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Compost and worm bins are popular methods for getting rid of waste. These types of bins ultimately create compost, which is organic material that can help plants grow. Repurposing waste in order to help our plants grow is a win-win, don’t you think?
You may be wondering: Can I put moldy food in my compost or worm bin? Yes, you can! The composting process requires composition, so when you add moldy foods, you’re just adding in foods that are already decomposing. Worm and compost bins can have both moldy foods and fresh foods added and you will end up with great compost either way!
In this article, we are going to provide the tools necessary to make you, the reader, an expert on composting, worm bins, and items that can and cannot be added to them. We will also walk you through which moldy foods can be put into compost or worm bins, and the reasons why and why not.
- Putting Moldy Food in Your Compost or Worm Bin
- What are Compost Bins and Worm Bins?
- The Uses and Benefits of Composting
- What You Can and Cannot Put in Your Compost Bin and Worm Bin
- Putting Moldy Food in Compost Bins or Worm Bins
- How to Properly Add Moldy Food to Your Compost Bin
- Is Mold in Your Soil Good or Bad?
- A Lesson in Microbiology
- Those Mysterious Molds, Part 1: “The Blob”
- Unidentified Fungi in the Garden
- What Is Actinomycetes: Learn About Fungus Growing On Manure And Compost
- What is Actinomycetes?
- Fungus Growing on Manure
- Encouraging Actinomycetes Growth
- Mushrooms & Compost
Putting Moldy Food in Your Compost or Worm Bin
Before getting to the hows and whys of what items can and cannot be placed in compost or worm bins (especially moldy food), let’s take a look at a brief description of compost bins and worm bins, why they are useful and why they are beneficial.
What are Compost Bins and Worm Bins?
Composting, at its core, is the process of allowing organic material to decompose. So, a compost bin is the container in which organic material decomposes. Many people choose to have compost bins at home, either indoors, outdoors or both.
Worm composting is a form of composting in which worms are used to recycle and decompose organic material. In worm composting, food sources and other organic materials are fed to worms. The materials compost as they pass through and exit the worms.
Worm bins, like compost bins, are the containers in which worm composting takes place. People also choose to have worm bins at home, indoors, outdoors or both.
Seems simple enough, right? Truly, it is, but there are some things to know about composting and worm composting that are important to make the process successful.
The Uses and Benefits of Composting
Composting has many great uses and benefits, not only just for plants and gardens, but for us humans too. Texas A&M states that if we composted most of our kitchen and food waste, we could divert 20 to 30 percent of the trash and waste that goes to landfills. We could put that waste to use, too!
Composting has other uses and benefits, such as:
- Providing nutrients to plants and gardens
- Improving the physical characteristics of soil
- Improving the aeration of soil
- Improving soil’s capacity to hold nutrients and water
- Effectively and naturally getting rid of our waste and scraps
But ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish in the sea inform you. Which of all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.
What You Can and Cannot Put in Your Compost Bin and Worm Bin
We already let you know that, yes, you can put moldy food in a compost bin. A few more instructions and guidelines are important to see more than just a simple yes, though, and we will go through that shortly. First, let’s look at some of the main things that can be put in a compost bin and worm bin.
Quite a few more things can be added to compost bins than worm bins, just because in worm bins, the health of the worms needs to be taken into consideration. Keep that in mind as we go along.
What Can Be Put in a Compost Bin
- Grass clippings
- Fruits and vegetables
- Coffee grounds
- Coffee filters
- Tea bags
- Shredded newspapers
- Nut shells
- Yard trimmings
- Wood chips
- Hair and fur
- Wood ashes
- Dryer lint
- Vacuum cleaner lint
What Cannot Be Put in a Compost Bin
- Coal or charcoal ash
- Dairy products
- Plants with diseases or bad pests
- Pet feces and other feces
- Fat, grease, lard and other oils
- Yard trimmings that have been treated with chemical pesticides
- Meat or fish bones and scraps
What Can be Put in a Worm Bin
- Fruit and vegetable scraps and peels
- Eggshells (pulverized)
- Tea bags (staples removed)
- Coffee grounds
- Coffee filters
- Plain cereal
- Plain bread (okay if a small amount of mold is on it)
- Plain pasta
- Dryer lint of natural fabrics only (cotton or wool)
- Shredded leaves
- Shredded paper/newspaper
What Cannot Be Put in a Worm Bin
- Meat, fish or poultry
- Oils like mayonnaise, butter, and salad dressing
- Dairy products
- Highly spicy foods
- Highly acidic foods
- Pet feces or other feces
Putting Moldy Food in Compost Bins or Worm Bins
Now that you know more about compost bins and worm bins and what can and cannot be put in them, we can get to the root of the matter: putting moldy food in them. Let’s go over adding moldy food to each of the bins.
Moldy Food in Compost Bins
If you want to put moldy food in your compost bin, that’s great! As we previously stated, compost is a means of decomposing organic material, and when food is moldy, that technically means the food is just on its way to decomposing.
If you are going to put moldy food in your compost bin, first make sure that it’s a type of food that can be added to your compost bin. For example, you are not supposed to add dairy products to your compost bin, so if you have moldy cheese – you cannot put that in your compost bin.
On the other hand, if you have a moldy fruit or vegetable peel or some other moldy acceptable food, it can go in the compost bin. It is important to know the process to follow when adding moldy food to a compost bin, which we will discuss shortly.
Moldy Food in Worm Bins
When it comes to putting moldy food in worm bins, it needs to be done the correct way, and only with moldy fruits or vegetables. Anything else has the potential to create more mold and mold spores inside the worm bin, which affects not only the worms, but it can affect you too. Moldy food, if applied in the wrong way, can also attract unwanted pests in your worm bin such as fruit flies and other fly larvae.
Certain molds can be toxic to the worms in the worm bin, which can cause them to be sick and die. No one wants that! Feed moldy fruits or vegetables to your worms responsibly and sparingly.
If you have put some moldy food in your worm bin, then be sure to keep an eye on your worm bin to make sure more mold is not developing inside it.
How to Properly Add Moldy Food to Your Compost Bin
As mentioned previously, certain steps are recommended for adding moldy food to your compost bin. These steps help decomposition happen, while also helping to avoid bad smells and pests. Let’s go through the steps for properly adding moldy food to your compost bin.
Step One: Blend the Moldy Food in a Food Processor
While this step is not required, it does have many benefits. I like to collect our food scraps in plastic bins under the sink. Once they are full, I then use a food processor or blender to pulverize the food scraps into a mush. Most of the time this food has begun to grow some mold, which is perfectly fine!
Blending the food scraps allows the worms or microorganisms in your compost to digest the food faster. This means less time to grow more mold while in your bin and less time to attract unwanted animals and insects.
Pro tip: This is a great time to add crushed eggshells and coffee grounds into the blended mix. If going into a worm bin, the eggshells provide grit that helps the worms digest the food.
Step Two: Add the Moldy Food to the Center of Your Compost Pile
It is not recommended to add moldy food to the compost pile just anywhere. Add moldy foods to the center of the compost pile and on top of brown, dried material like hay, leaves or grass clippings.
This is useful because the center of the pile heats up more quickly, meaning your moldy food will decompose more quickly.
If adding to a worm bin, I always like to rotate the place where I add the food. This makes the worms travel more around the bin to digest as much of the material as possible.
Step Three: Cover the Moldy Food
Cover the moldy food as soon as it is added to the pile. Do this with more of the dried, brown material like shredded paper, yard trimmings, grass clippings or leaves.
Step Four: Add Aged Manure or Garden Soil
Adding aged manure or garden soil to the top of the moldy food you have added will help it decompose more quickly. (This step is only recommended for compost bins and not for worm bins.)
Step Four: Turn the Compost Repeat if Necessary
Turn your compost pile frequently to aerate it, keep it from smelling bad and speed up decomposition. If you add more moldy food to the top and center of your compost pile, repeat these steps as necessary.
We have written a full detailed article on turning compost and you can check that out here – When Should I Turn My Compost Pile?
If pests or animals are disturbing the compost pile or bin since you have added the foods to it, make sure not to add any more and consider changing how you are containing your compost pile.
You can check out our Best Compost Products page to help you get started with composting!
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OSU compost pile.jpg
Compost is piled up at Oregon State University’s student-run organic farm in Corvallis.
When there are no peas in the pods or flowers on the dahlias, get the answers you need with Ask an Expert, an online question-and-answer tool from Oregon State University’s Extension Service. OSU Extension faculty and Master Gardeners reply to queries within two business days, usually less. To ask a question, simply go to the OSU Extension website and type in a question and the county where you live. Here are some questions asked by other gardeners. What’s yours?
Q: I put my vegetable scraps in an airtight container waiting for a composter. The scraps have become moldy. Can I use it for composting or should I trash it? – Washington County
A: There are two general classes of microorganisms that do the work of composting: bacteria and fungi. Generally speaking, bacteria are faster, in part because they can swim in a film of fluid and more rapidly colonize the mass of materials to be composted. Fungi work more slowly because they have to grow to where they want to go. Mold is a term we use for a class of fungi. Go ahead and add moldy materials to your compost pile.
In warmer weather, I might store food scraps in the fridge until you’re ready to incorporate. This is for aesthetic reasons only. Room temperature or chilled, they will break down just fine. — Linda Brewer, OSU horticulturist
Q: Do you have any information on using lemon juice as a non-toxic herbicide. – Multnomah County
A: Citrus oils are commercially available as a contact herbicide for organic use. Lemon juice is an acid and, in theory, might work something like vinegar (acetic acid, also with formulations that are commercially available as herbicides) on small to slightly bigger weeds. Lemon juice could be tried straight with a small amount (1 teaspoon per quart) of liquid dishwashing soap to spread it out over the leaves.
There was one non-replicated report of combining vinegar and lemon juice in a 2-to-1 mixture, reportedly with better results.
Be aware that these mixes are not legally registered as herbicides and no verifiable personal or plant safety data has been collected. Keep off of skin, eyes, etc.
Both products are contact weed control materials and will not go down to roots of perennial weeds like morning glory and Canada thistle. So they are best used on young annual and biennial weeds. Timing for use is probably on a warm, dry day since the weed control effect comes from leaf desiccation. Hope this helps. — Chip Bubl, OSU Extension horticulturist, Columbia County
— Oregon State University Extension Service
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A question that comes up from time to time is: can I put moldy bread in compost? The answer to this is yes you can. The mold will not adversely affect anything in a compost bin or tumbler. Adding anything that’s moldy to waste that’s destined to become compost will help with the process.
The first thing that happens to any organic material when it’s added to a compost bin is that it will turn moldy. You won’t necessarily notice this because the mold stage in compost comes and goes quite quickly, often occurring between visits to the bin.
Mold spores are everywhere, including in the compost bin, and one of life’s major challenges is to stop foods of any kind from succumbing to a premature end through molding and then have to be discarded.
Mold appearing on kitchen waste in a compost bin will be the first stage in the breakdown process. You won’t need to actively add mold spores to compost, they will just turn up.
If you have worms in your compost then they will be delighted if anything moldy turns up. They actually eat the mold fungus that’s generated from the molding process. This maybe why you don’t see mold in a compost bin because the worms get at it before you get to see it. Fungal material is soft and therefore easy for worms to bite at and digest.
What will happen if you eat moldy bread? Can you pick the mold off of bread and still eat it?
Is mold on bread the same as penicillin? What do you do if you eat mold?
How do you keep bread from getting moldy? Can you get sick from eating stale bread?
Is there white mold on bread? How does a piece of bread become moldy?
How long does it take for a piece of bread to mold? What is calcium propionate?
Can you put moldy food in worm compost?
Will bread in compost attract rats?
Yes it will if it doesn’t rot down quickly. The thing is with bread, especially if it’s moldy, the decomposition is under way before it’s placed in the bin. All you need to do is to make sure that the moldy bread is dampened and it will start to rot. Unless you have a family of rats that have taken up residence in your compost bin, it will take them a while to realize that there is any bread there. A fast rot will leave nothing to attract rats or mice.
If you leave it in the bin in a dry state they will sniff it out. They will be in there and make off with it and you won’t know that they’ve been in unless they’ve chewed a hole in the side of the bin. The main problem with this is that rats are creatures of habit, If they have found something tasty once then they will get in the habit of coming back again to look for more.
So, if you have moldy bread to dispose of, put it in the compost bin and splash some water over it. This will turn a food fail into useful compost, so it won’t be a complete loss.
What will happen if you eat moldy bread?
This would be risky. If you take a chance and eat just slightly moldy bread then you run the risk of a reaction happening which will vary depending on your own sensitivity. You may experience breathing problems from a mild ingesting of the fungal spores. You may suffer from irritations in the nose, throat or mouth. You may go to into an episode of anaphylactic shock leading to very serious consequences. This is scary! Mold on bread can make you ill.
We really need to rely on our common senses of sight, smell and taste. The sight of anything that looks like it’s gone ‘off’ is usually enough for most people to give it a miss and throw it out. Some will tell you that moldy bread has no unusual taste or smell. I wouldn’t know about the taste of anything moldy but I do know that there is enough of a smell with anything moldy to raise the alarm.
It’s difficult to see how anyone can accidentally eat moldy bread or anything else that’s gone over. This could only happen to someone who is unfortunate enough to have very poor eyesight, no sense of smell or taste.
There is usually a definable smell with moldy foods which I, and others, would refer to as fousty. If you breath it in you can feel it in your lungs and you just want to move to fresh air. If you get this sensation with foods that have gone off then play it safe and put in the compost.
Can you pick the mold off of bread and still eat it?
This wouldn’t be wise. If there is any mould appearing at all on a loaf of bread, take this as an indication that it’s become established. What you can see, often as a blue patch, will be generating fungal spores. These will be spreading around and are sure to be on the bread that looks clear. Tempting though it may be, if you proceed to eat that bread then you risk ingesting these spores which surely won’t do you any good.
Is mold on bread the same as penicillin?
Some will say that a bit of mold on bread is just some naturally occurring penicillin and it won’t harm you. Unless you know the chemistry that goes on involving the range of toxins that fungi generate, it’s wise to view the subject with plenty of suspicion.
It’s true that the known antibiotic, penicillin is produced from mold fungi but it’s a specific type of mold that does this. A layman won’t necessarily know which mold fungus is present on any molded bread. If you have it in mind to use any of the raw mold material to treat yourself then don’t.
The mold fungus that you are looking at will be generating all manner of toxins which may have medically advantageous properties but unless you’re an expert in the field the only advice from anyone can be leave it alone. If you have a wound or infection of any kind, for goodness sake go and get professional medical advice.
What do you do if you eat mold?
If you have swallowed some moldy bread, don’t panic. Most of the fungi that grow on bread, apparently, don’t produce toxins that cause an immediate threat to health. That having been said there is a risk for some who suffer from allergies or have any problems with the immune system.
If you have eaten anything that has turned out to be something that should have gone in the bin, you will probably start to suffer the consequences soon after. If you have any concerns after having ingested bread or any food that’s clearly ‘off’ then seek medical advice.
How do you keep bread from getting moldy?
In a word it’s ‘management’.The first thing you need to know is how much bread will you need available to you in the next day or two?l Most people have their regular number of slices of bread that they consume over a specific period of time. So it shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out how much to have out and available. The best way that I have found to preserve bread for long periods of time is to freeze it. It will freeze very easily and won’t deteriorate unless you leave it in a freezer for a long time, in which case it will become dried out.
If you only need a half loaf in a day then why not cut a number of loaves in half? Freeze them all and only take out what you need for the next day. Bread should last for a couple of days. It may dry out in that time but it shouldn’t go moldy.
Another thing to consider is to make your own bread. I’ve noticed a difference between the bread that I make and, what I call ‘shop-bought’ bread. Bread that you buy at supermarkets tends to be more moist. The higher water content makes the bread more conducive to becoming moldy. They probably make it more moist to allow for drying out.
By making your own bread you have control over the ingredients. One important ingredient that will reduce the onset of molding is salt. There have been some health scares about having too much salt in our diets. We do need to have some salt. Bread doesn’t have much flavour if there isn’t enough salt and it will prolong the life of a loaf.
Can you get sick from eating stale bread?
I’ve never heard of anyone becoming sick from eating stale bread. There is a difference between stale bread and moldy bread. If there is mold then it will be evident without question. You will smell the mold if there is any. Stale bread will most likely be bread that has dried out. This won’t do you any harm if you eat it. Dry bread is unlikely to be moldy as mold fungi needs moisture to form a culture. All foods have a best before date in nature. It isn’t just what is printed on any packaging.
You have to use your own judgement when deciding if a food item has crossed the line and should be thrown out. Very often when a food item is nearing the point where it can be classed as stale, there will be a change in flavour which will become evident when in the mouth. In most cases the test to establish whether foods are stale beyond recovery is to use your nose before thinking about eating it.
Is there white mold on bread?
Watching the progress of molds forming on food is a display in itself. It can be quite colourful depending on the type of nutrients in the food that’s being colonised with mold.
In the case of bread it very often starts with a white fluffy mold. This then progresses into pale blue and then into black spots. This happens as the bread is broken down in stages. At the first sight of the white mold you should discard it because at this stage it will be generating a high volume of spores. When released into the air around, these spores will pitch on other foods and try to colonise here as well.
How does a piece of bread become moldy?
From the moment a loaf of bread finishes cooling down after baking, it’s vulnerable. There are fungal spores in the air which land on everything, this is why they are so successful at surviving. When they land on something that provides a base that has all the ingredients needed to form a colony they root themselves in and the next thing you’re likely to see are pale blue spots on your piece of bread. This is the ultimate indication that your piece of bread has been successfully invaded and taken over by mold.
The conditions have to be just right for fungi to thrive. If you have ever tried growing mushrooms you will know that achieving the right conditions is almost impossible. Luckily for the type of mold fungus that turns up on bread, the conditions are ideal from the moment it’s cooled from the oven.
This type of mold needs moisture but not too much. The temperature has to be within a band range that includes room-temperature and there needs to be a combination of the required nutrients that molds need to feed from throughout it’s propagation. Bread provides all of this, it is the perfect medium for fungus to grow. The very structure of bread is ideal for mold fungi to grow into it because it is soft and made up of small bubble cavities and there is enough moisture inside a loaf to allow for a full progression throughout the whole loaf.
So, you may be wondering, how can you stop a piece of bread from becoming moldy? If you bake your own bread, as I do, the best way to keep on top of the problem is to freeze the loaf as soon as it has could from the oven. Put it or them, if you bake a batch, in plastic bags and put them in the deep freeze. This will preserve bread very successfully and when you take it out and thaw it, it will have a smell and taste as though it were fresh baked.
The same can be done with shop-bought bread but bare in mind that you may not be freezing bread that’s as fresh as having home baked. Shop-bought bread, these days, is often supplied in a plastic bag and largely protected from invading fungal spores so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. Just make sure that when you receive or collect your food shopping that you put the bread in the freezer as quickly as you can.
How long does it take for a piece of bread to mold?
Expect mold to appear on a piece of bread from two to five days after being baked but this will depend on where the piece of bread is being stored. It will also depend on whether it’s a piece of bread bought from a store or your own homemade variety. If it’s stored in a bread bin for any length of time it will start to mold much earlier than if you store it in a fridge. A lower temperature will definitely slow the molding process.
Homemade bread will respond differently compared to bread from a store.
Homemade bread tends to have a higher moisture content and, because you’ve made it yourself, it will contain higher quality ingredients. This will be more attractive to the ravenous mold fungi.
Mold fungus doesn’t need sunlight at all, unlike plants that need light to manage the process of taking carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and fixing it as a hydrocarbon molecule that builds the structure of the plant.
Mold fungus can grow in total darkness. This is why you will see it grow on foods that are hidden away in cupboards and fridges.
Bread from a store that has been commercially made may have added chemical preservatives that are included to inhibit mold growth. One of these preservatives is calcium propionate.
What is calcium propionate?
Calcium propionate is an additive that commercial bakers use to preserve baked food products including bread. There are other additives that are used with this, these being propionic acid and sodium propionate. Some people worry when food additives are mentioned. If you are concerned then baking your own bread may be an option.
Calcium propionate, apparently, occurs naturally in butter and some cheeses. So there shouldn’t be too much to worry about. There have been extensive laboratory trials where calcium propionate and similar compounds, have been fed to rats over a long period. There have been no signs of any adverse effects. The conclusion is that these compounds are non-toxic and are safe to use in commercial food production.
Can you put moldy food in worm compost?
Yes you can. Worms can’t eat fresh food waste because they don’t have the teeth to be able to bite into it. The food-waste needs to be rotten and soft before they can do anything with it. When mold appears on food this is the first stage of the rotting process and the worms are able to feed on the actual mold that grows out from the food. While they are feeding on this the mold is breaking down the main parts of the food so that worms can, later, move in and digest this. The worms rely on mold to eat and to start the decomposition of food waste, for them it’s an ideal arrangement.
Tell your friends about the Rolypig composter
Find out about composting tea bags.
Is Mold in Your Soil Good or Bad?
March 17, 2017 0 Comments
A Lesson in Microbiology
Mold. Even the word does not sound pleasant. However, do not let it’s nasty reputation fool you; when it comes to gardening mold is a sign of life.
At PittMoss our mission is to make the best soil amendments and blends on the market. For us, a sustainable and organic approach goes hand in hand with superior results for plants. So when some consumers discover mold in our products, our dedication to this mission becomes tested. Should we deliver an aesthetically familiar product to consumers even if it sacrifices it’s benefits, or risk our first year on the market to stay true to our mission? Might sound like a tough decision, but when you are on a mission to disrupt dirt, the choice is clear. We believe consumers care about what they plant into, and that progress in a sustainable natural world requires innovation.
To start dispelling the old mold myths of living soil and all the awesome biologic activity that comes with it, we are going to break down what can be seen in our own PittMoss products.
Explaining the Wonderful World of Fungi
The spores that produce mold, or fungi, are an underappreciated partner in the garden. For example, they are present, to some degree, in every common organic gardening mix, from peat moss to bark. However, you do not see them until spores produce fruiting bodies (like mold)- only when certain conditions are met. Many products are treated to stop this growth and improve the aesthetics of their products. PittMoss is purposefully produced to encourage natural growth, since we are in the business of growing plants sustainably. So if the product is left in a warm, humid environment or lacks access to air, biological activity will occur. This activity is perfectly normal and natural. Mold comes from an ancient group of simple plants, called “hyphomycetes” (say that five times fast). It is these fungi that scientists consider foundational to our natural world. Don’t believe us? Check out this Ted Talk. In fact, organic gardeners can attest that gardening with “living soil” that represents the natural world is the ideal environment for plants. We could spend a few blog posts on the subject of the benefits of living soil and microbes, but for now it is broken down nicely here.
“Soil organisms show their greatest diversity of species and usually their largest populations in productive soils. The size of the microbial biomass usually shows direct correlation with the amount of plant growth…” – Soil Microbiology and Biochemistry by E.A. Paul and F.E. Clark, Academic Press, Inc. 1989, page 12
A Breakdown of Microbes
A quality growing mix should support a full array of beneficial soil microbes. These “Friends in the Soil” provide for the availability and absorption of essential plant nutrients. They also help to fight root diseases and break down toxins. In general terms these microbial workers are classified as:
BACTERIA – non-visible are very small single-celled microorganisms found in growing media, native soils and compost. They are the most numerous and are only visible with a microscope. They respond quickly in favorable environments where populations multiply rapidly under favorable conditions. They produce enzymes that dissolve and transform minerals making them more available to plants. The nitrogen converting bacteria nitrosomonas and nitrobacter are the most noteworthy. Bacillus and azotobacter and the thiobascillus are very important. Bacteria do not form fruiting bodies above the surface of a growing substrate.
FUNGI – primitive (simple) plants that typically form multi-celled filaments in the growing mix. These filaments form a network called mycelium that grow in the media. Many fungi grow in association with the roots and are called micorrhizae fungi. Like most fungi they serve to decompose organic material and make nutrients available to plants but the micorrhizae also help plants absorb nutrients. Some common families of fungi include ascomycetes, basidiomycetes, trichodermas, and zygomycetes. When conditions are optimal they develop fruiting bodies which produce white or tan growth on the surface of a mix. The spores and surface mycelium are commonly referred to as mold.
ACTINOMYCETES – are in between bacteria and fungi in size and complexity. They form long chains of cells within the growing media. They typically give soil the familiar earthy or musty smell. They often have anti-bacterial and disease fighting properties. Some common families of actinomycetes include micomonospora, thermoactinomycetes and streptomycetes which is a source of the familiar antibiotic streptomiacin. The fruiting bodies are like tiny mushrooms or puff balls.
ALGAE – simple plants that grow within and on the surface of nutrient rich soil and growing media. They are the most widely distributed of all green plants. Sometimes called cyanobacteria they are primarily water plants and develop where high levels of water or very high humidity are present. Primarily blue-green algae are the type that commonly grows on the surface of a constantly moist growing mix. Algae causes no harm but is an indicator of conditions that are often excessively humid and wet. These conditions can foster other undesirable infestations of insects and pests.
Biological Activity Seen in PittMoss
The Fungal Matt (mycelium) of zygomycete spp. in a blend of 60% PittMoss Prime Soil Amendment, 30% sphagnum, and 10% perlite. This fungi works to make components in the growing mix more soluble. That allows for easier plant absorption.
Bacidomycete spp. fruiting (sporulating) bodies on the surface of a blend containing 50% PittMoss Prime Soil Amendment. They are also often considered “Higher Fungi”. They are often associated with root systems and act as an ectomycorrhiza. They are known to enhance the availability of nutrients and nutrient absorption.
Composting is enhanced by exceptional microbiological activity of PittMoss. That is demonstrated in the photo of a pile as seen below. Below a depth of about 12” in the pile the composting fungi can be seen (bottom half of photo) as a white fungal mycelial growth. It was clearly present after about 14 days in a composting pile. Microorganisms such as Trichoderma spp., Ascomycete spp., Basidiomycete spp., and Zygomycetes spp. release enzymes that help to breakdown the substrate materials making them much more available to plants.
Ascomycetes spp. These fruiting (sporulating) bodies are growing on PittMoss – They are often considered “Higher Fungi” and grow within a soil and on or near root surfaces producing mycorhizal associations that increase nutrient solubility and absorption.
So if all this biological activity is good, is it bad if I do not see any mold?
Whether you can see the activity or not depends on a variety of environmental conditions. Nonetheless, these microorganisms will always be found in gardening blends even if they do not become visible.
This all sounds good, but I really want to avoid seeing any microbial growth.
Managing the environment will greatly reduce the occurrence of fruiting bodies. PittMoss should be stored in a cool dry space with available air circulation (for example, leaving the bag slightly open) mold is unlikely to occur.
Should I expect mold in my product?
More often then not, you will not see any visible growth. The microbes produce fruiting bodies when not properly stored (see the previous question). Also, mold will not remain. In fact, after the first bloom any subsequent growth will be minimal.
If I see mold in my mix, what do I do?
At PittMoss we recommend simply mixing it up with? the rest of the product. It should integrate nicely back into the soil.
Is this the same thing as a “living soil”?
Yes! The idea behind a living soil is that the nutrients that plants needed to grow are provided through naturally occurring soil microbiology, like the fungi and microbes described in this blog. Just think- the forests grow plants without the need for any additional fertilizer! That is because these soils are teeming with beneficial microbes that provide the plants the nutrients they need.
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Those Mysterious Molds, Part 1: “The Blob”
They are common following rains or irrigation during the warmer months anywhere there is ample organic matter. This includes lawns, mulched areas, compost piles, bare soil, tree stumps and old logs. Sometimes they even “climb” a few inches up walls or the base of plants. They are not known to be harmful at all to plants or animals (including humans). Before coming to the soil surface to scare and gross out humans, they migrate through the soil as large amoebae (called plasmodia) ingesting tiny bits of decaying debris, bacteria and other microorganisms. They are not associated with any plant disease. Rather, they are an important component of the soil ecosystem and indicate that there is a decent amount of moisture and organic matter in the soil. This is a good thing, because landscape plants normally do well in soil with ample moisture and organic matter. Undisturbed, they can last for weeks in the yard until a good rain washes the spores back into the soil. Animals, including curious children armed with sticks and lawn men with lawnmowers, will also hasten the weathering process by scattering their spores to the wind.
Unidentified Fungi in the Garden
Mushrooms in Leslie’s Garden
I’ve been seeing a large amount of fungi in the community garden I manage. I haven’t identified them. I don’t even know if they’re toadstools or mushrooms.
Is it a good idea to rake them up and toss them into my compost bin? If they’re poisonous I fear the compost would then be unsuitable for growing fruits and vegetables.
I live in St. Louis, MO. Annual average rainfall is 36 inches. Half of a year’s rain fell between March and June last year.
By the way, ~ fantastic website!
The Compost Gardener Answer
Jim, thanks for your question.
Fungi are a fantastic thing to have in the garden. They do a great job of decomposing the more carbon rich material like wood chips, leaves and straw in your garden and as they do this the nutrients in those materials become available to the plants.
Put Them in the Compost
If you are worried that someone might decide to eat them raking them up and putting them in the compost would be a good solution. It won’t make the compost unsafe for use on the garden and will supplement the fungi already at work in the compost pile.
Fruit of the Mat
The mushroom or toadstool you are seeing in your garden is the tip of the iceberg of the actual fungi. The picture above is from my garden where a bunch of little mushrooms sprout up each year. They are the fruiting body of a much larger mycelium mat, an intricate web of filaments the fungi send out. A single fruit or mushroom is being supported by a large area of mycelium – for example the very yummy chantrelle mushroom would have a mat of about 70 square meters or yards supporting it.
Don’t worry though, most fungi are very good for the garden and some are essential. I have several pages on this site about mycorrhizal fungi you might enjoy. The mushrooms in your garden are likely a type of mycorrhizal fungi associated with a nearby stand of trees.
Mushrooms or Toadstools – Don’t Eat Them Unless You are a Mushroom Expert
I used to think there were two types of fungi – mushrooms being the good edible and safe ones and toadstools being poisonous and generally evil.
I was wrong. It’s estimated that there are around 1.5 million types of fungi. Of these only about 75,000 have been identified and of those only about 200 are really edible. At least another 200 are poisonous enough to either kill you or make you wish you were dead. Some of these look very similar to each other.
Unidentified fungi in compost
We have had so much rain here in Louisiana lately that I can’t keep up with keeping my compost aerated. It smells to high heavens. This morning it had little white mushroom type growths all over it – very tiny but all over it. I am concerned about putting it on my garden to grow vegetables. Is there any time where compost gets dangerous to use?
Those little mushrooms should not be a problem. But… the fact your compost stinks to high heaven is an issue. It’s too wet and has no air in it… but you already know that.
I had a similar problem last summer after a series of unfortunate compost additions and a big rain dump. What I’d suggest is once the weather gets dry enough dump out your compost and add dry coarse material. This will let your compost breathe without a bunch of energy on your part.
Then give your compost a time to cure. You will know it’s safe to use by the smell. When you use it put it on top of the soil rather than digging it in. All will be well.
Thank you for the Question and Info!
by: Debbie Rhode
Thank you so much, I was wondering the exact same thing–there is fungi in my compost and I did not know if it was safe, or if I needed to toss it and start all over again. I appreciate this blog, thank you! And thank you Jim, for asking. I live in Central Washington, and typically we don’t get much rain, but this year has been exceptionally rainy. My compost is right next to our cherry orchard, too!
What Is Actinomycetes: Learn About Fungus Growing On Manure And Compost
Composting is good for the earth and relatively easy even for a novice. However, soil temperature, moisture levels and careful balance of items in the compost are necessary for successful break down. White fungus in compost bins is a common sight when actinomycetes are present.
What is actinomycetes? This is a fungus-like bacterium, which works as a decomposer, breaking apart plant tissue. The presence of fungi in composting can be a bad thing and indicate improper balance of bacterial agents but actinomycetes in manure compost and other organic material indicates successful decomposition of tough fibrous items.
What is Actinomycetes?
Fungi are important components of breaking down compost, combined with bacteria, microorganisms and actinomycetes. The fine white filaments that resemble spider webs in organic piles are beneficial organisms that look like fungi but are actually bacteria. The enzymes they release break down items such as cellulose, bark and woody stems, items that are harder for bacteria to manage. It is important to encourage the growth of this bacterium for a healthy compost heap that breaks down quickly to deep rich soil.
Actinomycetes are naturally occurring bacterium found in soil. The majority of these bacteria thrive in the hot stages of composting but some are only thermo tolerant and lurk around the cooler edges of your pile. These bacteria lack nuclei but grow multicellular filaments just like fungi. The appearance of the filaments is a bonus for better decomposition and a well-balanced compost situation.
Most actinomycetes require oxygen to survive, making it especially important to turn and aerate the pile regularly. Actinomycetes are slower in growth than bacteria and fungi and appear later in the compost process. They contribute to the rich deep brown color of finished compost and add a distinctly “woodsy” odor to a healthy pile.
Fungus Growing on Manure
Fungi are saprophytes which break down dead or dying material. They are often found on animal waste, especially in dry, acidic and low nitrogen sites that do not support bacteria. Fungus growing on manure is an initial part of waste break down, but then the actinomycetes take over.
Actinomycetes in manure compost are also naturally occurring and help digest proteins and fats, organic acids and other materials that fungi cannot in moist conditions. You can tell the difference by looking for the spidery filaments in actinomycetes versus the clumps of gray to white fuzz created by fungal colonies.
Actinomycetes in manure compost form an important product used in many mushroom production practices.
Encouraging Actinomycetes Growth
That filament forming white fungus in compost bins is a great part of the decomposition process. For this reason, it is important to encourage an environment that favors the bacteria’s growth. Moderately moist soil that is low in acidity supports the formation of more bacteria. Low pH conditions must also be prevented as well as waterlogged soil.
Actinomycetes need a consistent supply of organic material upon which to dine, as they have no way to create their own food source. Well-aerated compost piles enhance bacteria growth. In a well-tended compost pile, beneficial levels of bacteria, fungus and actinomycetes are present, with each doing its particular specialty resulting in dark, earthy compost.
Mushrooms & Compost
Posted at h in Passionate Gardener by Primex
By: Ron Kushner
Mushrooms in the landscape
Mushrooms are the fruiting bodies formed from fungi. The purpose of the mushroom is to release sexual reproductive spores. All mushrooms have a cap and gills. The cap protects the reproductive surface (the gills) until it pushes up through the ground. Then the cap expands and the spores are released from the gills which the wind carries to find a suitable substrate for them to grow in.
Mushrooms may or may not have a stem. They are not really classified as “plants” but are part of the family “fungi”.
Central Green Bioretention Basin
Most fungi are composed of thread-like filaments called “hyphae” and ultimately form a mass or “body” called a mycelium. They live in the soil, taking in nutrients as they help break down the decomposing soil. Their biggest ecological function is their interaction with plants to form mycorrhizae. Mycorrhizae result from the fungi connecting with the root cells of plants. The fungus provides nutrients to the plants (especially phosphorus) and the plant provides the fungus with carbon that it converts into sugar compounds.
Be careful! Most mushrooms are not edible and many are actually poisonous. Some will kill you and others will make you very sick. Make sure that you know what you are doing if you harvest mushrooms in the wild. Get expert verification of the identity of the mushroom.
Mushrooms do not have roots, leaves, flowers or seeds. They have no chlorophyll so they need to interact with plants to create sugar that plants manufacture by taking in water, carbon dioxide and sunlight. The fruiting body is really not the whole mushroom, just the reproductive part.
Each mushroom spore is a single cell.
Mushrooms originated in Egypt with the Pharoahs, according to history, then Russia, Greece and all over. Paris, France was the first recorded actual cultivation, then England and finally the United States.
Mushrooms sprout up in our lawns, especially after wet weather. They could be growing in circles of dark, green grass. When the weather gets colder or the soil dries out, they tend to disappear. They live on organic matter buried in the soil such as buried logs, lumber, old tree roots or stumps. They are unsightly but they rarely do damage to your lawn. There is no practical way to eliminate them. When the buried wood matter is totally decayed the mushrooms will be gone. All you can do is rake them up or mow them down. There are no chemical solutions.
Commercial mushrooms and mushroom compost
A bulldozer at Laurel Valley Soils.
Pennsylvania is the top producer of edible mushrooms in the country. 65% of every mushroom in the United States comes from PA. Laurel Valley Farms in Avondale, PA creates the mushroom compost for the mushroom farmers to grow edible mushrooms.
Since mushrooms have no ability to make their own food, compost is needed. Laurel Valley Farms buys 40,000 tons of hay and 25,000 tons of straw every year.
These ingredients are broken down and watered for three weeks. They are then blended with poultry manure, corn cobs and horse manure and bedding. These additives provide bacteria and other micro organisms to further break down the material. This process creates the carbon which becomes an important food source for the mushrooms. It is combined until the temperature becomes 160 degrees F.
It is then transported and loaded into small, dark buildings called “doubles”. It is loaded into growing beds and treated with spores. The mushrooms grow in “flushes” and about 60,000 pounds a day are harvested. After three flushes, it is no longer economical to use the same compost for a future crop, due tot he reduced carbon levels.
However, this compost still has lots of valuable nutrients for growing beautiful, healthy plants. It is further composted for about 6-9 months (as the mushrooms prefer it be only partially composted) and recycled for use in urban gardening initiatives, farming applications, nurseries, golf courses, by landscapers, sold by garden centers and used in green roofs. It is turned into a high-grade soil and the process has been going on since the early 1900’s.
Every week, Laurel Valley Farms recycles:
- 450,000 gallons of storm water
- 75 tons of corn cobs
- 7,000 cubic yards of horse bedding
- 40 tons of cocoa shells
- 600 tons of poultry manure
A total of 7,000 yards of mushroom compost is recycled every week. That is enough to cover 157 football fields with 1/4″ of compost!
Thanks to Laurel Valley Soils for providing much of the information for this article.
For questions or comments: [email protected]
- Putting Moldy Food in Your Compost or Worm Bin