Damien Pack on Mushroom Cultivation

Editor’s Note:

I’ve been really enjoying digging through the audio archives of the radio documentary I did about mushroom people in 2011, Crazy About Mushroomsand I wanted to present another story that I got from one of my most intriguing interviewees, a mushroom cultivation expert and all-around fungus fanatic named Damien Pack. This post will serve as an introduction to a series about mushroom cultivation in the home and garden for those of you who are interested in inviting fungal friends to inhabit your property. Mushroom cultivation is great fun, although it can also be a little bit maddening at the same time, because the wily fungi rarely behave exactly how you want them to!

Blue Oyster mushrooms
Blue oysters are one of the prettiest cultivated mushrooms. Photo by Leslie Seaton. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

For those of you who are kind enough to visit this blog repeatedly (you poor souls!), you may have heard the name Damien Pack before, because Damien was the first person I ever met who knew the ins and outs of mushroom cultivation, mushroom hunting, and the tricky business of fungal taxonomy. Anyway, when I interviewed Damien, I got more than my fair share of mushroomy insights and stories about the trials and tribulations of mushroom cultivation in particular. Below is a portion of that interview, which is just a small taste of what Damien shared with me.

Yours in Fungal Fancy,

Mushroom Anna

Mushroom Cultivation – Discipline, Dedication, and Surrender to the Will of the ‘Shroom

Damien Pack served as the growing room manager at Fungi Perfecti for several years. For reference, Fungi Perfecti is Paul Stamets’ mushroom cultivation farm and research facility, and Stamets and company are instrumental players who explore new applications of mycology in bioremediation, medical research, and sustainable food production.

If you’ve never seen Stamets’ TED talk about how mushrooms can save the world, drop everything and watch it right now. It’ll surely bring the importance of mushroom cultivation and mycological research into stark relief for you, as it did for me years ago.

Stamets mycoboom
One of Paul Stamets’ projects, a “mycoboom” of mycelium designed to trap and digest oil spills and other water contaminants. Photo by Anna McHugh.

Damien went to work at Fungi Perfecti after falling in love with fungi, and over the course of his time there he brought literally hundreds of different mushroom species to fruit. After he left the company, Damien continued to pursue his passion, teaching mushroom cultivation workshops and serving as a booster for mycology wherever he went. Damien’s understanding of fungal organisms within the context of mushroom cultivation is, from a technical perspective, quite impressive, but as with many other mycological experts, he also frames mushroom cultivation as a philosophical endeavor that involves discipline and a willingness to let the fungal organism take the lead.

So with no further ado, here’s Damien’s perspective on the challenges and surprises you’re in for if you decide to pursue mushroom cultivation!

So, yeah, when I first started playing with mushroom cultivation myself, I did create some very lovely worm food…but also discovered a balance between intervention (coaxing my mycelium to grow) and just letting fungi do its own thing.

In essence, I learned the value of one of the most important strategies in mushroom cultivation – what Stamets calls the strategy of benign neglect. I found in short order that the more I tinkered and tampered with my mushroom cultivation projects, the more likely it was that I’d end up with more fodder for my compost pile. Look out for more posts in the future that explain how to do some mushroom cultivation experiments of your own!

Update on the North Carolina Mushroom Season – Chanterelles Galore!

Reishi mushroom cultivation
Reishi mushrooms very suited to cultivation and have potent medicinal properties. Photo by frankenstoen. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic.

…And since I simply cannot help myself, here’s a quick update on the North Carolina summer mushroom season: get out there right this second and gather you some chanterelles, black trumpets, chicken of the woods, hedgehogs, old man of the woods, or some other cool sylvan delight! This time of year is exciting for me because it means I get to visit some of my favorite parts of the woods and come home loaded down with loot, but it also underlines the perplexing challenges of identifying the different species of chanterelles and Craterellus mushrooms that grow in North Carolina and other states east of the Rocky Mountains.

We’ve got smooth chanterelles, wrinkly chanterelles, chanterelles with deep, well-defined false gills, chanterelles that smell fruity, chanterelles that don’t have an apricot aroma, terrestrial chanterelles, chanterelles that grow out of highly decomposed wood…the list of differences between all these dainties always astonishes me and makes me sorely wish that we had some more Latin names on the books to distinguish between them all! If you’re on the hunt for chanterelles or other mushrooms this time of year and feel a little confused, rest assured that you’re not alone; in due time I am sure we’ll have names for all the different Cantharellus and Craterellus mushrooms in North Carolina, but that season is yet to dawn on us.

If you want a quick overview of chanterelle habitats, lookalikes, different chanterelle species that occur in North Carolina, and allied mushrooms in the Craterellus genus, please take a look at my posts on these subjects from a couple months ago…then collect some of your own, take some mushroom pictures, and load them up to Mushroom Observer and impress all your mycophile friends!


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