Winning Science Fair Projects Using Mushrooms

Students have begun to write to me with the news that their science projects using mushrooms, based at least partly on ideas from this web site, have done very well at their science fairs. Here's a thank you note followed by four projects that I have received permission to post on-line:

"RUSH, I am happy to tell you that Meredith has finished her science project with the mushrooms . she got an (A) . All the info, you sent and your help was rewarding.Thanks very much from Meredith and myself ..BRENT"

Surf and Turf - The Perspective of a Mushroom, by Spencer D. Brown
Effect of H202 on the Contamination of Pleurotus ostreatus mycelium, by David Klorig
Effect of Light on Elm Oyster Mushrooms by Levita and Paige
Effect of Natural Light on Growth of Elm Oyster Mushrooms; UV Fluorescence of Elm Oyster Mushrooms, by Emily M.


[Spencer was age 12 and in 6th Grade at Inman Middle School in Atlanta, Georgia when this project won first place in his school's science fair, Winter 1999. Following is his science project report, somewhat abridged.]

Mushrooms are interesting to me because of how they look and taste. I eat mushrooms raw in salads and cooked in soups and sauces. I often see mushrooms and toadstools growing in the forest on camping trips and sometimes I find them in my yard after it rains. They seem to appear suddenly from nowhere and look nothing like other plants and animals. I decided to learn more about mushrooms and how they grow. My project was to see if I could make mushrooms grow faster by feeding them. I got my idea for this project from a man named Rush Wayne, who sells mushrooms on the internet.

Mushrooms are a form of fungi, which is part of the phylum of plants. Most mushrooms are members of the subdivision Baisediomycotina, class Hymenomycetes, although certain fungi commonly called mushrooms (such as edible morels, Morchella) are members of the subdivision Piscomyoctina. Mushrooms in the class Hymenomycetes are separated into different orders and families on the basis of the characteristics of the "hymenia," which are the spore-bearing layers of the mushroom fruit. It is the word "hymenia," gives this class its name. The class Hymenomycetes has two (2) orders or subdivisions. The first is Agaricales, which consists almost entirely of soft-bodied mushrooms; the second is Polyporales, which contains only hard-bodied fungi. The subdivision Agaricales includes commercial mushrooms, Agaricus disporus, its cousin, the wild mushroom, Pleurotus ostreatus, the oyster mushroom group, and the fairy ring mushroom, which is found in many folk tales. The type of mushroom I chose for my experiment are called elm oyster mushrooms, which are a species of the Agaricales subdivision. I do not know for certain, but I suspect that oyster mushrooms received their name because fully-grown specimens look a little like oysters. Mushrooms can grow in many different kinds of soils and climates, or "habitats." Some are commonly found in many places, but others are rare and require very specialized habitats. One interesting characteristic shared by all mushrooms is that they lack the ability of green plants to utilize sunlight to manufacture their own food from water and carbon dioxide ("photosynthesis"), and therefore, like animals, they must feed on complex organic molecules found in their habitats in order to live and grow. In fact, most mushrooms, like other fungi, do not prosper in strong direct sunlight. Many mushrooms and puffballs are "saprobic," which means that they obtain all the nutrients they need to live from organic material in the soil. This type of fungi serves an important ecological role in degrading dead plant material and in recycling nutrients and carbon for reuse by other types of plants. Other mushrooms are parasites, which means they feed on the living tissue of trees and other plants. This type of mushroom causes brown and white rots of the sapwood or hardwood of various trees and is viewed as a kind of pest by timber growers. A mushroom is separated into several parts. There is the fruit body, cap, stem and roots. The color of mushroom's flesh is important in identifying the species to which it belongs. Another detail is the spore print, which can be obtained by pressing the mushroom cap on white paper. Another detail useful in identifying mushrooms is whether the stem is hollow, which requires the examination of a cross-section of the stem.

I learned from my research that mushrooms are a type of plant. People feed some types of plants fertilizer as food to help them grow. It occurred to me that, if people also fertilized mushrooms, it might help them to grow too. I chose two fertilizers to use as mushroom food, ordinary plant fertilizer made from fish emulsion and cow manure. The fertilizers were my independent variables, water was my control, and the amount the mushrooms grew was my dependent variable. My hypothesis was that fertilized mushrooms would grow larger than mushrooms which were fed only water. I also wanted to see whether the mushrooms would like fish emulsion or cow manure better (surf and turf), but I did not have a hypothesis as to which would be better.

I bought two (2) elm oyster kits through the internet and called them block "A'" and block "B." As stated above, elm oysters are a species of saprobic mushrooms, which obtain their food from the soil the grow in. Each kit was a block of compacted sawdust with mushroom spores placed on or near the surface and with nutrients included to help the spores germinate. Each block was wrapped in a plastic bag to keep moisture in.

Methodology. Mushrooms which grew on one half of block A would be fed only water (control), and mushrooms which grew on the other half of the block would be fed fish emulsion. Mushrooms which grew on one half of block B would be fed only water control), and mushrooms which grew on the other half of the block would be fed cow manure. I placed both kits by a window in my home where both blocks would remain at the same temperature and where each would receive approximately the same amount of indirect sunlight and no direct sunlight. I fed all the mushrooms on each block with a spray bottle once or twice a day at the same time. I always shook the bottles before spraying to be sure the fertilizers were properly mixed. I divided each block in half with a water-proof barrier made of cardboard covered with aluminum foil. On the advice of the seller of the kits, I decided to wait until the mushrooms were about 1 - 2 inches high to begin feeding them. I intended to begin feeding all the mushrooms at the same time. However, the mushrooms on block B began growing 4 days before buds appeared on block A. Therefore, I had to change my plan, and I started to feed the block B mushrooms 4 days earlier than I first fed the block A mushrooms. Since all mushrooms were fed from the time they were about 2 inches high, and all were fed for the same amount of time (8 days), I do not think this change affected the results. The fish emulsion mist that I used was made from liquid "Alaska Fish Fertilizer" bought in a hardware store. I mixed 1/4 teaspoon of the fertilizer with 1 quart of water. This is about 1/3 of the recommended strength for fertilizing house plants. The fish emulsion contained the following ingredients:

Total Nitrogen 5.0%
ammoniacal nitrogen 0.50%
water insoluble nitrogen 0.75%
other water soluble nitrogen 3.75%
Available Phosphoric Acid 1.0%
Soluble Potash 1.0%
Chlorine 4.0%
Primary nutrients derived from fresh fish

I got the cow manure from a family friend who raises cattle in Marietta, Georgia. I dissolved three tablespoons of manure in 1 quart of water and strained the liquid so the sprayer would not get clogged up. I had no way of finding out the chemicals which were in the manure or their concentrations. This turned out to be a weakness in my methodology. I measured the mushrooms with a ruler every day and wrote down the results in my log. I also wrote down my observations of the mushroom's growth and took pictures every few days. After the 10th day, the mushrooms appeared to be fully grown, so I harvested and weighed them, and compared the results.

The block A mushrooms were 4 days behind the block B mushrooms, so there was no way to compare the growth of the 2 blocks during the time the mushrooms were growing. All the mushrooms from block B and the "water mushrooms" from block A grew at approximately the same rate after they were about 2 inches high (almost 1 inch each day!). I could not really tell by looking whether the water or fish fed mushrooms from block B were growing faster, but after I began feeding 1/2 the block A mushrooms cow manure, it definitely appeared to me that the cow manure mushrooms fell behind the water fed mushrooms. The cow manure mushrooms did not look as healthy as the water fed mushrooms. The water fed mushrooms from both block A and B grew at about the same rate and reached the same height (about 6 - 6_ inches). Although the water fed and fish fed mushrooms from block B reached about the same height, the fish fed mushrooms seemed to have thicker stems, and when the mushrooms were weighed, the fish fed mushrooms outweighed the water fed mushrooms by 0.8 ounces (7.7 ounces to 6.9 ounces), or by 11.6%. On the other hand, the manure fed mushrooms appeared to have a bad reaction to the fertilizer. They were visibly smaller than the water fed mushrooms (5 inches vs. 6 inches), and weighed less (2.9 ounces to 4 ounces). The experiment also showed that there was a difference between the growth of the control (water) mushrooms of the two blocks (4 ounces vs. 6.9 ounces). This indicates that it is not possible to make direct comparisons between the growth of different blocks. The data obtained from my observations is set forth in the table included with this report and in the graph in the display. [Data not included online]

My hypothesis was partially confirmed and partially contradicted. The fish emulsion spray seemed to help the mushrooms which received it grow larger than the water fed control group. On the other hand, the cow manure spray clearly inhibited the growth of the mushrooms on block A as soon as it was applied. Although it is possible to conclude that the cow manure spray is not a good fertilizer for mushrooms, I think there is also the possibility that the spray I used was too potent and may have burned the mushrooms. This experiment would have been better if I had been able to test the chemicals in the manure. Also, I believe a good future experiment would be to use the same methodology I used in this one, but feed mushrooms various concentrations of cow manure spray to see if the amount of cow manure in the spray has an effect."

Effect of H202 on the Contamination of Pleurotus ostreatus mycelium, by David Klorig

[David was a junior at Mt. Vernon High School in Virginia when this project placed Second in Botany at his school, and then Third in Botany at his regional science fair in early 2000. Following is the abstract he wrote describing the project.]

This experiment involved a method of growing mushrooms which involves the addition of hydrogen peroxide to the substrate on which mushroom mycelium grows. This hydrogen peroxide keeps out competitor molds and other forms of contamination. This problem has traditionally been solved by using lengthy sterilization processes and a completely sterile growing environment. This new method claims to allow the user to forgo this sterilization, and allow an easy and practical way to grow the mushrooms. To test the peroxide method, three different sets of oyster mushroom mycelium were grown on a wheat grain substrate. Two jars grew in the sterile environment of a sterilized and sealed aquarium, in a grow room. Two other jars were grown with hydrogen peroxide added to the substrate. These were placed in the same room as the sterile aquarium, but not inside of the aquarium. Also two jars were grown as a control, in which no steps were made to sterilize it and they were placed in the same room as the other sets of jars. For each jar prior to inoculation, the wheat grain was sterilized in a pressure cooker along with the jars themselves. All 6 jars were inoculated at the same time with equal amounts of spawn, the only difference being the level of sterility that they were to be maintained at and whether or not hydrogen peroxide was added or not.

The growth of the mycelium was observed over the next 3 weeks or so and photographed each time. The jars in the sterile aquarium grew the fastest, but both became contaminated with Blue-Green Mold. The aquarium was not as sterile as was thought. The mycelium eventually out-grew the mold and killed it off itself, however the jars can still be considered contaminated and are not fit for inoculating anything else. The control jars grew the second fastest and then both became contaminated with Black Pin Mold and and unidentified bacterial contaminate. The oyster mushroom mycelium (very hardy) also over ran the molds, but is still unfit for transfer or reinoculation. The hydrogen peroxide containing jars, grew slower, and produced more moisture (probably from the peroxide decomposing into water) and was completely contamination free in both jars."

Effect of Light on Elm Oyster mushrooms

[Levita and Paige were in Grade 9 at Garden City High School when their project won first place in their county science fair, April 2000. Here's a summary of the project:]

For our project, we cut the mushroom block in half, and then we put one half in natural sunlight, and then the other half in a box and it was in the dark. We wanted to see if the mushrooms grew the same since fungi do not need to undergo photosynthesis to survive. We thought that it would grow the same. But, it didn't. The mushrooms in the light grew 'normal' such as the pictures suggested. The mushrooms in the dark didnt grow as well. They looked pretty much as if their caps didn't grow in, and they were a lot skinnier; sort of like scrawny broccoli. "

  • Back to the Science Fair Projects page
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  • About the Peroxide Manual, Growing Mushrooms the Easy Way
  • Peroxide in Mushroom Growing FAQs
  • Mushroom Growing FAQs
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    This document is Copyright: ©2000 by Randall R. Wayne, Ph.D. All commercial rights are reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or used for sale in any form or by any means without permission of the author.