The needle got lost in the bright gleam bouncing off the industrial flow hood. Donning a pair of blue nitrile gloves, a pair of hands torches a syringe, turning its point a bright vermillion, as a group of just over a dozen people watched on from webcams.
The Phoenix Myconauts, a group of fungi fanatics, met on Zoom Wednesday night, as they do every Wednesday night, to kick off another structured mushroom grow.
A blooming interest in mycology, the study of fungi, has led foodies and foragers, scientists and shamans, empty nesters and aspiring homesteaders to take up mushroom cultivation at home.
Mushroom hobbyists spawn gourmet mushrooms in everything from high-grade equipment to plastic bins and mason jars. One Myconaut even saw success growing on the pages of a Harry Potter
Each adapts a certain TEK, mushroom speak for technique, to achieve success. At the weekly gathering of the Myconauts, the group compares notes, goes over the curriculum, and shares the progress and fruits of their labor.
This time around the group is growing brown beech mushrooms, a mild nutty fungi often used in soups and stir-fries.
For some, it’s their first grow. For others, it’s just one of many fungi projects populating their homes.
“You can just run up to somebody on the internet like you’re a kindergartner and be like, ‘I like mushrooms. Do you like mushrooms?'” says Nicci Lumm, one of the organizers for Phoenix Myconauts and Mycokit, the auxiliary mushroom supply company.
“That’s kind of how it started. I do. I do like mushrooms.”
With the heat-sanitized syringe, Dennis Lumm, the other half of Phoenix Myconauts and Mycokit, injects a bag of rye with mycelium. In a week, the grain will start to grow small spots of white fuzz. And a week after that, the fuzz will take over the grain. And after a transfer to another bigger bag of mixed grain, a flush of gourmet mushrooms will take over.
Dennis and Nicci have hit their stride with mycology, but they’ve come a long way from their first grow.
The couple stumbled upon the Phoenix Myconauts during the pandemic. They joined the group and took a swing at growing reishi mushrooms, a copper-toned medicinal fungus, which either grows like antlers or shelves depending on the TEK.
“Well, ours didn't do anything,” Nicci says.
The first defeat only fueled the couple's quest for perfectly fruited fungi. They quickly found themselves immersed in the group, learning from fellow members and the-then organizer, who the Lumms referred to as their "mushroom sensei."
They later conquered reishi, and then took on oyster and shiitake, hen of the woods, porcini, orange cloud, lion’s mane, and a whole host of other spores. Along the way, they’ve found a wealth of ways to prepare and eat a mushroom.
Lion’s mane, which grows in a white stringy mass, tastes like lobster when pressed and cooked, and, when steeped in tea, helps with mental clarity.
Hen of the woods, as the name suggests, tastes like chicken. Orange cloud is sweet and light, reminiscent of a jujube. When sauteed with garlic and butter, it tastes eerily similar to pork belly.
With many successful grows under their belt, Dennis and Nicci quickly became a core part of the Myconauts. And when their mushroom sensei had to step away in March, he asked the duo if they would be willing to take over.
“Why not?” Dennis says. “Any excuse to buy more industrial equipment.”
Taking over the group was one thing, but the duo had to keep the supply side alive, too. Luckily, Nicci had a background in lab work. And all the agar plates, liquid cultures, and intense sterilization seemed second nature.
Dennis and Nicci are now entering their sixth month running Phoenix Myconauts. Their main goal since the start has been to make the group more accessible and accommodating for newbies.
The group's membership fluctuates between grows, but 14 people currently subscribe to the group’s Meetup page
At the supply drop-off for the brown beech grow, Dennis and Nicci tailgated in the parking lot across from Castles and Coasters. Brown paper bags lined the open trunk as group members materialized and stayed to socialize, despite the strike of the July sun.
Each bag contained a syringe, two bags of grains, two petri dishes, and Nicci’s special touch: a mushroom sticker sheet.
Through joining and leading the group, Dennis and Nicci have found a tremendous community unlike any they’ve experienced before.
“You go to a cocktail party, and you're basically just getting somebody in a verbal headlock to talk about mushrooms,” Dennis says. “We're all kind of like-minded in the sense that this is our little echo chamber…people are just really grateful to have that.”