From coffee to mushrooms

03 July 2018 | Community
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The DIY mushroom kit created by the students investigated the role of coffee grounds in mushroom growth

Coffee grounds, mushroom spawn and cardboard. Those three simple ingredients are the basis for a Do-It-Yourself mushroom kit developed by a group of Year 1 students from the Ridge View Residential College (RVRC). Begun as a project under an RVRC module to investigate the possibility of using spent coffee grounds for mushroom growth, the students were encouraged by staff from RVRC and NUS Environmental Sustainability to share the results of their research. The students thus held a hands-on workshop for the NUS community on 2 July, teaching some 20 participants how to grow their own mushrooms.

While commercial mushroom growing kits are available, the students’ kit has the additional benefit of being easily replicated using common household waste such as coffee grounds, paper and plastic. Each kit boasts a recycling count of one plastic bottle, 14 cups or 210g of coffee, and 14g of cardboard.

The students hope that the workshop would show people the ease of making these kits by using “simple items that many people just throw away” said Bai Sin Yeou, NUS Science student and group member. “We hope this also helps them to realise the importance of recycling,” she added.

Amidst laughter and conversation, the participants layered cardboard soaked in water; mushroom spawn purchased from a local farm; and coffee grounds taken from various coffee joints on campus, into recycled plastic bottles or milk cartons. With regular watering of the kit, the participants can look forward to at least three harvests of their own home-grown mushrooms.

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NUS Arts and Social Sciences student and group member Marcus Khoo helping a participant with building the kit

Armed with this new knowledge, most of the participants shared their intentions of continuing this practice after the workshop. “It’s a more long term approach of doing it, rather than just a one-time buying from the supermarket,” commented Mr Harry Lim from NUS Facilities Management.

Ms Gwynne Lim from the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum at NUS was most excited about the recycling aspects of the project. “If even 10 per cent of people can make this a regular practice, I think the energy savings will be substantial. It’s not about the activity itself. It’s about the mindset. Mindset is infectious; if we can look at how we can reuse things in a new way, this can translate to everything we use in general,” she said.

The cardboard and coffee grounds combined together provide the nitrogen and carbon that mushrooms need for growth, the students explained. This contributed to the positive results of their project; their kit with coffee grounds bloomed more times and with more consistent yield than the harvests of the commercially available kits.

The group currently has one more workshop lined up at Jurong Springs Residents’ Committee Centre and hopes to continue to conduct these workshops in the future, said Sin Yeou.  They are also looking into making their kits sustainable; and investigating methods such as spore printing and transferring the top mycelium layer from the original kit to be used as mushroom spawn in a new kit.

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The four group members (from left:) NUS Engineering student Huo Lushuang, Sin Yeou, NUS Arts and Social Sciences student Sew Wen Xin and Marcus