Fertile grounds

Turning food waste into fresh food is a neat trick if you can pull it off – and that is exactly what the founders of Back to the Roots are doing. Their first product, Grow Your Own Mushroom Garden, is a cardboard box (made of recycled materials), filled with coffee grounds (that would have otherwise ended up in landfill) and oyster mushroom spores. Just make a slit in the box, mist it twice a day, and within a couple of weeks you’ll have mushrooms. After that, you can flip the box over, and start again.

The tag line for their product is: No green thumb required – so Bonnie Lee and I decided to give it a try. Now, everyone knows that mushrooms are like vampires, and not too fond of direct sunlight (and the instructions tell you as much), so we started off our garden in the darkest corner of the kitchen.

On day 2, we noticed a distinct fishy smell coming from the back of the kitchen, and so we moved the mushroom garden onto the balcony, and tucked it where the sun never shines (under the worm composter) – and there the mushrooms thrived for 6 days.

Alas, our mushrooms would never see day 8. My theory is that I didn’t tuck them far enough under the composter the night before and that they got a bit of sun – but, whatever the reason, what greeted me when I went to mist them that day was a bunch of mushroom-shaped Styrofoam. You may not need a green thumb to use this product, but basic common sense comes in handy. Need to get me some of that.

I harvested the Styrofoam, and fed it to some very grateful worms, then put the box back under the composter – determined to get it right with side two, after I come back from my next business trip. Just before I left on that trip though, I got an unexpected harvest: a single oyster mushroom, which made a great addition to my last breakfast in LA (compliments of Bonnie Lee).

There are a few things I like about this product:

  • I’m a big fan of mushrooms.
  • If you post a picture of your mushrooms & mushroom dishes on their Facebook page, they’ll donate a kit and curriculum to the elementary school class of your choice – and potentially kick start the little gardener or environmentalist inside a child or two.
  • Some people who buy the product will choose to compost the grounds when they are done, so some food waste is kept out of landfill.
  • Even if the grounds do end up in landfill, they have at least been reused on the way there, and more has been gotten out of the initial investment in water, sunshine, and nutrients that went into growing the coffee.
  • It makes people think and talk about ways to divert food out of the waste stream.
  • It’s inspired me to try growing mushrooms (perhaps more exotic ones) in our own coffee grounds, which is obviously a greener way to go. I’ll let you know when I figure out that trick.
  • I think the mushroomy coffee grounds will make a nice treat for our worms.
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14 thoughts on “Fertile grounds

  1. So you never got to eat your shrooms? So sad. That looks like a great thing to do with the kids; we’ve not grown them before. I’ll check them out!

    I’m currently reading the chapter on fungi (Teaming With Microbes) and am amazed at how they transfer nutrients from the tip (hyphae) to the body of the organism yards away. The term “conveyor belt” was used to describe their method.

    • Well, one shroom – so not quite self sufficient yet, but one step closer.

      Very neat about the conveyor belt. Fungi are really amazing little things, and not just because some of them turn grape juice into wine. I was just reading about some very nifty ones that invade ants’ brains, make them march to cool moist spot, then make their heads explode in a shower of spores. We share a planet with exploding zombie ants; I mean, how cool is that?

      There’s an article about those fungi on National Geographic (http://goo.gl/JFFS4) if you’re interested, and how could anyone not be?

      • Oh yes! We’ve seen that too. I think it was on the Planet Earth series. Zombie ants are the best example of the fungi world. But a fungi keeping that one in check? It’s a dog-eat-dog, er, uh fungi-eat-fungi world out there

        I always tell the kids that even we are a part of the food chain, even if we can’t see our predators with our eyes. I am quite fascinated and even obsessed by our microscopic world — particularly in the soil.

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    • Wow, very cool – definitely adding this to my list of planned projects. Hope you’ll be sharing the results of your efforts on your blog. There’s something about the bite and umami-ness of mushrooms that I find really satisfying, and that can often fill the void in meatless dishes. A thick slice of portobello pan fried in garlic butter often plays the role of a steak in our dinners.

      • Grilled portabellos are a favorite! We ditch the butter, but use olive-oil and garlic as the flavor enhancer. Delicious!!

        You know, if we wind up growing our own ‘shrooms, I would not miss blogging about it. I love sharing learning experiences with others so they can feel confident about trying new things too.

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