Progress report for FNC20-1208
Field and Forest Products grows mushrooms commercially for farm markets and co-op accounts and has also been producing mushroom spawn and providing growing supplies to commercial cultivators and hobby growers for over 30 years. Field and Forest Products also supports its farmer customers by answering grower questions about how to grow specialty mushrooms profitably. The 41 acre farm grows and markets Shiitake and Wine cap as well as other specialty fungi, with special attention to polyculturing Wine cap and Almond Agaricus in the garden and high tunnel setting. Field and Forest Products Inc. is co-owned and operated by Mary Ellen Kozak and Joe Krawczyk. The couple are authors of several mushroom cultivation related publications, most notably, Growing Shiitake in a Continental Climate. Field and Forest Products recently teamed up with mycologist Lindsey Bender who specializes in soil microbial ecology, experimental design, and statistics. She comes from a diverse ecological background and has a strong interest in research and development focusing on sustainable practices and improving soil health.
The farm operates on a foundation of sustainable-focused practices. We strive to reuse and recycle as many resources as possible including, but not limited to: water, food scraps, paper materials, packaging materials, and other wastes generated by the business and farm operation. We participate in outdoor composting and indoor vermicomposting, utilize paper materials and other waste products as substrate for mushroom cultivation, heat our facility with sustainably harvested on-site firewood and exhausted shiitake logs, recycle gray water, reduce printing, and many more. The nature of fungi as environmental recyclers enhances our abilities as a company to operate as sustainably as we can.
Soil health is critical to sustainable agriculture and nutrient dense food production. Many agricultural soils are unhealthy and standard practices like tilling, fertilizing, soil compaction, and over production, are exacerbating the problem. In order to improve the health and potential of our soils to ensure our future food demands are met, we need to make sustainable changes. This project proposes to evaluate the use of an innovative method for soil improvement while increasing crop productivity, food nutritive value, and income revenue for farmers. The use of the Wine Cap mushroom as a soil builder shows promise from previous research. New research in nutrition indicates that mushrooms contain Ergothioneine, an important antioxidant linked to longevity and healthy aging. While mushrooms are the primary source of Ergothioneine, evidence suggests plants grown in healthy soils or alongside fungi have increased Ergothioneine concentrations. Wine Cap (Stropharia rugoso-annulata) is simple to grow, highly productive, and has significant potential for farmer crop diversification. This study is a collaborative effort between experienced mushroom farmers, University researchers, and the agricultural community. This project will provide quantitative data and a project-based avenue for educating farmers about the benefits and ease of mushroom cultivation, which evaluating the application of mushroom growing to improve soils and plant crops.
Preliminary soil tests examining soil biology (Total fungi, fungal activity, bacterial biomass, etc) from each of the five replicates indicate no statistical differences. These data will serve as the baseline for comparison to soil tests taken at the end of the two year project in order to determine if our treatments impacted soil biology.
We measured bed depth in the two mulch treatments (Straw plots and Straw plots with Wine Cap mushroom) and found that plots with the mushroom were statistically significantly shallower. This is a good indication that the Wine Cap mushroom was actively and very quickly breaking down the organic mulch layer.
Bed temperature was also measured in beds and found to be significantly different between mulch treatments. Beds with Wine Cap mushrooms were 2.1°F warmer than mulch only beds.
Tomato plants were planted into treatment plots (2 plants/plot). Plant overall health was visually evaluated (greenness, size, fullness, presence of disease) on a scale from 0 = dead to 10 = healthiest. Plants in plots with Wine Cap mushrooms were the healthiest with an average health rating of 8.0 (p=0.001).
Research still in progress. Complete results to be included in final report.
This project seeks to evaluate the use of the low cost, organically grown Wine Cap mushrooms to improve soil health, reduce the need for tilling, weed control, and watering while increasing crop health, productivity, and value (increased through increased nutrient density and Ergothioneine content.
Our objective are:
- Test changes in soil health in response to Wine Cap mushroom cultivation through field testing
- Measure Ergothioneine content in response to Wine Cap
- Evaluate the economic benefits of this innovative approach
- Involve and educate farmers to promote mushroom industry growth through field days, social media, and consulting
Part A: 2017 experimental field: Transplant heirloom tomato plants into each of the established and active treatment plots from previous FNC17-1070 grant. We will monitor plots biweekly throughout the growing season. Harvest mushrooms and tomatoes and track yield, visually assess plant vigor, disease, measure bed temperature, depth, and soil moisture. No watering unless necessary. End of year assessments made in fall. Spring 2021 re-plant second year crop of tomatoes and monitor plots throughout second growing season.
Part B: 2020 experimental field: Establish 15 individual plots total in spring 2020 (3 treatments (control, mulch only, mulch with Wine Cap x 5 replicates), 2m x 2m in size with 2m rows between plots. Preliminary baseline soil samples were taken from the center 1.0m2 area of each plot (to limit edge effects) to a depth of 10cm. A minimum of 10 cores/plot were harvested, homogenized, then sent off for testing. Treatments were planted using straw only based on previous grant results indicating straw beds were healthier and more productive. Straw was soaked, drained, and layered with Wine Cap in treatment plots. Mulch only treatment plots were planted with just straw. Control plots plants only, no mulch. We monitored plots biweekly as described above and data was collected throughout the first growing season.
Soil sampling diagram.
In spring 2021, we will re-plant second year crop and monitor plots throughout the second growing season. We will take yield from all harvests and record labor hours for economic evaluation. Field days (if we can host them on site and in person) will involve powerpoint presentation on benefits of growing mushrooms, planting directions, handouts, and hands on work. Soil and plant tissue samples collected from all plots at the end of the 2021 growing season will be sent out for testing. Data will be recorded on data sheets and compiled into Excel. Statistical analysis will be performed using Systat and interpretation of results will be discussed with supporting professionals.
Educational & Outreach Activities
We had to cancel our field day events in 2020 due to COVID, so we really focused on digitally promoting our research and creating videos that we could share and build upon. We produced the first two video installments and will continue to produce more as our research project enters its second and final year. We intend to host in person events in 2021 if we are able, but will also be doing live digital events or online workshops to reach a larger audience and provide a more interactive experience.
Wine Cap Research SARE Grant Series: Part 1. Video released July 9th, 2020, received 866 Views on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BVNx6qgz5bE&feature=emb_logo
Wine Cap Research SARE Grant Series Part II: Soil Tests, Data Measurements and Plot Maintenance. Video released September 3rd, 2020, received 352 views on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yezl-x-hORI
We’ve promoted the research we are doing and shared these videos through our Facebook page (2,705 people reached from 3 posts), our webpage (https://www.fieldforest.net/research), and Field and Forest Products’ newsletters to thousands of growers.
Grant still in progress, will expound upon in final draft.
We evaluated the potential benefits of Wine Cap mushroom cultivation on Tomato crops, however, it would be beneficial to examine the impact mushroom cultivation can have on other agricultural crops. In addition, this project and growing scale is gardener to small farm and labor was done manually. We recommend examining the potential to scale up mushroom cultivation to benefit large agriculture where machinery is used to plant, fields are used exhaustively, crop rotation is limited, and there is increased pressure on the soil.