Hi Folks, after 2+ years of planning and re-planning, finding the right people, the right place, the funding, the nerve to leave the day job, some downs, more ups, It’s finally time to announce that we’ve broken ground on our new mushroom farm.

 

brownbellvert(thanks to friend of the mushrooms Patrick Salamon for this logo)

I’m going to defer to our soon to be launched website for all the words on this endeavor.  In short we’re building Philly’s first mushroom farm where we plan to:

1-Grow gourmet varieties for local restaurants + a retail establishment or two

2- Grow + make stuff for hobbyist mushroom growers of all levels

3- Research new varieties such as the namesake of this blog which hasn’t had much press lately

4- Research new agricultural and environmental applications for fungi

5- Go wherever the mushrooms lead us.

 

At this point we’re almost done our shelves.  Soon to rig up a steam sterilizer, low-tech lab, a hoop house for incubation and another environmentally controlled hoop house where the blocks will go to fruit mushrooms.

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Wooden shelves for incubation

Wooden shelves for incubation

 

There are some interesting things in the pipeline I will explain in due time.  In the meantime if you haven’t ordered a ticket yet, get on it:

Paul and Dusty Stamets are coming to Philly!!!

I’ve been enjoying meeting and email folks from the MUFN (Mycopolitan Urban Fungi Network) listserv.  If you wanna learn more or join our local mushroom community, email info@mycopolitan.com

Much Love,

Mycopolitan

Last post we gave props to a non-native oyster variety.  This week I gotta shout out to a local oyster strain we’re lucky enough to have in our culture library.  Our Philly Oyster strain started out on a fallen poplar in the fall of 2012 and is the same strain we’ve used for all our Philly Oyster Kits.

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Here’s a snapshot of how we make kits.  First, I take a benadryl.   Then we set up our pasteurizer, which you can see behind me and my assistant.  There are a number of ways to pasteurize.  Right now our rig is simple- a slightly below-ground, propane-fed burner (the kind you’d use to steam a cauldron of crawfish) with a cinder block firmly set on either side supporting a 55 gallon food grade drum filled 2/3 with water.  I use a grill cover and some pillows on top to help break the wind and hold in some of the heat, which really helps during the winter.

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Once the burners on and the water’s on it’s way to 170F, we turn our attention to the substrate, first making sure the straw bale is mold-free inside before we shred it.  We used to use a lawnmower, but the yellow shredder pictured above does the job a little faster.  It’s easier with two people, even if one of them is 3’6″.  Oh this is also when the benadryl comes in handy- in addition to oyster spores, I’m allergic to fine particulates of their preferred substrate.  Maybe I’m in the wrong business!

The reason we shred the straw is that shredded straw, when it’s ready to be loaded into grow bags, can be packed in much tighter than straw straight from the bale   When using sawdust you usually want to avoid packing as it’s already quite dense, but with straw shredding will not only provide more base substrate for larger flushes, the mycelium runs faster when there are fewer leaps to be made between pieces of substrate.  Optimally shredded straw averages 4″ in length and is split lengthwise a couple times.  Sometimes this takes a second pass.  Shredding also abrades the waxy surface of the straw so water can absorb more readily during pasteurization.  Oyster mushrooms being over 90% water, this is pretty important.

The next step is loading burlap bags 2/3 of the way full with the shredded straw and tying them off with twine.  Fill them up too much, and it’s hard to pull them out when they’re full of water.  It’s also pretty dangerous considering you’re hoisting them out of 35 gallons of scalding liquid.  At this point, the water should be nearing 170F which means it’s time to toss two bags in.  Once in, they need to be pushed down and dunked a few times so they stay submerged.  Then, lid goes on, pillow etc. and you set your alarm for 1 hour.

Before pasteurizing it’s important to understand the rational behind it.  The point of pasteurizing is to kill off mold spores and bad bacteria while leaving a population of heat-loving bacteria that act as the substrate’s immune system during colonization.  The mycelium readily chomps this bacteria up.  Other contaminants can outrun mycelium early in the process and render the substrate useless.  There is a time-temperature curve for pasteurization.  Pasteurizing at 160 can be done in an hour.  At 140 it might take 3 or more hours. Over 180 and you’ve over pasteurized at least part of your substrate.  You don’t want to under or over-pasteurize.  You also have to keep in mind that the further into the core of the bag you go, the longer it will take for that substrate to get to temperature, and the longer it will take to cool once removed from heat.  It’s just like cooking a bird and letting it rest.  This is much less a factor when using hot water than with steam.

If the straw goes in at 170, the temperature immediately drops a few degrees.  The large volume of water holds so much heat that as long as it’s not freezing or windy outside, the water temperature after an hour only drops to around 155 even with the burner off.  In the winter I leave the burner on just enough for it to follow the same cooling curve.

Two bags out to drain and cool.  Two more in to the same water.  You can do a lot of bags, probably 8 or so before the sugars etc. in the water begin to caramelize.  Caramelized stuff is generally myco-phobic.

making oyster kits is fun, maniacally so

making oyster kits is fun, maniacally so

Once the bags cool, we mix with spawn, load bags, seal them and let them sit for a couple weeks.  Here, Miss McAtamney’s students at Saul are helping out.  By then they’re fully colonized, the mycelium is dense, and they’re ready for fruiting conditions.

Caring for your oyster kit at home is relatively simple but does require daily attention.  Winter is the most challenging time to grow mushrooms at home due to dry conditions inside, so extra attention and/or a humidifier nearby help.  In the spring and fall, you can basically keep kits outside- outdoor mushrooms are always tastier :)

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sometimes, they grow inside the bag, and BIG

sometimes, they grow inside the bag, and BIG

We try to be as supportive of the folks who buy our oyster kits as possible, offering updates like “time to cut those holes!” or “it’s going to be 55 and rainy today, put your kit on the porch!”  We’re also experimenting with some new features we hope will lead to more self-sustaining kits = more mushrooms, less work.

If you’re interested in kits, email info@mycopolitan.com

While poultry references point us towards many of our favorite polypores (hen of the woods, chicken of the woods, turkey tail), it is royal nomenclature that draws our attention to many of the delicious basidiomycetes in the mushroom world.  Few would argue that the King Bolete and closely-related Queen Bolete aren’t the most delectable tubed mushrooms.  Then there’s King Stropharia, lord of broccoli, bees, and bacteria, outshadowing the plebeians of his genus.  The white button agaricus mushrooms you find at the store dominate the mushroom industry, but they can’t hold a candle to the almond-flavored Prince when it comes to taste.

Brian harvesting kings

So it’s no surprise that Pleurotus eryngii, also known as King Oyster, the Royal Trumpet; is the shining example of all an oyster mushroom can be.  It’s formidable size makes it a favorite among chefs who can showcase their fancy knife-work in the firm white flesh.   My favorite preparations include scallops and bacon.  Just seeing those words inspires me to make vegetarian bacon-wrapped scallops.  The longer these mushrooms are cooked, the more they caramelize and develop nuttiness.

Given its royal temperament, the king oyster expects things to be a certain way, and therefore it will only grow properly under the care of a doting farmer.  Temperatures should remain between 50-60F for most strains, and humidity should not drop below 90% for very long, especially without a non-nutritive casing layer to retain moisture.  For most cooks, the ideal King Oyster has a small cap and large stem, and this is achieved by fine-tuning light intensity and CO2 concentration in the growing environment.

Eryngii is uncommon in the wild and only exists in a region from Spain to India.  Interestingly, eryngii prefers wild fennel plants and not wood as its growing medium in the wild.  Like other oyster mushrooms, it performs well on hardwood sawdust in cultivation.

We grew our first batch of Kings in the fall and they were some of the most delicious mushrooms we’ve ever had.  The bags we cased performed much better than those we left uncased.  Uncased, they are more likely to form a thick layer of mushroom tissue- a merging of dozens and even hundreds of “aborted” pins (young mushrooms which failed to develop).  Though not the kind of thing you want to show off to high-end restaurants, this firm, thick fungal platform is perfectly edible and in fact just as tasty as the properly-grown mushrooms.  It’s a bit denser than the mature mushrooms and therefore lends itself very well to mushroom bacon preparation.

King Oyster pin mass

Here’s a recipe for Truffled Deviled Eggs with King Oyster Bacon and Crispy Kale  (as usual I was in a rush and didn’t measure, so take the amounts with a pinch or two or three of salt).

Makes 36 Deviled Egg Halves

18 Eggs

1 lb. King Oyster Mushrooms (actually the wacky aborted pinset you see above works great)

2 leaves Kale

Salt

Pepper

Paprika

Cumin

2 cloves garlic

Truffle Salt (I prefer white truffle for this recipe; truffles themselves, true truffle oil or other truffle preparation is fine too)

2 tbsp. butter (of course from happy pasture-raised cows who produce delicious yellow butter)

1 tbsp high-heat vegetable oil

1/2 tbsp olive oil

1 cup mayo

1/4 cup mustard (I used a mixture of dijon and german)

Vinegar (white wine or champagne is prob best)

2 tsp Maple Syrup

Preheat oven to 330.  Slice the mushrooms into wide thin strips (like 2 mm thick).  Melt the butter in a small pot, add high heat oil, a few big pinches of salt and pepper, a couple pinches of smoked paprika and cumin.  Set 1/4 of it aside.  Drizzle the rest over the mushroom strips in a roasting pan.  Make sure the mushrooms are covered and there’s a layer of fat on the bottom of the pan.  Throw it in the oven.  You’ll be checking on them in 10 minutes.

As mushrooms are roasting, hardboil your eggs.  Test an egg before you think they’re ready-nobody likes green eggs.  I prefer to slightly undercook the yolk so the cholesterol isn’t totally oxidized.  Put them in a cold water bath with some ice cubes when they’re almost done.

There are probably better ways to make kale chips, but what I did turned out tasting great- I just coated them with olive oil, flicked salt and pepper on and hung them off of the shelves in the oven.  Took about 4 minutes to crisp up.

Check on the mushrooms.  After 15 minutes in the oven they should be sizzling and turning tan.  Take the leftover butter concoction and add the maple syrup and minced garlic.  Once the mushroom bacon begins to crisp up, turn them all over and drizzle with the butter/maple syrup mixture.  Put back in the oven for around 5-8 minutes.  Take them out and rest on paper towel.  Save that delicious maple mushroom butter for eating with a spoon later.

Peel and halve your eggs, dropping the yolks in a big bowl.

To the yolks add the mayo, mustard, truffle, vinegar, salt, pepper, mush together and load into a pastry bag or a one corner of a freezer bag.  Squeeze into the halved egg-whites.

Break up the bacon and kale into whatever size you want and place them into the yolk mixture however you think looks good.  Sprinkle a little paprika.

Might also wanna drizzle a couple drops of olive oil or add fried shallots.

King Oyster Deviled Eggs

The best thing about making deviled eggs is that you get to eat the ugly ones before serving.

Enjoy

 

At chickenmushrooms.com, we always try to feed your brain with information.   Hopefully this post will feed your brain with information that will inspire you to feed your brain at home, literally.

Lions Mane (Hericium Erinaceus) is a really cool looking mushroom. For one, it’s covered in what are called in myco-terms “teeth,” although in reality they more closely resemble tapered spagetti.  These teeth contain the hymenium, the layer of cells reponsible for forming spores, the same way that gills work in agaricales and pores work in polypores.  It’s almost pure white and can grow into gargantuan blobs, making it fairly easy to spot (although not always so easy to reach!).  In our area I usually find lions mane on dead or dying beech and inside the hollow of a maple.

Perhaps you’ve seen the list of foods that resemble the body parts they’re good for.  Ginger for stomach, avocado for ovaries, tomatoes for heart.  Some are a bit of a stretch if you ask me.

Not so for the delicious lions mane mushroom.  The inside of the lions mane hearkens strikingly to the ventricles (fluid cavities) as well as the pattern of white and gray matter inside of our noggins.  On top of that, it’s covered in teeth that resemble the axons (neural tracts where electronic impulses are conducted) that the mushroom is particularly good for.  Step aside walnut!

Lions Mane mycelium on agar looks like a neuron!

Lions Mane mycelium on agar looks like a neuron!

white matter

white matter

When evaluating the efficacy of mycological compounds, there are several important distinctions to make.  The two most important are the source material (mushroom vs mycelium) and the manner of extraction (water vs alcohol).  Lions Mane is a good case study in these distinctions- the fruitbody (mushroom) itself contains compounds called hericenones whereas the mycelium produces similar compounds known as erinacenes.   Both can be extracted into alcohol.   It turns out the erinacenes have the greatest efficacy when it comes to increasing the level of NGF (Nerve Growth Factor) in the brain.  NGF serves a number of purposes in the brain, protecting it against various harms and increasing the production of axon-protecting myelin.  Myelin is the stuff that goes away when someone’s suffering from some of the effects of Lyme Disease or Multiple Sclerosis.  NGF also protects the brain from the effects of Alzheimer’s.  Good stuff.

Although the mushroom itself contains the lesser of these compounds and its volatile nature means that cooking it may very well deplete some of the effectiveness (remember, avoid eating all mushrooms raw), this doesn’t mean that eating cooked lions mane doesn’t do anything for your noodle.  Nagano et al. 2010 found that women who ate cooked lions mane were less depressed and more able to concentrate, suggesting that those hericenones were doing their thing.

My littlest nephew holding a medium sized lions mane

My littlest nephew holding a medium sized lions mane

Last week I had about 8 lbs of lions mane to play with so I decided to make crab cakes.  The texture of lions mane can be very crab-like and you can even draw a seafoody taste out of it by preparing it a certain way.

When I attended the Stamets Seminar last year, they prepared lions mane by tearing them up and cooking along with butter and spinach.  The butter and the addition of spinach brought out the seafoody flavor of the mushroom.  If you wanna play up the sweetness instead, I’d recommend cutting it into thick chunks and caramelizing in a pan using coconut oil.  Yum.

I wanted to make crab cakes that are not only good brain food, but good health food in general.  Hence Vegan, Gluten-Free Crab Cakes:  Don’t be scared because they’re healthy.  They’re actually really good.

YUM

YUM

Here’s the recipe as best I can remember.  I’m not one to measure.

Makes 12 crab cakes:

5 medium sized zucchinis

1/2 cup chia seeds (soaked in 1/2 cup water)

4 lbs. lions mane mushroom (shredded where shreddable, chopped everywhere else)

1/4 oz. dried porcini (reconstituted in water) (optional)

1 Squirt liquid aminos (optional)

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp vegan butter

2 tbsp dijon mustard

2 tsp old bay

1/2 cup chopped parsley

2 sheets nori (toasted lightly)

4 cloves garlic

salt, pepper, and cayenne to taste

Lions Mane roasting down

Lions Mane roasting down

Mix 2 teaspoons of salt into shredded zucchini, let site for 20 minutes, then squeeze out all the liquid you can (you can use this liquid in place of water for hydrating chia but be mindful of saltiness).  Soak chia seeds in water.  Roast lions mane and vegan butter + olive oil   + a little salt in pan  at 350 until it loses all water and starts to brown.  Throw in minced garlic, porcini + liquid from porcini, liquid aminos, half the parsley, and shredded nori and allow to roast until the lions mane are deeply carmelized, stirring occasionally to prevent burning.  Mix the zucchini, chia seeds, mustard, remaining parsley, spices and roasted lion concoction mane together.  Form into balls and push down onto wax paper.  when you push them down, they will crack around the edges so reform them as tightly as possible into traditional crab cake shape.  Heat a large pan at medium heat, throw in the vegan butter and brown the cakes on each side for about 5 minutes, lid on.  Use your greatest chef skills when flipping and removing the cakes because they don’t have gluten and egg to hold them together!  Serve immediately or allow to cool, wrap in wax paper, bag em up and freeze them.

 

These crab cakes are so good on their own I wouldn’t even recommend a roll.  Just some nice tartar sauce or tangy garlic dijon mayo.  mmmmmmm.

After dining, go ahead and figure out the Unified Field theory, write the great American novel, and embarrass your friends at Scrabble.

Experienced mushroom hunters know that hunting for mushrooms is often more about hunting for trees.  Find the right trees at the right time and flushes of delectable varieties are often waiting for you just around the trunk.  If you haven’t learned your oaks yet, now is high time!

Spring Red Oak

A Red Oak towers over cherry and hemlock in spring

In the eastern US and many other parts of the world, Oaks are one of the most important fungal host and ally.  Oaks are host to, among many other saprophytes (species that decompose wood) a number of edible and medicinal polypores including chicken of the woods, hen of the woods, black staining polypore, berkley’s polypore, reishi , and turkey tail.  Mycorrhizal  species associated with oaks include chanterelle, black trumpet, bi-color bolete, old man of the woods, and indigo milky. The Quercus genus consists of around 600 species which range across much of the norther latitudes.  Species of oak that would look at home in Pennsylvania are even abundant in higher elevations of central and South America.

cincinnatus beaut

Laetiporus Cincinnatus, one of the many saprophytes associated with oak

Learning to distinguish oaks from other common trees of the forest can be an extremely important step in becoming a more successful forager.  If given the choice between walking a path into a poplar forest or an oak-beech forest, choose the latter and there’s a better chance you’ll leave with a heavier bag.  Another bonus of hiking an oak forest is that it’s more likely to be more free of thick under-story and invasives, making spotting mushrooms easier.  I do some of my best hunting from the road.  Once you know what oaks look like you can let your eyes dart (from the passenger seat of course) from tree to tree and you’ll be surprised what you can spot at 50 mph.

trametes versicolor log

turkey tails on a fallen oak

So how do you learn to identify trees?   The easiest feature to learn is probably the leaf.  This is a good place to start, but it can slow your forage to a crawl if you stop at every tree to stare up into the canopy.  In Fall the rust color of the leaves are a quick indicator, but it requires a discerning eye.   The overall shape of the tree and the bark are more reliable tools for identifying oaks.

Look for long strips of flattened, smooth bark along the trunk of red oak

Look for long strips of flattened, smooth bark along the trunk of red oak

The shape of an oak, once you’re familiar with it, is a dead giveaway.  Oaks tend to have fairly straight trunks with large branches that start higher up the trunk in medium aged trees.  As an oak ages, the crown (area where mass of branches form) actually drops and the massive branches extend out far from the trunk.  The base of the trunk usually tapers outward and the beginnings of roots give the base a scalloped appearance.

White Oak bark is light colored and often appears to be flaking off, similarly to silver maple

White Oak bark is light colored and often appears to be flaking off, similarly to silver maple

Knowing your oak bark is a great way to tell different oaks apart.  For instance, if it’s October and you’re hunting for hens, you want to find white oaks.  White oak bark is lighter in color than black or red oaks and it often sticks out in strips somewhere along the trunk.  If you want to find chickens, you’re more likely to find them with red oaks, so you look for areas of the bark that are flattened out and smooth, almost shiny.    Chestnut oaks are probably the easiest bark to identify in this area of the world.  Extremely deeply ridged, chestnut oak bark can resemble the grand canyon from above.  Chickens and hens both grow on chestnut oaks.

Black Oak Bark is rougher than other oak barks and can often resemble black cherry

Black Oak Bark is rougher than other oak barks and can often resemble black cherry

Chestnut Oak

chestnut oak leaves are tricky but the bark is unmistakeable

 

The trick I find with bark is to not only look for the identifying features, but for counter-indicators.  For instance, black birch bark can look like red oak bark, but if you look at the base you’ll see larger patches of smoothness dissimilar from the strips of smoothness seen on the oak.   Start by scanning the entire length of trunk until you’re confident of your assessment.

This old black birch man's bark can be mistaken for red oak, but the round smooth patch on his cheek tells another story

This old black birch man’s bark can be mistaken for red oak, but the round smooth patch on his cheek tells another story

When you start to get it down, stare.   Let the essence of the tree sink deep into your hippocampal circuits and you’ll build a subconscious portfolio for these species that will automatically call out to you as you scan a forest.  I’d tell you to practice, but finding pounds of delicious mushrooms is probably reinforcement enough encouragement.

Get out there and learn your oaks!

 

Any concerns I had about the purity of the cordyceps clone have been resolved after watching the strain run out on sterilized rye.  To recap, the jar of rye was completely colonized from one agar wedge after 4 days, no shaking necessary.  This strain seems to propogate like a mold, but more like chicken mushroom, creating satellite colonies wherever a tiny strand of aerial mycelium has landed.  This is a unique biological advantage for the fungus.  If you’ve seen Planet Earth’s jungles episode, you may remember that the bullet ants carry the corpses of their cordyceps-infected brethren (sistren?) far away, where they then perform hari-kari to protect their hive from an attack of pandemic proportions.  For the complete backstory, see the previous blog post.

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Beyond speedy colonization, this strain has another interesting ability.  It can form at least the beginning of the actual mushroom “fruitbody” simply from rye grain.  As far as I know, this hasn’t been achieved with cordyceps species.  They require either insects or a carefully balanced slurry of agar, minerals, and organic compounds in order to produce the spore-producing mushrooms.

Aloha Medicinals is helping us out with a genetic test, and we should hear back in a few weeks I hope.  My guess at the moment is that it is closely related to, but unique from the well-known species C. militaris.  The fact that it was cloned from carpenter bee, colonizes rapidly in a mold-like fashion and can produce primordia on grain suggests that there’s something different going on than militaris, though the orange-color of older mycelium is a trait it shares with this species.

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Got a bagful of 17-year cicadas from my nephew, Dustin (these bugs are older than him) which I sterilized and fed to a healthy wedge of cordyceps mycelium.  The wedge had been refrigerated, so it took a day to rebound and show growth, but by day three, this is what it looks like.

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Hopefully we’ll get some nice healthy fruits so we can check it out under the microscope and capture spores for further research.

Oh BTW, summer mushrooms are out in force.  We’ve taken a few pounds chanterelles around to chefs at White Dog and Parc, restaurants that are excited to use the unique flavors of wild mushrooms in their dishes.  Delicious.

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Warning:  Graphic Content

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There’s a mysterious killer on the prowl in Rancocas.  She mummifies her victim and uses the body as a platform to display her lethal sexuality.

Don’t worry, she’s not after you…. yet.

The unfortunate victim in this case was a carpenter bee.  And the killer is a fungus in the genus Cordyceps.  In a heroic act of altruism in the name of the Queen, the afflicted insect burrowed it’s way into the ligneous core of a fallen oak until it could go no further.  One can imagine its final moments: starved of oxygen and in a state of utter confusion as the carniverous hyphae dissolved its nervous system.  The heroic act paid off- the Cordyceps had succeeded in producing fruiting bodies but the spores, which would have threatened the entire colony, had nowhere to go.

That is, until a nosy mammal spotted the corpse and put it in his bag…

Cordyceps mushrooms, most notably Cordyceps Sinensis, the ‘caterpillar mushroom’ which grows 3 miles above sea level in the Himalayas, are prized for their affect on physical stamina.  More on this in this previous post.

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I took the corpse home with me and dismembered it in front of the flow hood.  The mycelium cloned readily on agar, starting out pure white then turning creamsicle-orange.  To my surprise, satellite colonies started popping up away from the main mat.  This probably indicates that the mycelium has the unique advantage of forming aerial hyphae which are carried away in the wind in hopes of landing on a new host.  Chicken mushroom mycelium also has this advantage, and this may explain why chicken mushroom mycelium is so common in oak forests.

After a week, I transferred an agar wedge to rye grain.  In three days, the jar was completely colonized!  When something colonizes that quickly, the first thought is contaminant mold, but after another five days there was no sign of mold spores.

IMG_20130531_152643_001

I’m curious what species this is.  My first guess, based on the color of the mycelium and the fact that it is known in the Eastern U.S. would be C. militaris (which contains some of the same compounds found in C. sinensis).  However, I found no mention of militaris fruiting from a bee.  Also, the fruit bodies from the Rancocas specimen were small, flattened and more white than the familiar militaris fruits.  Perhaps the compressed, anaerobic nature of their growing environment explains their unusual appearance.  Or, maybe it’s another species, even a new species.  How cool would that be!  C. mycopolitanus (this will make more sense in subsequent posts)

Good things happening in the human-mycelial matrix.  Stay tuned, and thanks for reading!

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