For thousands of years, foraging mushrooms in nature has been a human pursuit. Modern scientists, called mycologists, study molds, yeasts, and other fungi to determine which ones are edible, toxic, or otherwise beneficial. Due to this research, we can buy common, inexpensive farm-grown mushrooms in a supermarket. Other edible varieties are available in specialty markets and are often cultivated indoors where growing conditions can be managed for optimal results. But these benefits of indoor mushroom cultivation come with a potential cost: indoor growing can create unhealthy air quality issues.
Through mycology, the branch of biology that studies fungi, roughly 144,000 species have been identified. Though only a small percentage of that number are edible mushrooms, there are still plenty of varieties to grow as a source of food or medicine. Sales have increased with demand and today, mushroom cultivation is a booming industry. So much so, that many businesses and individuals have set up enclosed operations in order to regulate temperature, light, and humidity for healthier and more robust growing results. But even under close control, fumes and particulates will be emitted into the atmosphere and unless air filtration is employed, the quality of the product may be compromised or worse: growers will get sick.
In the wild, mushrooms reproduce by releasing spores, the fungal equivalent of voluntary seed dispersal. The mixing of spores leads to the growth of mycelium which produces pinheads that eventually “fruit” into full-sized mushrooms, completing the life cycle.
But indoors, the process must be replicated and encouraged by farmers, scientists, or cultivators. Here are the basic 5-steps to cultivating mushrooms indoors:
- Spawning – It all starts with spawn, which is a blend of spores and nutrient sources like grain, hay, or wood particles. The initial nourishment provided by spawn accelerates the rest of the growing process.
- Inoculation – The spawn is then added to a growing medium, often sawdust, woodchips, straw, or coffee grounds, that is mixed with water and sealed. Mycelium uses the substrate for energy and nutrients as it continues to grow. This step requires a clean and germ-free environment to reduce the possibility of mold, bacteria, or other fungi competing with mushrooms for the substrate’s nutrients.
- Incubation – The sterile mix is placed in a dark and warm setting to allow the mycelium to completely take over the substrate.
- Fruiting – The mix is then exposed in a temperature-controlled space to expose the colonized substrate to fresh air, humid conditions, and a bit of light. Pinheads will start to form, eventually growing into mature mushrooms.
- Harvesting – This begins when a mushroom reaches maturity.
AIR QUALITY ISSUES
During all five steps, clean, unpolluted air is of utmost importance for an indoor mushroom grower. Firstly, infant fungi are prone to disease and infection, which requires a sterile environment to keep vulnerable specimens free from contamination.
But more importantly, the air should be free of harmful substances for good health. Mushroom spores have the potential to cause illness, particularly for cultivators who have had long-term occupational exposure.
HEALTH CONCERNS / SYMPTOMS
Mushroom growers can develop breathing disorders due to the ongoing inhalation of polluted air in cultivation houses. Long-term exposure to mushroom spores can lead to lung inflammation. Over time, the condition will likely worsen and turn into chronic (long-lasting) respiratory disease.
Mushroom Worker’s Lung is a form of hypersensitivity pneumonitis and is the most common inflammatory condition associated with mushroom spore exposure. The American Lung Association defines it as an immune system disorder in which your lungs become inflamed as an allergic reaction to inhaled microorganisms, plant, and animal proteins, or chemicals.
Symptoms may include chills, fever, cough, and pulmonary distress such as shortness of breath. Without the use of a HEPA filter for mushroom cultivation, over time, exposure to high concentrations of spores can trigger asthma attacks.
Air purification using a HEPA filter for mushroom cultivation will eliminate the potential for spore exposure to occur. HEPA filters contain a collection of thin internal sieves that capture even the smallest particles from passing through and entering a worker’s breathing space. These filters have the highest ability to capture harmful dust, fumes, and bacteria for growing houses and labs where mushroom cultivation takes place. At AIRSInc, our customers in the field of mycology and mushroom cultivation benefit from our products that boast industrial-strength air purification. Please visit our website to view our complete line of HEPA filtration products or contact us today for a free estimate from one of our experienced indoor environmental specialists.