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First Mycotecture, Now Helioculture

Pilot site in Leander, Texas

Joule Unlimited is a biotechnology company in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It “produces clean, infrastructure-compatible fuels directly from sunlight and waste CO2 in a single-step, continuous process that requires no costly biomass intermediates, processing or dependency on precious natural resources.”

I become more fascinated by some new technologies at the same rate I become afraid of other energy technologies like ‘hydrofraking.’ We need to look at the implications of the whole system and hydrofraking puts our water supply at risk.

According to a press release “Joule’s Helioculture™ platform converts sunlight and waste CO2 directly into renewable fuels and chemicals. The company’s novel SolarConverter™ system has been developed to maximize photon-to-fuel conversion efficiency, and features a modular, scalable design for ease of deployment, dependent only on land and waste CO2availability. The integrated platform will enable productivities above any other closed-system approach, with a commercial target of 15,000 gallons of diesel per acre annually. Joule’s pilot operations are currently underway, with commercial production targeted for 2012.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Helioculture really is the answer to our energy needs?  I didn’t like paying $3.40 for gas today and I have no hope that the price will be lower in the near future.


Mycotecture is a term created to describe buildings made of mushrooms, or more specifically, made of bricks made of mushroom roots known as mycelium.

“Mycelium doesn’t taste very good, but once it’s dried, it has some remarkable properties. It’s nontoxic, fireproof and mold- and water-resistant, and it traps more heat than fiberglass insulation. It’s also stronger, pound for pound, than concrete. In December, Ross completed what is believed to be the first structure made entirely of mushroom.  . . .The 500 bricks he grew at Far West Fungi were so sturdy that he destroyed many a metal file and saw blade in shaping the ‘shrooms into an archway 6 ft. (1.8 m) high and 6 ft. wide. Dubbed Mycotectural Alpha, it is currently on display at a gallery in Germany.”,9171,1957474,00.html#ixzz0exE930rS

A Time Magazine article gives more information  about Philip Ross and Far West Fungi farm in Monterey, California where this amazing crop is grown and processed. Talk about green and sustainable!

It doesn’t appear that any energy efficient houses have been built yet, but Ecovative Design in Green Island, NY is making Greensulate rigid board insulation and Ecocradle packaging material using the same technology. I do love weird and wonderful news stories.

Mushrooms Growing With My Begonia

Mushrooms in my begonia pot

Mushrooms discovered in my begonia pot

It has been so hot and dry in these past weeks that I have been particularly devoted to watering the begonia on my porch. I have been worried that the pot is now too big for the pot and thought at least I could keep it well watered.  It has thrived on the porch where it get a little sun, mostly enjoys the shade.

Mushroom closeup

Mushroom closeup

I was quite amazed yesterday when I was watering the begonia to see beautiful yellow mushrooms joining the plant. What was I to make of this? Were the mushrooms a sign of trouble? The plant looks fine.

I read that fungi in healthy soil are a help to plants out in the wild. Can I believe that the organisms in my pot are taking care of my begonia? Or am I just overwatering?

mushrooms collapsing

The mushrooms are starting to collapse

This morning I went out to check the begonia and the mushrooms. The mushrooms seem to be starting to collapse. Should I be taking some kind of action? Or should I let it continue and see what happens?

This is an interesting experiment. I will watch it, its process, and the results. More later.

Mushrooms continue to collapse

On August 26 the mushrooms are collapsing further


August 27 and the mushrooms have almost completely dried up

Inspired by these mushrooms I looked through my archive and found another couple of posts about mycelium, starting with my grandson’s surprises.

Ten years ago I wrote about mycotecture, myceleium, turned into bricks for building. There are many wonders in this world.

Ford is Growing Car Parts

Could we be making our cars out of mushroom roots, mycellium, instead of petroleum based plastic? Maybe soon.

One of my most popular posts is about Mycotecture, making strong, rigid insulation out of mycellium from Ecovative, and now David Pogue, host of the PBS Nova series Making Stuff, learns that the Ford Motor Company is making plastic parts for their cars out of wheat grass, and mycellium.

I wonder whether mushroom/mycellium farmers will be able to get agricultural subsidies the way corn and soy farmers do?

Most Viewed Posts 2010

As I review and renew in my garden, I thought I ought to look back at the year on the commonweeder.  The 5 most popular posts were not what I expected.

In February Mycotecture got many visitors – and continues to be visited.

In March the New York Times had an article about Femivores, women who love their chickens too much. Or something like that. I have chickens so I had to comment. Chickens – and their houses – are a popular topic on my blog – and elsewhere in the world.

In July I went to Buffalo to meet with 70 other bloggers and tour the many wonderful gardens in readiness for the Buffalo Garden Walk. My post Mirrors in the Garden – A Trend? continues to get visitors.

Carol Dukes at Flower Hill Farm

In September I visited Carol Dukes at Flower Hill Farm. We are almost neighbors. It is no surprise to me that this post was so popular. Carol and her magnificent photos have many devoted fans.

Walden Pond

My Muse Day post in December was about our trip to Walden Pond the day after Thanksgiving. As a devoted fan of Henry David Thoreau I was happy that so many others wanted to share our visit. I never cease to thank Carolyngail for hosting Muse Day.

One popular post did not surprise me. In January my dear friend and mentor Elsa Bakalar passed away. In July we celebrated her life in her garden – and that month her garden, now tended by artist Scott Prior and his wife, was featured in Horticulture Magazine – with a nod back to the article that Elsa and I had published in Horticulture in 1986. Elsa’s life touched many gardeners, locally and across the country through her book and lecture tours.

2010 was a happy year for me on the commonweeder, with increasing readership, and I look forward to 2011 and the pleasures of the garden and garden friends with great anticipation.

What Do You Know About Mushrooms?

Rory and the woodchip pile

When my grandson Rory visited this summer he helped with chores, like getting woodchips for the paths in the potager. We were amazed to find something unexpected hiding in the pile.

Mushrooms in the woodchip pile

Mushrooms!  At first we only saw the fine white roots but Rory kept digging very carefully and we came upon several groups of mushrooms. I don’t know anything about mushrooms, so I don’t know if these are edible. We didn’t test them out.

Winecap mushrooms growing in Al's woodchips

I’ve written about mushrooms before.  My neighbor Al has a mushroom nook, and some delicious winecap mushrooms growing under some shrubs in wood chips very much like these. You can read about that here. Obviously the mushrooms Rory found in the woodchip pile are not winecaps.

The fine white mushroom (fungi)  ‘roots’ we saw growing in the woodchip pile are called mycelium. Fungi help with decompostion of organic compounds in the soil and it has been suggested that they can be used for bioremediation of organic polllutants like petroleum products. One of my most viewed posts has been about mycellium used as strong, non-toxic, non-flammable insulation. You can read about mycotecture  here.

The Green in Vogue

Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier

In preparing for a Fashion in the Garden posting I have been reading the spring issue of Vogue magazine. Strictly business you understand. Besides, Tina Fey was on the cover.

Although I wasn’t looking for it, there was a little feature on page 370, The Green List, with John Patrick’s (whoever he may be) five latest (fashion everywhere) faves.  There is for heirloom seeds; Emiliano Godoy, an industrial designer who focuses on sustainability; Magnus Larsson, a Swedish architect working to stop the spread of the Sahara!; Ecocradle for shipping materials made of mycelium, —  remember you heard it here first; and Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke with Eric Toensmeier.  Well, Dave Jacke is headquartered  right in our own green county. I hope to catch up with him this spring.  I met Eric Toensmeier when he spoke at the local Master Gardener’s Spring Symposium a couple of years ago and bought his book.  I am going to plant perennial Good King Henry (Chenopodium bonus- henricus) in my Henry garden.

Who knows who I’ll meet at this year’s Spring Symposium. Check out the full schedule and info.