The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Mycoremediation with King Stropharia

Straight pipesThese are our straight pipes.  The operation isn't as environmentally unfriendly as it sounds since the water only flows from our kitchen sink, the worst pollutants are a bit of dish soap and toothpaste, and there's no way any of it can run into the creek.  Still, the cesspool is unsightly, and Lucy likes to drink out of it, which we highly disapprove of.  Time for some mycoremediation!

This is a hunk of King Stropharia (aka Winecap) sawdust spawn.  When we put in our mushroom order this winter, I asked Mark if we could experiment with a five pound bag of this new species.  I told him how King Sawdust spawnStropharia is great at filtering graywater and is also a food source for honeybees.  But Mark still seemed displeased by my order.  "Should I back off to two pounds?"I asked.  "Nope," Mark countered.  "Double it!  Double it!"

Just in case you're curious, ten pounds of King Stropharia sawdust spawn is enough to innoculate just over a cubic yard of wood chips.  I broke the spawn down into two pound sections so that I could innoculate several smaller beds.  First, I mounded up our fresh wood chips to a depth of about six inches, then I crumbled up the appropriate amount of sawdust Wetting down the new Stropharia bed with a sprinkler.spawn to put on top.  I covered the spawn with about an inch of additional woodchips to protect it from drying out, then set up the sprinkler and soaked the whole operation for a while.  I'll need to check every day for the next few weeks to make sure the mushroom beds stay damp, watering them as necessary.  Then there's no work involved until the mushrooms appear this summer.

In addition to our graywater filtration bed, I'm experimenting with four other locations.  Three are under the canopy of our young peach and nectarine trees, and the fourth is out in the open but in a very damp spot.  Hopefully the spawn will take hold in at least one bed so that next year we'll know what optimal King Stropharia habitat looks like.

Check out our homemade chicken waterer, great for chicks, adult chickens, and even other poultry.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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Over here, people are experimenting with creating pools lined with special plants to break down contaminants in the water. This is called a helophyte filter. Plants used are e.g. Typha latifolia (cattails) or Phragmites australis (the common reed). Apparently these plants both use their hollow cores to transport oxygen to their roots, allowing aerobic bacteria to break down waste (e.g. nitrates and phophates).

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Mar 10 15:50:57 2010
I've read about systems like that over here too, though they're usually set up as water treatment below parking lots. If our mycoremediation fails, I'll have to give some kind of wetland treatment a shot. (Probably cattails, not Phragmites, since the latter is an invasive species in the U.S.)
Comment by anna Wed Mar 10 16:09:39 2010

If I understand correctly, almost any kind of reed will do the trick. Floating waterplants also seem to do as well. With some effort if might even look pretty nice.

For treating sewage, it seems that an extra layer of sand under the plants is necessary. The water is is supposed to flow through the roots of the plants, and then through the sand. After that it can be run off or collected for use. Here this kind of water is reckoned to be suitable for everything but drinking.

What I wonder about is what to do about mosquitos? Kitchen run-off and even sewage for a single house wouldn't be much of a stream, would it? You'd get almost stagnant water, a fine breeding ground for mozzies. Covering it up with wood chips to grow mushroom seems a much better option in that regard. Do those mushrooms also purify the water? I'd never heard of it. Quite interesting.

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Mar 10 17:18:26 2010

I've been reading up on duckweed since they're a good protein source for chickens and have read that they can filter water as well. You're right about mosquitoes being a potential problem. I'd solve it in one of two ways. If I had a lot of water, I'd turn it into a real ecosystem so that fish and other organisms in the water dealt with the mosquito larvae. But, on my scale, I think it'd be better to make a wetland without any standing water. Cattails grow just fine in marshy areas, so if you planted them in sand and ran the water through the sand around their roots, you should get filtration.

Mycoremediation is a very new field. Paul Stamets is the only person I've heard about who's studying it (or at least writing about it in the popular press.) I highly recommend Mycelium Running, which has a long section outlining his studies with using mushrooms to remove everything from coliform bacteria to heavy metals from soil and water. They seem to be very effective!

Comment by anna Wed Mar 10 17:46:44 2010
One variety of Thuricide will prevent mosquito larvae from surviving, at an amazingly small amount. Something like one drop for one thousand gallons of water.
Comment by Errol Wed Mar 10 17:55:47 2010
I'd rather use a natural predator than thuricide --- I've gotten more and more leery of even "organic" products like that. I'm still using it on my summer squash for vine borers, but only very sparingly and would love to kick the habit. It seems to be a bit more broad spectrum than I had originally thought, killing a lot of good insects as well as the bad ones.
Comment by anna Wed Mar 10 18:06:56 2010

Glad to see the comments about cattails. They are a great way to clean up water and when mature you can make alcohol to run you vehicles and make heat in the winter. You can get a permit from ATF for free and stop paying the oil company for what you can grow. Go to for more info. Isn't the internet amazing, also it helps to have worked in the waste water field for many years. Cattails are even used by a few municipalities for their primary waste treatment. Granted it's a MUCH bigger system than you would ever need for your farm.

Comment by vester Wed Mar 10 18:33:13 2010
We're definitely going to have to put cattails to use eventually, even if we don't need them for this round of graywater. They're on my list of very useful species that I haven't quite figured out how to work into our permaculture system yet.
Comment by anna Thu Mar 11 08:36:25 2010

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