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composting straw?


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#1 togglesniper

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 12:39 AM

I am curious if anyone has considered composting straw in order to provide a more "rich" substance to use as a bulk substrate, as opposed to simply pasteurizing freshly bought straw from feed stores or where have you? Just straw though, and maybe a small amount of one or two additives (little nitrogen, maybe in the form of castings).

My reasoning for wanting to do this is that first, straw is very readily available to me (I have a bale sitting in my backyard) and I wish to keep things simple, as I have only had one out of four or five successful flushes after transferring colonized jars to the straw or straw/worm casting substrates I have previously used.

I have been tinkering with the idea for a while and experimenting a bit, and I have found that simply by soaking the straw for a day in water and then allowing the water to drain out, leaving the straw at field capacity and then allowing this to sit in an airtight container outside in the summer (very, very hot summer) for a few weeks leaves the straw partially decomposed, resulting in a darker substrate that can then be easily shredded apart by hand, thereby bypassing a need for any kind of scissors cutting (blisters) and buying costly equipment that may or may not effectively chop the straw.

Obviously this method takes a little longer than just throwing it in the pasteurizer, so my main question is, would any one predict that this substrate could result in higher yields? Since compost can be used as a substrate, and compost generally results in some humic acids, I am assuming that the mushies might prefer some humic acid in their diet? I have never really seen a list of what compounds and elements consist of mushroom nutrition, what makes them colonize faster, yield larger, more, etc. I am also assuming that the darker straw that results from composting contains humic acids, among other degraded and possibly more beneficial /enhancing substances.

It just always seemed to me that straw has some kind of outer coating that the mushies don't prefer, generally requiring chopping up the straw to allow the mushies to get inside and find the weak spots, but if you compost it down won't it provide more readily available food for em? And yield an easily rippable material. I do admit that prechopping it might aid in composting. But yeah, I'm lazy.

As for the composting method, I have been adding a little EM to the straw to aid in speeding up the process, and am considering other beneficial organism additives, such as SubCulture, Oreganism, Tarantula, Pirahna, etc.
One component of these cultures is Trichoderma h., generally considered a contaminant during mushroom cultivation. However, I think it might aid in breaking down the straw faster during the composting phase. I am planning on adjusting the pH of the straw for this composting stage to a more acidic level around pH 5.0, and then during the pasteurization phase (which should kill all the Trich spores as stated in The Mushroom Cultivator) adjust the pH up to around 7 to deter further Trich growth.

Thanks for any input, I tried searching around the threads for anything relating to this kind of straw pre-tek but didn't find anything.

#2 (nilla)

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 12:48 AM

Great first post:eusa_clap
Im not sure but id like to hear others responses to this.

#3 tomstevens

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 05:01 AM

Adding trich or allowing trich to grow will cause you problems in the future....I dont think pasteurization will kill mold spores like trich...especially if they are already growing...just my 2 cents...

#4 crazy1

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 08:12 AM

well all pasteurization does is kill off the live contams.
Any spores that are left will germinate in a matter of weeks. Probably 2 weeks. So if you're thinking about this you need to make sure your strain is strong and runs through the sub very quickly!!!
That is why this process is used more for P. ostreatus and other fast colonizing strains.

As to chopping the straw up have you tried a weed whip in a trash can? Kinda ghetto tek but effective.

Good luck

#5 hyphaenation

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 09:34 AM

Soaking the material beforehand hatches endospores. Pasturizing kills those endospores. Trich spores that are not killed wait for optimal conditions like high PH coupled with constantly high RH.

#6 golly

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 12:58 PM

Welcome to Topia Toggle
I would def leave out the Trich ..It's more persistant than you might imagine,once established..
I've boiled contaminated bags for 90mins and within 5 days it bloomed again
with the mold...

Composting straw will increase it's mold resistance and consentrates the nutrients
in a given volume..There are plenty of less threatening microbes to speed decomposition.. They can be found in any good organic soil from the garden..

If you build a pile large enough to generate it's own heat, decomposition is much more rapid...You can just Pee on a strawbail and it will heat up in a hurry, although you have to cut the twine to allow more air in , or it will stink to high heaven ...

#7 Hippie3

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 01:18 PM

pee ?!?
:lol:

#8 golly

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 01:47 PM

Heh, yeah.. In a few days the bale will be steaming hot from the Nitrogen in Urine..

#9 BuckarooBanzai

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 02:44 PM

Togglesniper - welcome to Mycotopia and that is an outstanding post.

Sadly, I can offer you no real answers!

I can say that my research into professional mushroom grower's methods indicate that the "pros" consider effectively composted vegetable matter to be a very important component in a good substrate.

Stamets book The Mushroom Cultivator has a whole chapter on effective methods of large scale composting in order to have the best starter materials possible.

The darker color of your composted straw does probably indicate a buildup of humic/fulvic acid. I don't recall ever reading that humics/fulvics were directly beneficial to fungus, but it is a completely logical consideration.

Our little fungus friends take in minerals and trace elements to grow, just like plants. Having those minerals and trace elements effectively chelated by humic/fulvic acid certainly couldn't hurt - though I can't say for certain that it would be of significant help, yield wise.

That hard layer on the outside of your straw is called the cuticle and is partially composed of chitin - a major component of mushroom tissue (and insects). Freeing that chitin through composting and subsequently making it more readily available to the mushroom's metabolic engine certainly couldn't hurt.

I, personally, would never add anything that contained trich to any part of a mushroom growing regimen. Just too much dark, moist, semi-stagnant air involved in growing mushies.

#10 Lazlo

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 03:28 PM

Cured wheat straw contains such a low amount of nitrogen, that i'd have my doubts it alone in a small pile would heat up enough to caramelize the material. Then again I suppose in a super hot environment like you're talking about could do the trick if left for long enough. If I were going to add something to the straw, I would consider adding urea or dried blood in a minimal amount to the straw's soak water. The problem with urea is that it can cause a build up of ammonium salts in the compost that can cause the composting process to slow down considerably. I use urea myself, but am very cautious when doing so. I prefer dried blood to be honest. Dried blood being pelletized will need to be turned well into the compost during the composting process. I would just add it to the soak water a few hours prior to soaking the straw so it has dissolved well in the water.

#11 togglesniper

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 09:29 PM

Thanks for everyone's helpful posts! I am glad my first post provided interest here, I tend to watch and listen for a while before I make any input, gotta catch up to the learning curve...

So as I initially figured, y'all aren't down with Trich at any stage. I can relate, every contaminated jar and bulk sub I have ever done generally got hit by this contaminant, I will hold off on the addition of this then for now, but I can't promise I won't experiment with it for composting in the future :eusa_shhh

BuckarooBanzai, your post was especially helpful, thanks for identifying that outer layer for me, I was thinking cellulose, from its thickness chitin makes perfect sense.

That gives me another idea.

I am much more knowledgeable (and successful) with hydroponics than I am with mycology. One of the best products sold in retail hydro stores is called Hygrozyme, an enzyme extract that helps break down stuff, as that is what enzymes do, I believe. For hydro it breaks down dead roots and keeps the living ones nice and white, because all the dead organic matter that was on em got broken down into more nutes/chelating agents, etc. I think I will use this along with the EM inoculations I have been using to speed up the compost. They don't tell you what kind of enzymes, but I have to imagine that cellulase and chitinase might be in there.

Thanks for the suggested compost methods, I have read through the Cultivator's chapter on the subject, and most of them are on a scale much larger than I need or want to deal with. The cool thing about EM (effective microorganisms) is that these are organisms that have been determined to help in generally anaerobic composting and were then isolated into a solution for purchase. These little critters can speed up composting to one month instead of three, and on any scale. A common way to use them as a compost starter is to inoculate wheat bran and let it ferment for a weak or two, and then layer this into an air tight compost bucket.

I also have some organic nitrogen in a liquid form meant for hydroponic growth by a brand called Nature's Nectar. It was free, but I can see how this might be more costly in the long run than bone meal or urea. I will consider adding some of this to see if it speeds up the breakdown.

so, quick question, is wheat bran cool to have in a bulk substrate? should be, right?

Meanwhile, I'm gonna keep doin what I'm doin, and hopefully soon get some kind of journal going using the various substrates I've got (straw vs. composted straw vs. straw w/castings...etc) and then we can put these questions to rest! FROAF just ordered some Good Spore Puerto Ricans I believe, he thinks they are more visually active than others.

I added some pictures to generate some more interest:

1: on the left, reggie straw that most use, on the right, well composted straw dried and crumbled (easily)
2: close up composted
3: close up reggie
4: this is my latest batch, not composted as long, not completely dry
5: close up of latest
6: latest batch after crumbling and shredding by hand for few seconds, crumbling works best when its completely dry, but, you can kinda see the difference...

if all else, as golly mentioned, at least the substrate is more compact yielding a more dense nutritive substrate in the same given volume than even chopped fresh "reggie" straw, and that, at least, should provide some yield increase and hopefully :eusa_pray some accelerated colonization by most Cubie strains. try it out!

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#12 Hippie3

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 09:46 PM

grown any on that yet ?

#13 BuckarooBanzai

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 10:55 PM

Be careful introducing too many variables at once. Makes it damned hard to know for certain which thing helped.

And a detailed lab notebook of plans, observations and recipes will serve you VERY well in the long run.

Quite frequently you can learn just as much (if not more) from failed experiments as you can from successful experiments.

One way or the other, I tend to think we'll probably be hearing a lot more from you...

#14 Lazlo

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Posted 25 June 2008 - 11:40 PM

I don't know what to tell you about that stuff, but I know it isn't caramelized.

#15 togglesniper

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 02:53 AM

Haven't grown anything on the composted straw Hippie, hopefully soon it will get a test run

Great suggestion Buckaroo, I used to keep a decent grow journal for plants, maybe try some side by side trials

Is that a good thing Lazlo?

#16 Lazlo

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 07:44 AM

It's not composted, it's infected or something else. Maybe burnt a little bit. I've actually seen straw that looked just like that, but I can't remember when or where I saw it. To me it looks infected with a fungal colony. That could be o.k., as at the least it has been broken down by something. I'm really curious to see how it colonizes with mushroom mycelium. Just make sure to pasteurize it properly prior to use.

#17 Lazlo

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 07:57 AM

Here's a quote from a page that talks about using wheat straw as an energy source. I can link the page if you want.

"At the same time, the straw had turned grey. Straw may turn grey (colonies of funguses) due to night dew and hot weather without leaching taking place."

#18 golly

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 07:59 AM

Be careful with wheat bran ..Having a 2.5% N content compared to .5 for straw - it could easily becom a contam source..Spawn heavily when using...

#19 togglesniper

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 08:32 PM

Interesting Lazlo, though I haven't noticed too much gray, more black and the normal straw yellow in the composted product.
Kinda sounds like you might be referring to Actinomyces, or Firefang, which has a grayish color and can spontaneously combust in hot, overly wet and compact straw (perhaps resulting in the caramelization?) This microorganism, considered a bacteria rather than a fungus, is consumed by mycelia during colonization, and is quite beneficial during the composting process.
But I never really noticed any, sounds like something I would want to help decompose the compost...

Thanks for that tidbit golly, wheat bran might provide that extra bit of nitrogen to fuel the composting if I use it sparingly and let the compost ferment well with the EMs. More to think about!

The PR spores arrived today, SWIM is gonna start filling jars with birdseed and/or rye and/or wheat berries, PC em, and 'noc em up.

Y'all don't mind if this gets turned into a grow journal do ya?

Previous production slowed because he was relying on G2G transfers since the spores cost money and he never did have much success with LC, and these G2G transfers often ended in contam and despair, regardless of the use of what appeared to be an adequate and sterile glove box. Perhaps a fresh batch of syringe inoculated jars will prove as successful as it has in the past.

#20 hyphaenation

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Posted 26 June 2008 - 08:53 PM

I found this which may be helpful/related.

Compost Formula:
Mushroom Compost is a complicated material made from several different materials. Most of it is made from a base of straw or hay. To that is added a small amount of supplements, minerals and manure. A brief out line on how mushroom compost is made follows...

Phase 1, Agaricus bisporus Compost Formula. 1 - Three wire bale formula.


The word wrap is bad if i paste ,heres the rest http://www.mushrooma...om/compost.html




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