There’s a hidden danger inside your flowhood

I’ve started to use a commercial flowhood in 2006 and at that time I didn’t know what’s made of. For me it was just a box that cleans up the air that mycologists use for fungus tissue transfers, cloning, spawn making, mushroom growing and some other related operations. For four years I’ve been playing with this box without knowing that I was breathing in and eating fiberglass particles. Accidently, in 2010 I discovered this while manipulating with my bare hands a HEPA filter that I was going to use to build my first flowhood (the light was on and my finger prints were shiny). This was when I questioned myself what was that filter made of and started to look into it a little, but this wasn’t enough because at that time I said myself, what the heck, everybody is using it therefore it should be fine.

After 3 years, I’ve built another flowhood and placed a HEPA filter in it and used that for a while until I had to analyse a mycelium fragment taken from a pure culture under the flowhood which I was going to check under a microscope. What I saw it was shocking: a bunch of sharp needles fused together and scattered all over my preparate mixed with fungus mycelium. At first I tought that could be some glass fragments originating from the slide and wanted to confirm that by checking another empty slide under the microscope (that wasn’t placed under the flowhood). I didn’t see anything, then I placed the slide under the flowhood again and re-checked that under the microscope, this time I saw again the sharp particles that I labeled fiberglass particles originating from my flowhood’s HEPA filter.

It was terrifying to realize that those prickles could get into my lungs or stomach, right after that I knew how exposed I’ve been this whole time.

This looks very much with what I saw under the microscope -too bad that I don’t have a picture to show you exactly what I saw. Photo credits: etc.usf.edu

These fiberglass particles were shiny in the sun light or when exposed to indoor light [the stronger the light the better] and would remain on my finger tips even after hand washing, they would go off only when I would use a brush. For a while I used disposable gloves and a simple mask to protect myself from this -as a mycologist this was an essential equipment that I was using quite often. The gloves were fine, the mask wasn’t because it didn’t have the ability to filter fiberglass particles so I was still exposed. I was trying to convince myself that this isn’t dangerous and maybe I’m just exagerating because every one out there is using HEPA filters in their flowhoods. I took several samples from other flowhoods as well and pretty soon I realized that all of em were releasing these particles [especially when hit, shaken or transported]. I dug into literature to check the health hazards that I’ve been exposed to, read about controversial stuff on this topic, and studies highlighting tumor risks, expoure time, particle size related things..This is just a tiny sample of what you can see out there:

I was taking very often showers to wash away the fiberglass from my hair, face, hands, and the rest of my body. Only the thought that those prickles would get anywhere in the lab or in the house (door handles, food, tables, chlothing, etc) was crazy -I wasn’t enjoying anymore what I was doing. All this┬ámade me slowly isolate and soon distroy my flowhood. A mycologist without a flowhood is pretty much like the skies without a moon, so I had to find a solution to this.

Many of you’ve purchased commercial clean-air flowhoods. The’re not cheap either and the bigger and heavier the flowhood the more you need to pay for shipping. Then, you place your box in the bedroom, kitchen, closed, or so turn it on and spread the crap everywhere in your house or lab and you don’t even know it, cuz see..nobody is telling you about it. You need to do your own homework if you really care about your health, (if you don’t that’s fine -this is just a message for those who care).

To check fiberglass particles simply play around without gloves on with some petri plates under your flowhood, then turn on the strongest light that you have around and check your palms, twist them to see any tiny reflections of light when held against it. You can do the same outside in the sunlight. Another way to check for fiberglass particles is to pour some water on your flowhood work bench, mix it up to wash the surface and place 1-2 drops on a microscope slide, then check for prickles [use the 40 -100 x magnifier]. If you see anything you’re also exposed, repeat the test and start to do something about it (if you care). The worst thing you can do is to accept and continue working with it as is or even if you protect yourself with gloves and mask at one point you might find yourself eating and preparing your food with disposable gloves on because you don’t want your fiberglas infected hands to touch your food and when you’ll get to this point is just the start for you getting paranoic about it. It just sucks, I know! but you need to be aware of this hidden danger. Toss the damn thing out to the dumpster or change the filter with something else or go backwards and better get a glovebox or simply build a new flowhood -for this you can check my course on how to build a fiberglass-FREE flowhood if you want.. You don’t have to take my course for this, but go do yor own homework to find a new way to change something so you can get rid of those nasty fiberglass particles. Do something, change your life! I just can’t believe that for 5 years or so I was exposed to this crap because nobody told me. Could be the same old story as happent when people introduced asbestos and DDT, they worked, were efficient everybody embraced them, loved them until they realized they were slow killers. Fiberglass products might end up like this one day.

I know this is a bad message, but hey let’s be realistic about it -it’s better for you to be aware about it rather than working with it and one day get sick without knowing why. Please spread the word about this to your buddies that don’t know about it, they simply have the right to know.

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Grower Levels

STARTER MUSHROOM GROWERS

I met people wanting to start growing for their first time mushrooms that most people wouldn’t grow (for example turkey tail (Trametes versicolor). Now, this explains that we have our own interests and not everyone wants to start growing oyster mushrooms just because they are easy to grow. Anyways, if you want to grow mushrooms for food then i would recommend you to start with what’s easy to grow so you can familiarize yourself with what means to grow mushrooms. Once you have a general idea on what this means try some other ones and see how the growing process or fungus behavior differs from the previous one. Start by growing the common oyster. This comes in different varieties which is reflected in differences regarding shape, colors, consistency, taste, etc. Try growing the blue oyster (var. columbinus), the white oyster, the brown oyster, the olive-brown, the pearl, gray and so on.

All of these oyster mushroom types belong to the common oyster which is actually a complex [Level 1 -probably the easiest to grow and therefore I recommend you to start your mushroom adventure as grower by trying these ones out].

LEVEL #1

Oyster Mushrooms –Pleurotus spp. Common oyster (P. ostreatus, var. columbinus, P. pulmonarius, P. florida n.n., etc)

Yellow oysters (P. citrinopileatus)

Pink oysters (P. djamor & allies)

Abalone oyster (P. cystidiosus)

LEVEL #2

King Oyster (P. eryngii)

Milky (Calocybe indica)

Stropharia (Stropharia rugosoannulata)

Paddy Straw (Volvariella volvacea)

Levels 1 & 2 are easy to grow. For Level 2 -King oysters and Milky: you will notice that growing these two has some advantages over the first level especially because of the prolonged shelf life, edible stem, taste or consistency but using the same grow methods as for those from Level #1 provides fewer mushrooms. Some changes in growth procedure are needed in this case.

So, play around with different strains of these particular mushrooms, take notes and learn what are their requirements in terms of conditions and what their characteristics are. Once you gain experience in growing these mushroom types you may take your mushroom adventure to the next level.

THE AMATEUR MUSHROOM ENTHUSIASTS

Amateur mushroom enthusiasts are already familiar with mushroom growing but wanting to take their mushroom adventure further and optimize what they know and want to learn some more. I believe that mushroom growing is addicting: when you drive on a straight road and see a straw pile on the side of the road, then you realize how addicted you are to this -you start to think that mycelium took over your brain and spreads everywhere..

Optimize

Every grower has its own way of growing mushrooms which is adapted to what he or she thinks is best and so there isn’t a standard grow method that applies to everyone. With that said, it’s important to find your own way, implement what you learn, explore, take notes and get more experience in time. At this stage, probably you would want to find out ways of learning different mushroom grow methods and use which one is best for the mushroom types you already grew or explore for great strains and of course thinking to try growing some other mushroom types. A good point at this stage is to learn from others as much as you can.

Try something different

This is when you want to know more about mushroom growing and explore methods on how to grow the Level #3 mushrooms. By now, you realized that the Level 3 mushrooms are grown successfully only with equipment. I personally believe that these mushrooms may be grown without any equipment if you know how. Most farms in Asia grow some of these without autoclaves for centuries. Probably they don’t get the highest yields but it’s still doable.

LEVEL #3

Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus)

Black Poplar (Agrocybe aegerita)

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)

Shimenji (Hypsizygus sp.)

Ear Mushroom (Auricularia auricula)

Enoki (Flammulina velutipes)

Reishi (Ganoderma lucidum)

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Nameko (Pholiota nameko)

Maitake (Grifola frondosa)

The above have different requirements and it’s a satisfying adventure to try growing these different mushroom types -each one of them unique in what regards shape, color, texture or taste. Some of these are sold in the markets as gourmet or medicine. Once you know how to grow these you’re good to try some of the Level #4 mushrooms.

Should you make your own spawn?

I’ve noticed many amateur growers at this stage being also interested in making mushroom spawn which I believe it’s fair to explore. Btw 70% of the growers out there make their own spawn, so this remains another challenge which is more likely to happen sooner or later in your mushroom adventure. So, why do these farms make their own and not buy it? Well, I guess they all want to cut costs (mainly spawn cost plus shipping). Most startup mushroom farmers purchase their spawn which I highly recommend. I also recommend farmers to purchase their spawn if they don’t have time or don’t want to get into the spawn making challenges -let the experts do what they know best. However, if you’re a farmer on a low budget and already have an autoclave because you grow Level 3 mushrooms or want to explore this side of the industry, then go for it. The good news is that with proper guidance even a 15 year old can do it. Besides, you need to invest in this as much as you like. You may start with low-tech equipment which requires only few hundreds $. It all gets to quality spawn which you can get through low tech or high tech (it doesn’t matter how -mycelium doesn’t care about that). Spawn making is not for everyone but for those with skills required to get that quality final product. Spawn making seems to be easy, but there are many hidden aspects that only experienced people are able to cover. To keep a high standard quality when you produce spawn is the most important task which in many cases cannot be achieved without proper training.

Growing mushrooms for profit

At this point many mushroom enthusiasts are thinking to make a living out of growing mushrooms. Some even think to pay their rent in mushrooms ­čÖé There are plenty of positive examples out there which clearly show that growing mushrooms for profit has a huge potential. You can go for what’s on the market already or you may start a new trend throwing out there something unbelievable -you pick. Taste, texture and shelf-life are very important but also the look. Oyster mushrooms and shiitake are leaders among specialty mushrooms but there are some other ones like: beech & black poplar mushrooms, enoki, maitake or nameko which people out there know about. So what should you grow first? what’s easier for you or what has the highest demand? I think you need to keep a balance in between these two. Yield/block is what could lift you higher or drag you down. Every mushroom block has a maximum potential and if not squeezed well you loose time, effort and funds. In such a case the cost could get higher than what you’ve expected that’s why you need to know how to. Make sure you get to that info before you even start your business.

THE EXPERIENCED MUSHROOM GROWER

What does ‘Experienced’ mean? You don’t need to pass all these levels that I’ve set to be experienced. You may grow one mushroom know lots about it and be considered an expert in growing that particular mushroom. This is rather rare among mushroom enthusiasts but I must confess that I’ve met such people. Every expert has challenges even if he or she got to the top of his thing but an expert will constructively think what must be done to improve methodology or other areas to get to best results when growing mushrooms. One rule applies here: two heads are always better than one. Different people -different point of views. Working to improve things in a group seems to be more efficient than working alone to solve any challenges that might arise.

Obsessed with yield?

How to cut costs and still get a great yield or how to get that contamination under 2% are just two of the constant expert thoughts that swirl in the head.

New candidates

At this stage experienced people in most cases are interested in how to grow the weird mushrooms like the ones of the Level 4. A bit challenging to grow these ones but not impossible, I guess it builds more personal experience because none out there grows these for profit. At the end they remain a nice try or a sweet success.

LEVEL #4

Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus sulphureus)

Steak Fungus (Fistulina hepatica)

Blewit (Lepista nuda)

Cauliflower Fungus (Sparassis crispa)


How about wild mushrooms?

Wild mushrooms are highly appreciated. You may see them from time to time at Whole-foods and guess what? many people are ready to give away big bucks for em. Restaurants want them! Why not grab a slice of this business too? Why give people only what can be grown? What seems to be important is again: look, freshness, taste, consistency, color, shelf-life and availability. Unfortunately they’re not always available unless you want to put a new candidate on the Level 5 list. At this level probably the famous morel mushroom remains a priority.

LEVEL #5

Morel Mushroom (Morchella sp.)

The good news is that it can be grown, even though very few out there got to actually grow them and I failed miserably at this but that’s another story. Well, they can be easily grown in your own yard or in the woods which is great. I would encourage everyone to try grow them and share their stories, maybe as a group we’ll do a better job.

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