You might be familiar with Danielle Trofe's Mush-Lume lighting collection and the concept of growing objects with mushroom mycelium—we've covered both stories on our site before. Thanks to Trofe and Ecovative Design, I learned how to DIY my own mushroom-grown container in the comfort of the GROW studio space at Industry City, Brooklyn. Yes, I really did grow a mushroom mycelium planter in my kitchen last week—here's a breakdown of the process. Learn the basics and then freestyle—post your creations in the comments!
Trofe's Mush-Lume lighting collection.
Much to my surprise, the process isn't complicated at all—I was intimidated by the strange live material at first, but I quickly realized how friendly it can be. All the mushroom material needs to start its new life as a planter are flour, water and patience (about a week of patience, to be exact). Just add regular flour and water to a mixture of dry chopped mushroom roots and agricultural waste (seed husks, corn stalks, etc.)—the flour acts as a food source, and the water activates the growth process.
White fibers are a good sign!
During the next three or four days, the mushroom mycelium will recognize the agricultural waste and flour as food and begin coming back to life. The mixture will form white fibers in the process. Break the material up again by hand (don't forget gloves!) to prepare it for its growth into your desired shape—in this case, small planters.
Before molding into a tool (a growing container), poke a generous amount of holes in the lid and a few on the bottom of the tool to allow air flow. We used plastic containers as our tools, but feel free to get creative with your material choice—wax, wood and clay are all in the clear, just make sure your material is waterproof and non-porous. During the molding process, the mushroom material feels like it won't stay in place due to its relatively dry and crumbly texture. This is OK—the mushroom material's bonding power is stronger than you'd think. Make sure to pack the material in tightly, but keep it loose enough to allow air flow—fungi is alive, after all.
Once left to sit in the mold for four days, the mushroom mycelium needs to sit for one extra day in a sealed plastic bag, allowing the material to set itself. Air flow is key throughout this whole process—blow air into the bag and situate it in a way that none of its sides are touching the tool (except the bottom). After one day, remove the planter from the bag and its mold, and let it sit on a cookie cooling rack for one extra day. I also put mine in front of a fan to help with drying, which worked out well. You'll notice that the planter feels strange to the touch. After racking my brain for awhile, I came to the conclusion that it feels exactly like the moldy rind that encases brie cheese.
Looks like brie, but avoid giving your object a taste test!
Since mushroom mycelium is live matter, it needs to be heated in order to lose its activity. I found myself feeling guilty thinking about killing the fungi I'd spent the last week nurturing. However, if this step is skipped, little mushroom spores will start growing out of your product, which is not the desired result.
My finished planter coming out of the oven—note the slightly browned edges.
Bake the pot at 200 degrees F for 30 minutes. I panicked when I realized my oven starts at 250 degrees F—luckily I'm a baker and thought to bake mine at 250 degrees F for 25 minutes instead, and it turned out well. When you remove the planter from your oven, you'll notice that its moldy hand feel has been replaced by a stiff, paper mâché-like one. This means you've done well, and your final product is ready to function as a planter, or whatever else you have in mind. Drill or poke a small hole in the bottom of your planter to allow water drainage, and you're all set to plant your small plant—one that doesn't require a lot of moisture works best. Yes, it really is that easy.
An example of one of Trofe's finished products. She chose to use this one as a bowl instead of a planter, but it would be just as safe to pot her plant directly in the bowl.
After awhile, your planter will start to degrade and lose its shape. No worries! Simply re-pot your plant in a larger planter while still inside of your mycelium one. The mycelium material will break down, acting as a food source for your plant as it adjusts to its new home.
Want to try this process out yourself or learn more? Go for it!