I walk in Recreation Park on Binghamton’s Westside every day. Lately I have been noticing a outburst of mushrooms in greater variety than I have ever seen in one place. There are 8-10 different kinds of mushrooms or “mycelium” as the scientists refer to it.
I met a Ukrainian woman picking the mushrooms as I was photographing them. “These very good to eat. This one poison. This one not poison, but not so good to eat.” I was in awe of her practical knowledge and her foraging for food, as her ancestors in the Ukraine probably have for centuries. Then she said, “It’s not hard, just look on internet.” OK, I surrender my sterotypes!
What’s most interesting though is what this growth means to the ecology of the Park. Paul Stamets is a passionate environmental advocate and mushroom researcher. You can go to http://www.YouTube.com and search on his name and listen to several of his lectures. One is called “Six Ways Mushrooms Can Save the World.” He explains that mycelium sends out little hair like root systems that can have a healing effect on earth, breaking down toxins, and opening pathways for plants, bugs, healthy bacteria, etc. He has done demonstrations of totally degraded construction soil contaminated by oil that have been restored by introducing mushrooms.
Stamets encourages people to spread mycelium around, especially in vacant lots or poor soil. One technique that I have tried is digging up the roots of the mushrooms to get those little hair like roots, not the mushroom itself, and then growing them for distribution around town. I use damp pieces of cardboard with some roots between each layer. The mushroom sandwich needs to be kept damp for several weeks. When it’s ready you will see streaks of white “running” up the cardboard. Then “infect” a site, which we did at the Laurel Community Garden for instance, so that the mycelium can start running where it’s needed.