Living organisms, a secret room and a chair – Part 5


Peter, for some of us (actually, me in particular) we wouldn’t know where to start in order to grow a chair from mushrooms.

Can you tell me, how did you approach the idea of growing a mushroom into chair? And, in your test phase, what has worked and what hasn’t worked?


Wood fungi are easy to grow – they only need a bit of glucose (I used brewing sugar with added malt) and watery mashed potatoes (for the starch, and trace elements). I tried potato starch, but found that dried, instant mash worked best. It was easy to slice out a part of the fungus and get it growing on an agar plate with these nutrients, and recently I have found that it grows readily in a liquid medium (without the agar) too. However, the most important (and frustrating) thing, is to do this without growing all the other fungi whose spores float around in the air all the time. Contamination has been my biggest challenge!

I have tried a variety of methods to reduce contamination – swabbing everything with bleach or alcohol (methylated spirits works fine and doesn’t ruin your clothes), sterilizing growing media and bottles in a pressure cooker, and working in a clean, closed environment (actually an inverted plastic storage box with a door cut into it that I wipe down with alcohol). So far, it works some of the time, but fungi just want to grow, and contamination is still a problem. This is the reason for the mysterious serial killer style plastic sheeted clean room that I am growing the prototype chair in – it was easy to start clean, and easy to keep out unwanted visitors. Inside the room I built a large incubator: a 1.2m cube made from styrofoam sheets with a thermostat controlled heater to keep things under their preferred conditions.

Once I had some starter cultures established, I transferred them to sterilized wood shavings, and after a few weeks, I was rewarded with lots of growing mycelium (it looks like cotton wool coating everything). Suitably encouraged, I made a chair mould, sterilized several litres of wood shavings, and inoculated the lot with my mycelium cultures. I’m now at the stage of waiting with fingers crossed for growth to become visible. Soon you’ll be able to follow the exciting (but slow) experiment via the live web cam (some would ask “why?”… we say, “why not!”). But, if you thought watching grass grow was slow, we’ll bet this is even slower!


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