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Growing Cordycep Mushrooms

As I’ve said before, I’m not hugely interested in the health benefits of mushrooms, I’ve always taken the claims with a healthy dose of scepticism and I’d suggest you do the same. The fungal world is truly magical but it’s also full of nonsense, dubious claims and snake oil salesmen.

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That being said, I’m becoming more and more interested in the medicinal properties of mushrooms as a part of a healthy diet and lifestyle. This time I was looking at Cordyceps. They contain a compound, among others, called Cordycepin which is claimed to ‘cure-what-ails-ya’ including energy boosting, tumour-fighting and heart health to name a few, again, take this with a pinch of salt and draw your own conclusions.

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Under the guidance of Lawrence Jones, a fantastic Cordyceps breeder here in the UK, I was provided with the gear and instructions to get a first grow under my belt. In the kit Lawrence sent me was a growing tub with filters, 40ml of a Cordycep Militaris liquid culture, 20g of a nutrient broth powder and 200g of organic brown rice. He also included a homemade Cordycep Tincture! 

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Following Lawrence’s instructions to the letter, I started by cleaning the tub inside and out with Isopropyl alcohol, paying close attention to the rim of the tub inside and out. Little divots, scratches and recesses can be a great place for contamination to hide white is why it’s important to pre-clean the tub even though we will sterilise it.

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I then added the raw brown rice to the pot.

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Next, I added the nutrient broth mixture to 300ml of water. Lawrence mentioned that distilled/purified was best, next spring water followed by tap water. Since I only had tap water, that’s what I went for. Adding the powder to the water, I blended it for a few minutes, so it was all incorporated.

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Generally speaking, Cordycep growers are secretive about their broth recipes, though Lawrence did divulge this contained some kind of algae, something I noticed when I took a whiff. Next, I added the broth to the rice.

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I then sealed the lid on tight and pressure cooked at 15psi for 30 minutes. I used an elastic band for some reason but it just melted in the PC so failed to do whatever I thought I was doing it for…

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After 30 minutes, the instructions said remove from heat source and store on level surface for 8 hours so the rice sets evenly. Being impatient, something that would annoy me later on in the grow, I removed the tub from the PC once the pressure had dropped and let it cool in front of my flowhood. The reason this is a bad idea is because the level of condensation is significantly more than letting it cool naturally, making it harder to see what’s going on inside the tub. When an expert tells you to do something, it’s for a reason! Follow the instructions next time!

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7 hours sooner than it should have been cool, the tub was now cool in front of my flowhood. I donned my PPE of masks and gloves, wiped down the outside of the tub and popped the lid off.

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I wiped down the syringes and sprayed all 40ml of LC into the rice. Cordyceps don’t seem to propagate outwards in a rhizomorphic way like oysters do, they seem to be slow growing in that aspect. Lawrence made it clear that it was important to get a good even coverage with the LC as where it landed, it would more or less stay there and not really fill out much in such a big tub. I didn’t understand this until I saw it later on.

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With one syringe I worked in a zig-zagg fashion in one direction then zig-zagged a across with the other syringe then filling in the very outer perimeter with the left over.

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I closed the lid and sealed around it with parafilm. I incubated them in my airing cupboard which has an average of around 20c, the lower end according to Lawrence’s instructions of 20c – 24c  but because of an inconsistent heatwave, a safer bet.

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I inoculated the tub on 03/06/20 and by 13/06/20 the tub was fully colonised, a total of 10 days. Lawrence’s instructions said between 7 – 10 days for colonisation so I was right on the end of that, possibly because of the heat. I had clearly missed a spot or two with the LC so rice was showing on. Lawrence suggested a spiral fashion may be better next time.0

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By this time, the heatwave was in full swing and I was worried about killing my Cordyceps. The next step was to have a lighting cycle of 12 on 12 off. This could be achieved by LED or natural light. However, natural light was too hot at this point, so I opted for a low wattage LED and a fan to keep the box cool. I could have come up with a more creative way for the LED to be suspended but I had to work with what I had and if it works it isn’t stupid. Just be mindful, like I said, LED’s create heat too so make sure they don’t cook your grow. Keeping them off the tub is advisable.

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I triggered pinning on the 13/06/20 and the first signs of pins were on the 29/06/20 a total of 26 days from start to pinning and this was during a heatwave where the tub got very hot, around 25c – 27c. Ideally, Lawrence said, the fruiting temp is 18c – 20c and no higher than 22c for prolonged periods… obviously I failed at keeping the temps down. Pins are expected to fruit between 20 – 30 days, since mine were 4 days early, this could be due to stress I suspect.

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As the temperatures remained so high, I removed the LED’s and just left the tub in the middle of my living room on my kitchen counter. I rotated it 90 degrees every day to make sure each side of the tub got equal exposure. It was interesting to see the fruit bodies as they formed, leaning towards the sun. I’d never seen this so pronounced in mushrooms before. The Cordyceps got to about 1” tall before they began to fill out. Lawrence mentioned this was because the culture he sent me was old so had degraded in performance.

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On 24/07/20 I sent a photo to Lawrence. I thought they looked mature. He said to look for white spots but because of my condensation catastrophe I couldn’t see clearly enough. However, the mushrooms should be at maturity 50 – 60 days from inoculation, since this was at 51 days I decided to go for it. I fished out the cake and was well impressed with the result. It was like nothing I had ever grown before, a completely alien looking landscape like an orange forest. 

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They weren’t overly tall but had filled out nicely given the age of the culture and the battering by the heat. I started harvesting by pulling the mushrooms off one by one, this was a stupid idea and would have taken ages, however, I wanted to get as much of the intact mushrooms off of the cake as possible. I resigned myself to tearing chunks off at a time, substrate, and all. I tidied them up a bit afterwards. I netted about 93g wet.

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After dehydrating, this dropped to 9g-ish dry. I would imagine if the culture were fresher and the temperatures were kept stable, this could have easily been double the yield, however, I didn’t care. I am over the moon with this grow, it has been such an amazing learning experience and I am forever in debt to Lawrence Jones of Kaizen Cordyceps for teaching me the ways of this weird and wonderful mushroom.

Lawrence suggested, since Cordycepin is water soluble, that tea would be the best way to enjoy the compounds. I don’t drink hot drinks at all, so mushroom tea wasn’t going to make the cut. But now that I have the drive to grow more, I will keep these ones dried and do a duel extraction on them when I have enough. Keep an eye out for that blog in the future.

An interesting thought came to me as I was writing this. Cordyceps are known as the Zombie fungus, though Militaris may not be the ultimate Zombie maker if at all, it has been though that they could evolve to infect humans. I think this is wrong, what this has proven to me is that Cordyceps have already taken over my brain without needing to drop a single spore. It seems the ultimate way for a species to thrive is to give something beneficial to humans!

Thanks again to Lawrence for instructing, providing the kit and supporting me through this first, of many, grows.

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