At North Spore, we are always inspired by the ways home cultivators spread the spore with their communities; diseminating new and important research and techniques on small budgets but with big passion. Spore n' Sprout's videos began to appear in our feed several months ago and we are intrigued by the variety of species he's been able to cultivate at home, both indoors and out, using simple, accessible techniques. We had the privilege of speaking with Keegan recently to ask him a little more about his motivations, observations, and goals for the future.
Keegan with fruiting cordyceps cakes
Will: Hello! Can you tell us a little about yourself and Spore n’ Sprout?
Keegan: Hi! My name is Keegan Coffey, I live in Michigan. I created my business Spore n’ Sprout so I can follow my passion and build my own future instead of working for someone else’s. I sell liquid cultures to other mushroom growers through my website and fresh mushrooms at local farmers markets.
Will: What sparked your interest in working with fungi? Have you always been interested in mycology?
Keegan: When I was a teenager, I struggled with mental health and depression, as many teenagers do. I’ve always felt a deep connection with nature and animals, and I found myself drawn to natural psychedelics to alleviate the emptiness I felt. I had many profound experiences that healed my heart and opened my eyes. It had such a positive impact on me that I knew it was important in the grand scheme of things. The experiences spoke to me, basically telling me this was my path and I have felt guided by it ever since. Due to the illegality of magic mushrooms and my knowledge of the ability of mushrooms to produce bioactive compounds, I decided to work with other gourmet and medicinal fungi that are legal. And that’s when I started Spore n’ Sprout.
Will: The intersections of mushrooms and mental health are becoming more clear by the day. So which part of the business started first, and how did your cultivation practices change over time?
Keegan: My YouTube channel was the first part of Spore n’ Sprout. Working with mycelium was very therapeutic for me and I wanted to help other people enjoy the same benefits, so I made videos teaching others how to grow mushrooms. I started by making a still air box and I practiced sterile techniques. I learned from my successes and failures and eventually built my own laminar flow hood and made other improvements.
Will: That's impressive and relatable. What types of mushrooms have you had success growing? Which species have been the most challenging, and why?
Keegan: I have grown Oysters, Shiitake, Maitake, Cordyceps militaris, Pholiota sp., Enoki, Reishi, Turkey Tail, Lion's Mane, Pioppino, Wine cap, and Chicken of the Woods.
The most challenging species I want to grow successfully would be the Tremella. I just made a video recently where I made an extract facial serum from Tremella. It is becoming very popular in beauty products due to its unique polysaccharides that promote skin collagen synthesis which boosts skin elasticity and minimize wrinkles. It’s also a popular health food ingredient. I am interested in cultivating it for these reasons, and mostly because there doesn’t seem to be any farms in the USA growing it. Tremella is parasitic, so in order to grow it successfully, you have to find a log with it and its host fungi (Annulohypoxylon archeri for Tremella fusciformus and Stereum for Tremella mesenterica) together, culture them both separately, and then combine them into a dual culture. If anyone can send me wild samples of both Stereum and Tremella mesenterica from the same log, I can share the dual culture with everyone involved to help bring the growing market to the USA farms. Its difficulty is intriguing to me and I love challenges most of all.
Will: We have been seeing more research on how Tremella can be used in skincare and it's pretty fascinating. There are so many different ways of growing mushrooms, both indoors and out. Can you share which methods you’ve used and anything you’ve learned along the way?
Keegan: I have used shotgun fruiting chambers, Martha tents, and larger tents, and I have grown outside. When growing indoors, you have control over many factors including humidity and fresh air as well as preventing bug infestations. On some occasions I had better success growing outside when the weather was right.
Will: Letting nature do its thing outside in proper weather is arguably the easiest way to grow mushrooms. Which species or cultivation methods are you focusing on now, and what would you like to try in the future?
Keegan: I am focusing on growing gourmet mushrooms indoors currently, and I just harvested some Reishi I grew outdoors. In the near future, I will attempt to establish a black truffle orchard by inoculating hazelnut saplings. The tree roots form a mycorrhizal symbiotic relationship with the truffle fungi. The fungi helps the tree access phosphorus, nitrogen, and water. In turn, the fungi obtains carbon and sugars from the trees. I am going to bring a sapling into my lab in front of a laminar flow hood, sanitize the sapling, dip its roots into a black truffle liquid culture, and plant it in small pots of soil. The plants will be kept in a controlled green house while the mycelium establishes itself in the roots of the sapling. Over time, I will check the roots with my microscope to verify the mycorrhizal relationship. It will take 5-6 years until the trees are mature enough to produce truffles so this will be a long term project, but will be fruitful once established. People who have been successful don’t really share their secrets, so I’m just going to do my own experiments until I am successful and I will share the process at that point.
I will also experiment with morel mushroom cultivation. Any success that I have will be documented on my YouTube channel.
Will: Awesome! We look forward to seeing your trials. Experimentation is critical for the burgeoning world of mycology and we are happy to help where we can. So, if you had unlimited resources, what would you cultivate? What methods would you experiment with?
Keegan: I would focus my work on growing mycorrhizal mushroom species and parasitic duos that are said to be impossible or difficult to grow on purpose, like chanterelles, porcini, beefsteak, lobster, shrimp of the woods, morels, and hedgehog mushrooms. I would experiment with using fungi to consume plastic waste and with creating vegan leather from mushroom mycelium.
Will: A lot of us here at North Spore would love to do the same! You have a specific style when it comes to social media. Your Instagram is full of wonderful imagery depicting different species, techniques, and both indoor and outdoor cultivation with a focus on education, or "spreading the spore," as we like to say. What kind of content gets the best response for your followers?
Keegan: The content that gets the best response for me is short video tutorials that are straight to the point. I try to make the videos easy to replicate.
Will: That's one of the things that drew us to your content--that you make the information digestible and easily accessible--which is one of our main goals here at North Spore as well. Do you have any words of wisdom you’d like to share with folks who are curious about growing or are just getting started?
Keegan: 1. Cultivate curiosity. Approach mushroom growing with a curious mindset. There’s always something new to learn in the fungal world. 2. Practice patience. Mushrooms grow at their own pace. Be patient and allow the mycelium to develop and fruit when ready. 3. Maintain cleanliness. Keep your cultivation environment clean and sterile to prevent contamination and ensure healthy mushroom growth.
Will: Last question: symbolically speaking, which mushroom would you be and why?
Keegan: Symbolically speaking I think I would be Lion' Mane because I am someone who values knowledge, continuous learning, and mental acuity.
Will: Righteous. Thank you for talking with us, we look forward to seeing more of your content!
Keegan: Thank you!