Permaculture Design Course

Permaculture Design Course
Madeira Island - Portugal
Permaculture is to live in harmony with nature providing for human needs and the needs of everything around us

Myco - Permaculture how to create fertile soil and produce delicious mushrooms at the same time


Grow mushrooms if you want to live forever

  1. Mycopermaculture – a vision of reconnection

  2. Mycorrhizae and the Wood Wide Web

  3. Gourmet Land Regeneration

  4. Inoculating garden beds and paths 

  5. Log innoculation - Fruit trees

  6. Coffee grounds as substrate for Oyster mushrooms

  7. Other substrates and propagation through stem butts

  8. Fungi in farming

  9. Fungi in natural succession and healthy forests

Mycopermaculture – a vision of reconnection

Life is about connections and cycles.

Just how interconnected everything actually is?

The answer lies somewhere between quantum physics and spirituality , or as they say- the answer lies within. Luckily, we have Permaculture nowadays to explain the complexity of it all. Or, in this case- MycoPermaculture- my new favorite term that integrates fungi and permaculture into a holistic view of the world that surrounds us, from birds and clouds, to the microorganisms in the soil. 

All ecosystems depend upon fungi's ability to decompose organic plant matter, they are the primal recyclers on the planet. The end result of their activity is the return of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and minerals back into the ecosystem in forms usable to plants, insects, and other organisms. 

By introducing Mycopermaculture in every zone of our land we encourage biodiversity, higher yield, soil regeneration and nutrition, wider reach of nutrients for plants and trees, potential income, and of course, healthier diet, where food becomes our medicine and medicine is our food.

Gourmet or medicinal, parasitic or psychedelic, cultivating this wise ancient organism is another step towards living in harmony within the ecosystem.

Some mind-blowing facts from the fascinating world of fungi:

  • Largest single living organism on Earth, a 10km2 of the parasitic Armillaria or Honey Mushroom network in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, USA. Scientists estimate it to be somewhere between 2000-8000 years old, and the estimated weight if scooped up together could be between 7500-35000 tons!

  • Speaking of parasitic- how about zombie ants taken over by the mysterious Cordyceps fungus, just to be mind-controlled to spread their spores and die! By the way, the Cordyceps is also highly medicinal- anti-cancer (particularly against leukemia), antioxidant, reduces cholesterol and treats heart disease. Evil for the greater good, with a style! Material for alien-invasion movies…

  • Most expensive food ever sold, a White Truffle fungus, also in the Guiness book as the largest truffle, weighting almost 2kg, sold on an auction in Italy in 2014, for 61250$! For clear reasons, there is also a whole black market behind this truffle.

  • First antibiotic ever discovered in 1928 by A. Fleming was processed from the Penicillium mold fungus.

  • Reishi mushrooms are considered the most medicinal, with the longest history of use in traditional medicine, stretching back thousands of years to ancient China, where it was called the “mushroom of immortality”, due to it’s powerful healing properties against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, inflammation etc

  • Among most medicinal mushrooms are also Turkey Tail- immune boosting and anti-cancer; Lion’s Mane- brain tissue regeneration and anti-tumor (also delicious); Shiitake- lowers cholesterol, anti-cancer, anti-viral and immune booster; Oyster mushrooms- full of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, anti-inflammatory, boosts brain health (delicious too).

  • Alternative medicine of the future- the controversial psychedelic mushrooms, or “The Sacred Psilocybes” as Paul Stamets* calls them, containing the powerful psilocybin, reported by users to have deep spiritual and healing impact,also  proved to be treating a range of serious illnesses ever-present in our modern society, like depression, anxiety, PTSD, alchohol and other addictions, 

*Paul Stamets- mycologist, author on medicinal fungi and the importance of nature’s ecosystems. Check out this awesome podcast where he talks about his reasearch on fungi and suggests redefining the Ego-centric Darwinian theory about “survival of the fittest”, instead redirecting humanity to an Eco-centric approach, where generosity, cooperation and biodiversity is key to not only survival but thrival.

Mycorrhizae and the Wood Wide Web

Besides the saprophytic fungi or the wood decomposers that most of us are aware of in one way or another, there is an invisible landscape hidden underground, that we only begin to understand with the recent studies- the Mycorrhizae, symbiotic relationships between fungi and plants. 

These are underground hyphal networks created by certain fungi that connects all the roots of all the trees and all the plants in every patch oi soil that we step on, to ensure better reach of water, carbon, nitrogen and other nutrients and minerals. Plants with mycorrhizal fungal partners can also resist diseases far better than those without. 

It’s basically a secret communication channel or what we came to call the Wood Wide Web. So what do you do as the Perma-warrior of your neighboorhood? You connect your plants to the WWW! If anyone wondered about the gardening of the future…

The formation and maintenance of these mycorrhizal networks are influenced by factors such as soil fertility, resource availability, seasonal variations, disturbances due to human activity and impact on the nitrogen cycle.

Naturally, we want to encourage and cultivate these amazing fungal partners in our environment, for mutual benefit.

Climate, soil chemistry, and predominant microflora in the area are decisive in the cultivation of mycorrhizal mushrooms in natural settings. Species native to a region are likely to adapt much more readily to designed habitats than exotic species, so with a permaculture mindset- keep it local!

Mycorrhizal species can be cultivated in a simple old proven way, and that is satellite planting. You plant young seedlings around the base of trees naturally producing Boletus, Chanterelles, Matsutake, Truffles or other species of choice, letting them aclimate and become “infected” with the mycorrhizae of the parent tree. In this way a second generation of trees carrying the mycorrhizal fungus is generated. After several years of association, the new trees are dug up and replanted in the new environment, establishing new colonies. This method has the longest tradition of success in Europe.

Another approach, less successful but charmingly simple, is to dip the exposed roots of tree seedlings into water enriched with the spore-mass of a mycorrhizal candidate. You can get the mixture at a local store, online provider OR simply gather mushrooms from the wild (because Nature provides) and soak them in water. Thousands of spores are washed off the gills of a few mature mushrooms, resulting in an enriched spore-mass slurry. This can be diluted into a 15L bucket that can inoculate a hundred or more seedlings. Good luck and have fun! In a few years you might be getting delicious mushies popping up around your orchards!

Gourmet Land Regeneration

So now that we’re “plugged in” into the Wood Wide Web and our baby trees are growing nice and happy with their new mycorrhizal partners, we can get back to smaller scale action and see other ways to grow gourmet mushrooms around the garden, hopefully within months.

Most of gourmet mushrooms are saprophytic, meaning wood-decomposing fungi. The result of this process of decomposing organic matter is the return of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, and minerals back into the ecosystem, making them more available to plants, insects, and other organisms. The majority of these decomposers are woodland species, such as Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus species), Shiitake (Lentinula edodes), and King Stropharia (Stropharia rugosoannulata). They offer the most opportunities for cultivation and having them around our garden is a win-win situation, for culinary pleasures but also land regeneration and healthy soil.

To select the best species for cultivation, several things must be considered, like climate, available raw materials and local resources in abundance, so native species are the best choice when designing outdoor mushroom landscapes. Nonetheless, we also think it’s important to always experiment, as part of the learning process, because we’re not just gardeners or farmers, we’re also researchers and designers of our landscape- by observing different approaches we learn what works best for us, in the individual conditions we have. Permaculture thinking!

Inoculating the Food Forest

A beautiful method of growing mushrooms is cultivating them outdoors, in our food forest, on our garden beds and paths, around perennials and trees. Fall to spring, in more or less 6 months, the first fruiting should happen. Good choices would be King Oyster (Pleurotus Eryngii) and Garden Giant (Stropharia Rugosoannulata) mushrooms, both suitable for growing outdoors, fast and resistant, good companions for veggie gardens.

By direct inoculation into our garden beds and the paths between them, we positively affect the soil structure, accelerating organic matter decomposition, increasing porosity, water retention and feeding the beneficial microorganisms in the soil.

An option would be to mulch the garden bed with a straw layer, add the spawn (King Oyster or Garden Giant). Cover with another layer of straw. Water it. Done.

Other option would be mixing grain spawn (King Oyster) directly into the soil of your raised beds. Then you plant your veggies. Frame the garden beds with logs (inoculated with Oyster, because why not). Water it. Done. Beautiful and efficient, just how mother Nature likes it.

The Garden Giant, aka the Wine Cap or King Stropharia, a beautiful wine colored mushroom, suitable for companion planting with vegetables, is highly adaptable, resilient, successful in drier conditions and sunnier locations, competing well with other fungi. It doesn’t grow indoors (wild at heart), thus it’s not being commercially farmed so you can’t find it in the supermarket, and that makes it a really special crop for our food forest.

The King Oyster is known to hunt down and feed on nematodes, tiny parasitic worms living in the soil, damaging the roots of many vegetables. So it’s only beneficial to cultivate it around our gardens. Besides, we’re also attracting more pollinators- apparently bees like to feed on the mycelium!

You can introduce the King Oyster to your herbal (spiral or not) garden, because it likes growing around Apiaceae (Umbels) plants- parsley, dill, coriander, fennel, cumin, celerey, anise etc.

Here in the Azores we observed different species of mushrooms (hard to identify) growing around the orchards, between the citrus trees, on the mulched paths, on decaying wood, on old stumps- by the way, that’s where we found a landrace white Oyster mushroom emerging from a crumbly old stump at the edge of the garden!

Take time and observe, when clearly there are mushroom- friendly conditions, why not introduce gourmet species for more biodiversity and higher yield?

Log inoculation - Fruit trees

If you have wood in abundance, like fresh cut logs, branches you don’t want to dispose of or even tree stumps that you don’t want to dig out, an interesting method is inoculating mushroom species into the wood, for example with plug spawn, store bought or even developed in home conditions (see above). Besides growing delicious or medicinal mushrooms, you’ll also be building soil from the decomposed wood consumed by the fungi.

We  recommend starting with shiitake (Lentinula Edodes) and oyster (Pleurotus Ostreatus) mushrooms. Both gourmet and medicinal, they are the easiest & fast to grow, less pretentious and sensitive than other strains. 

Reishi (Ganoderma Lucidum) is also a great option- powerful medicinal polypore fungus, anti-inflammatory, immune & brain booster,  anti-cancer, to name just a few- just grind it into a powder and add it to your daily coffee or tea. 

Easy enough, there are a few basic steps for log inoculation:

  • insert wooden dowels inoculated with a decomposer fungus into a log (or stump)

  • protect the insertion site with a wax sealant or other cover (we used food wrap)

  • store the logs somewhere protected from fungi competitors and dehydration

  • occasionally water the logs while patiently waiting 6-36 months for mushrooms

You can choose your logs based on what type of hardwood is available on your land or in your area.

The vast majority of hardwood trees are suitable for mushroom cultivation: alder, chestnut, poplar, willow, hornbeam, oak, beech, birch, are among the best. The thicker barked species are preferred over the thinner barked species as they support fruiting for longer. There are restrictions involving fruit trees, and conifer trees; Nameko can be grown on both hardwoods and softwood, whilst Chicken-of-the-woods can be grown using some fruit trees, like cherry (See below).

Some fungi have preferred growing locations on trees. Most fungi have a specific pathway into trees (through roots, wounds on a tree’s trunk, foliage, etc.) and specific locations where the fungi prefer to grow. Fungi such as maitake and reishi, for example, prefer to grow close to where a tree’s trunk and roots meet. Fungi like oysters, lion’s manes, and shiitakes will grow most places where there is dead wood to eat, including high-up on branches. 

If your mushroom of choice has a preferred growing location, you should try to

accommodate it, for higher chances of success. 

There is an optimal window for introducing fungi into cut wood. Living wood contains anti-fungal compounds. It can take a few days to a few weeks for these compounds to dissipate from wood after it’s cut, but the longer you wait, the more competition your fungus will have from organisms in the environment. Generally, the optimal window is 1 week to 2 months.

We’ve been experimenting with Carob and Platanus (Sycamore) wood, after some pruning we did in the orchard. We drilled holes along the logs and inoculated them with plug spawn bought from a local provider (See pictures below). We decided on 3 species- Reishi, Oyster and Shiitake, and apparently they loved the Carob wood (we’re guessing due to high sugar contained in the wood). Within 1-2 month we observed the mycelium spreading evenly in the wood, surprisingly, Reishi was the fastest to develop. 

We also inoculated some old Platanus stumps with the same method, because why not.

We keep the logs stacked in a shady area of the orchard, with plenty of humidity (no shortage of rain in the Azores) and raised on some boxes so they’re not directly in contact with the soil, for less chances of contamination with other fungi. Initially we had them wrapped in food-grade plastic wrap, which seemed to accelerate the mycelium growth, plus we covered the logs with a large black plastic sheet for the first couple of weeks. After a few weeks we soaked the logs in rain water over night, which seemed to encourage the mycelium. 

We’re hoping to see some fruiting in a few months, we’ll keep you updated of course.

Since we’re focusing on home grown mushrooms and most probably we’ll be working with fruit trees of our farm or area, here are some recommended combinations of fruit trees and mushroom species that proved to go well together.

Some of them can grow very well in orchards like Morels and in veggie gardens like Shaggy Mane

In fact, many varieties will thrive nicely with little or no maintenance. For example, (the delectable Shaggy Mane) would feel right at home in and around your compost pile. The immense stature of the stunning purple-capped, black-gilled Stropharia rugoso-annulata may thrive in an area where lawn and woodchip mulch are in proximity, or between rows of straw-mulched vegetables or fruit trees.

Agaricus species (the Portobello, the Prince, the Horse Mushroom, etc.) are adaptable to grassy areas among trees

Boletus edulis

Chestnut (Castania sativa) orchards are a favourable habitat for growth


Suitable woods are poplar, oak, alder, aspen, maple, birch, ash, beech, willow or elm.
Fruiting season for this mushroom is summer.

Mushrooms that grow on Pine wood are Phoenix oister, shimeji and turkey tail, find more HERE

Pleurotus generaly prefers softer woods




Oyster, Lion’s Mane, Shiitake, Nameko, Morels (on the floor)


Nameko, Oyster, Shiitake, Olive Oysterling, Chiken of the woods

Pear (also Sycamore, Palms)


Mulberry (also Hackberry)

Oyster, Lion’s Mane, Lion’s Comb, Nameko, Piopino


Piopino, Nameko


Piopino, Nameko


Piopino, Nameko


Lion’s Mane and Lion’s Comb (Black Walnut), Flammulina velupites, 



*in bold = very good yield

Choose which strain will suit your climate best. 

Use hardwood logs like Alder, Ash, Birch, Bitternut, Cherry, Chestnut, Hophornbeam, Ironwood, Maple, Oak, Pecan, Sweet gum, Sycamore, Tulip poplar, Walnut, Willow and others

Coffee grounds as substrate for Oyster mushrooms

If you’re a coffee drinker and your house accumulates daily coffee grounds from the coffee machine, just put it all together in a non-air tight container and inoculate it with mushroom spawn. We used a worm-box (see pictures below)! Bonus- mushy juice you can use as fertilizer! Our spawn was plug spawn from a local provider- wooden dowels inoculated with Pleurotus/ Oyster- a resistant, yet delicious mushroom. In 2 months we had our first mushies popping out! We let the first ones spread out their caps nicely in the sun so the wind could carry out their spores around our land- spread the spores, spread the love! 

Other substrates and propagation through stem butts

We bought some Shimeji (Lyophyllum shimeji) mushrooms for a delicious stir-fry and we saved the butts, by cutting off the base of the stems, keeping the root-like rhizomorphs as intact as possible. This applies to basically any store bought mushrooms. 

As a substrate we used some wheat grain (canary seed, rye and most grains will work) we had available around the house, we pasteurized it (basic boiled water/ 100C), same procedure with some clean glass jars and lids. We drained the grains really well- you don’t want the grains soaking at the bottom of the jar, too much humidity- more chance of contamination. While the grain was cooling down (needs to be less than 50C), we made 2 thin cuts each lid and covered them with breathable adhesive tape (to let the mycelium breathe).

Then we layered the cooled down grains in the jars with the Shimeji butts- few spoons of grain+pinch of the mushroom stems. Keep layering until jar is almost full, letting some space under the lid. Close tightly. Label. Store in a dark place, room temperature- the mycelium likes the warmth but that higher temperature also means higher chance of mold contamination. Incubate for 4-8 months.

We placed our jars in a big plastic container, covered (but not air-tight) and we kept it at around 23-25C. In about 2 weeks we observed the mycelium starting to develop and spread out around the grains in the jar (pics below).

And by the way, just as described above, we can develop more mycelium out of plug spwan, for later uses. Just throw the inoculated dowels in the grain substrate following the same procedure.

Obviously, all the stages above are recommended in a clean sterile environment, to minimize chances of contamination, so disinfect surfaces and hands regularly.

An interesting substrate for growing mushrooms we been studying lately is sawdust pellets. Due to the high temperatures created during production, wood pellets are a sterile medium for growing mushrooms. Furthermore, once the wood pellets are formed and cooled their high density means it’s very difficult for bacteria and fungi to penetrate into the wood pellets. Just add clean cold water to the pellets and let them expand before introducing the fungi (check out this awesome dude’s method).

Avoid softwood pellets, they’re usually made of pine wood and apparently pine has anti-fungal properties, so that’s obviously not ideal if you’re trying to grow mushrooms, yields would certainly be affected. 

Go for the BBQ pellets instead, since they are only made from hardwoods, therefore, they could be a good source as a growing medium for mushrooms.

A cool tip would be to supplement the wood pellets with wheat bran, for added nutrition, to maximize the fruiting potential. In this case though, extra steps for pasteurization/ sterilization would be necessary.

Fungi in farming

Setting aside the obvious, palpable presence of mushrooms as fruiting body above the ground, we are going for a journey underground, where the real magic happens, hidden from our eyes, in the fascinating home of mycelium, microorganism and roots networking.

Fungi and bacteria are living together in a wide variety of environments, engaging in complex interactions that lead to critical shifts in the balance of microorganisms in the arable, pasture and forest soils. These interactions are important drivers of many ecosystem functions and are essential for the health of plants and animals.

The fractal structure of the mycelium enables fungi to vastly expand in the soil, effectively exploiting the three-dimensional space and easily adapting to environmental disturbances, in same time, providing the ideal transport paths for bacteria.

Bacteria and fungi can indirectly interact by modifying their environment in ways that positively or negatively affect their partners. PH has been frequently reported as an important factor involved. Fungi sense and actively modulate the pH in their surroundings, for example to raise the soil pH from levels below pH 5.0 to just above this threshold for survival of certain pH sensitive fungal-associated bacterial strains. 

Increasing the pH from acid towards a more neutral value directly stimulates overall bacterial growth and metabolism, as low pH commonly inhibits the growth of most bacteria.

Check out this article for more on the topic of Bacterial–fungal interactions (warning- super nerdy!)


Given that the mycelial network is perfectly designed as a filtration membran, in the rainy season, the downstream water is passing through this membrane, being cleansed of not only carbon/nitrogen-rich compounds that the mycelium is feeding on but also bacteria, in some cases nematodes, and legions of other microorganisms. The Oyster mushrooms been found to be parasitic against nematodes (Thorn and Barron, 1984; Hibbett and Thorn, 1994). 

The use of mycelium as a mycofilter is currently being studied by Paul Stamets in the removal of biological contaminants from surface water passing directly into sensitive watersheds. By placing sawdust implanted with mushroom mycelium in drainage basins downstream from farms raising livestock, the mycelium acts as a sieve, which traps manure bacteria and ameliorates the impact of farming on the aquatic ecosystems.

Fungi in natural succession and healthy forests

Most ecologists now recognize that a forest's health is directly related to the presence, abundance, and variety of mycorrhizal associations.

The floor of a forest is constantly being replenished by new organic matter. Primary, secondary, and tertiary decomposers can all occupy the same location. In the complex environment of the forest floor, a "habitat" can actually be described as the overlaying of several, mixed into one. And, over time, as each habitat is being transformed, successions of mushrooms occur. This model becomes infinitely complex when taking into account the interrelationships of not only the fungi to one another, but also the fungi to other microorganisms (yeasts, bacteria, protozoa), plants, insects, and mammals.

Studies in Europe show a frightening loss of species diversity in forestlands, most evident with the mycorrhizal species. Many mycologists fear many mushroom varieties, and even species, will soon become extinct. As the mycorrhizal species decline in both numbers and variety, the populations of saprophyric and parasitic fungi initially rise as a direct result of the increased availability of deadwood debris. However, as woodlots are burned and replanted, the complex mosaic of the natural forest is replaced by a highly uniform, mono-species landscape. Because the replanted trees are nearly identical in age, the cycle of debris replenishing the forest floor is interrupted. This new "ecosystem" cannot support the myriad fungi, insects, small mammals, birds, mosses, and flora so characteristic of ancestral forests. In pursuit of commercial forests, the native ecology has been supplanted by a biologically anemic woodlot. This woodlot landscape is barren in terms of species diversity.

A shift in mentality, attitude and forestry methods are necessary, it’s a matter of global awareness, education and care. We can no longer ignore this, the effects will ripple wave-like into the future, affecting our future generations and the health of our planet, our home.

Going for a hike here in Sao Miguel, the main island of Azores, you can observe human impact on the landscape, from extended pastures, to mono-culture forests. There are just a few places left where you can still step into an old-growth forest, like around the lagoon of Lagoa do Congro, a magical place filled with myth, mossy blankets, fallen old trees slowly decomposing into the soil, devoured by beautiful clumps of mushrooms, popping up here and there along our path. The parasitic Armillarias are clearly taking over, balanced by Ganodermas, in the natural succession of the forest species, recycling the dying trees, making space for the older trees and hopefully for mycorrhizal species.

We also saw some purple Russulas, classic red Amanitas (that first Amanita Muscaria made my day) and even a rare white Coral mushroom.

The fungi are working slow but steady in the darkness and silence of the forest, balancing out human impact, contamination, deforestation, mono-culture, it all gets processed into the Natural Succession of the forest, by these quiet sentinels of Nature, spreading their mycelium fractals deep into the soil, connecting Life & Death, decomposition and rebirth. 

We, humans, conscious beings of our planet, can each get involved and support this fragile balance of biological interactions, in many different ways, from small to big scale, from our back yard gardens to forests, slow but steady, reconnecting to the original wisdom and living forever in the Wood Wide Web.

By Diana Arhire

  Banana palmito harvest

                                                                      Diana Arhire

                                                                            June 2020

Here you can see several arcticles that Diana wrote after

her PDI Permaculture Design Internship

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