With the caveat that I attended their very first class and as a result witnessed a few hiccups (though easily forgiveable ones), Jesse and his team more than made up for it in terms of the sheer volume of helpful information and advice to all participants. More importantly, the help doesn’t end with the class; we can e-mail them or visit the store for advice or supplies whenever we need to do so.

I especially appreciated the active demos on aseptic technique, working with fruiting blocks, and harvesting, though the fungal biology bits also kept me riveted, as it was all new information for me.

Armed with positive and constructive feedback alike, Humble Fungus plans on holding more classes soon and in regular frequency. If you can’t make an in-person session, try out one of their online options instead, which I intend to do once I can fit it into the budget.

Happy Monday, everyone, and cheers to a new week!

Published by Allie

Foodie explorer with Stardew Valley dreams. Lover of wine but not beer, cheese but not milk, and all things chocolate. Working to learn as many self-sufficient, at-home food production skills as possible.

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