2 – Pilzling: from Beginning to…End?

Getting the walls built was the first step!
Fabian handling some of the many deliveries this summer!
The now empty basement! Thanks WandelWerk!

2 – Pilzling: from Beginning to…End?


Moving into WandelWerk, Christian and I had the plan to find a small, unused corner where we could quietly test our idea to grow urban mushrooms. We figured 10-15 square meters would be suitable – just big enough to set up some equipment, mix a bit of substrate, and produce a few handfuls of mushrooms. 

We got a lot of funny looks while first pitching our idea, and of course many assumed we were just looking for an excuse to grow magic mushrooms, but luckily our ideas weren’t too crazy, and we won the initial backing of Wandelwerk’s Jan Pehoviak and Verena Hermelingmeier. With their nod of approval, we were given the opportunity to expand our initial plans and move into the basement! Yeah, it’s true, basements aren’t usually the most inviting place in the world… damp, cold, and void of all sources of vitamin D, but on the other hand, those qualities are exactly what mushrooms are looking for. Add in the benefit that our work would be musically accompanied by our basement neighbours hammering out the last few bars of their latest tracks, and we were quite set on moving in!

Of course, one problem still stood before us: we had enough money to run a few mushroom experiments, but to build a fully operating farm was going to be tight! After a few quick budgeting meetings between us, a decision was made on the deepest we could go into our savings – the age-old financing method of BOOTSTRAPPING – and thus, our project began!

Well yeah, we’re still not sure whether that was our smartest idea or not – yes, we found effective ways to keep our costs low and efficient ways to keep our production running (much appreciation to Fabi’s tech-mastery, which was an unrivaled addition to our team), but it also meant testing the human limits on how long one can continue to work 60-hour weeks surviving on nothing but brötchen, hummus and beer. Including the planning phase, it took us almost 3 months of construction and early production before we had our first harvest in late November – we thought it was smooth sailing after that! 

Youtube makes mushroom farming seem so easy, and this spring, we definitely had some low points. Turns out, growing mushrooms can be difficult after all. We had a lot of early demand for our product, which is obviously a good thing when starting a new business, but we were often a bit frustrated that even after all the hours we were spending on the farm, we weren’t getting the results we were expecting. Growing mushrooms depends on so many factors – substrate material ratios and pH, temperature, humidity, lighting, oxygen levels and of course contamination control (more on that in a future post!), and it began to look like we had taken on more than we could handle.

After several rough months and what seemed like endless unsuccessful rounds of experimentation, we began to at last hit our stride during the summer! Our harvests increased, our customer base grew, and we were really beginning to thrive. One of our early fans also decided to join the team – Vanessa’s creative eye has given us a bit of a makeover in some areas and has taken our look to the next level!

It’s been a crazy project, yet here we are, more than a year later still excited about what we’ve started and still regularly indulging ourselves with brötchen & hummus.

Fifteen months ago, we stepped into the empty basement of the old car dealership with our minds buzzing with ideas. On November 19 we had our last harvest, it took a couple afternoons to take down the system, and last week we left behind the empty basement. We leave with a lot of good memories and still with this buzz of excitement, however, this time with a few more members to our team and even bigger ideas in mind!

Trev

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