Last year I switched to grocery store canola oil to lubricate my chainsaw bar. I add Oyster mushroom spores into the oil so that they are dispersed while I cut. This method was developed by Paul Stamets of Fungi Perfecti and discussed in his book Mycelium Running. There doesn’t appear to be a commercially available product; however, by making it myself at close to the cost of conventional petroleum-based bar oil (~$15/gal), I improve my forest and should have some convenient forage this fall. I am still refining the process of infusing spores into canola oil, but if you are curious to try it, I’d be happy to swap notes.
Why vegetable oil?
Available since the mid-1980s, vegetable-based bar oil usage has grown more rapidly in Europe and is gaining adoption in the US. Workers’ occupational safety and health, and environmental protection are the biggest concerns caused by the thousands of gallons of petroleum-based bar oil that is left in our forests each year.
Petroleum-based oils are known carcinogens and medical records show that they cause discomforting eczema and oil acne. In addition, prolonged exposure to petroleum-based-oil mist can cause irritation of the respiratory tract. Environmental damage caused by petroleum-based oil spills has had extensive attention from the media.
Whereas, canola oil “has excellent lubricating properties and some studies have shown up to 40 percent reduction in consumption without sacrificing bar-and-chain life.” Again looking to Europe, we see that there are 80+ brands of vegetable-based bar oil in Germany alone. Austria has gone so far as to outlaw petroleum-based bar oil. Europe has even developed a standard (CEC-L-33-T-82) that measures the amount of oil that biodegrades over a 21-day period. Within that standard, products can contain some mineral oil additives. A popular choice in the US, STIHL BioPlus, degrades 93.8% in 21 days. Commercial vegetable-based bar oils cost about twice as much as petroleum products, which has hurt adoption. But with long-term environmental concerns and sustainability driving today's business decisions more than ever before, that additional cost will be more easily justified.
Canola oil is also a renewable product. It is worth considering that conventional agriculture relies on fossil fuels, and accounts for 10% of the US greenhouse gas emissions. Canola-based bar oil is still seen as a net positive as it keeps the toxins in petroleum-based bar oil out of the forests, and we have the potential to change our agricultural footprint into the future.
Saprobic mushrooms, the decomposers, are the cornerstone of returning nutrients back to the forest. Common native fungi include oysters and Turkey tail. As tree limbs and litter fall to the forest floor, saprobes reach up and consume them. Mycelium, the vegetative part of the mushroom, invades the tree litter, brings along water, and attracts insects that feed on the mycelium. Those insects attract birds and forest creatures to tear apart the rotting wood. The mushrooms start the process, decompose the most difficult tissues (lignin and cellulose), and invite the others to continue the job. This process converts wood back into the soil.
There are many functions that mushrooms serve in our world. Oyster mushrooms are known to feed on nematodes and are effective water filters. They’re used by humans and other animals as food and medicine. Turkey tail mushrooms contain anti-cancer medicines, are aggressive decomposers, and protect against parasitic fungi. Many of our best medicines have come from mushrooms and many more are expected to be discovered, especially in the few remaining sections of old-growth forests. There are dozens of powerful mushrooms that humans have partnered with and countless more that we don't even know the value of yet. Perhaps they will share their stories someday.
Why use spore-infused canola oil?
Mushroom spores are everywhere. In fact, you have inhaled dozens since you started reading this article. Kathleen Stutzman, VFF’s Conservation Forester, gave me the sage advice that “the forest does not need you to be healthy.” Similarly, the mushrooms do not need me to find their way into deadwood. However, the choices that I make can help steer our forest in the direction I want it to go. By preferring some species, I can speed up decomposition and quickly build the thin soil on my rocky hillside. New research suggests that species like the Turkey tail will also ward off potentially destructive species like the honey mushroom, one of which is the largest organism to ever live on earth. While honey mushrooms likely serve a function in the forest, they also cause a lot of financial hardship for timber companies. The jury is still out on honey mushrooms in my opinion, but Turkey tail and Oysters mushrooms help decompose everything 3” and smaller that I leave behind, provide us food and medicine, and support the entire forest ecosystem.