If you plan to grow mushrooms commercially, you’ll have to consider indoor cultivation. This is because you’ll be able to have more control over environmental conditions. However, indoor mushroom cultivation is more involving compared to outdoor cultivation. But it can also be the most consistent and financially rewarding. It offers better returns than most agribusinesses in Zambia.
Which mushrooms should you farm?
To start with your mushroom growing venture, you’ll first have to choose the kind of mushroom you want to grow. Some of the popular mushroom grown are
- Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus)
- Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes)
- White button mushrooms (Agricus bisporus)
Oyster mushrooms are normally grown on straw, Shitake mushrooms on hardwood or sawdust and white button mushrooms on composted manure. Once you’ve chosen the mushrooms to grow, the basic steps for growing mushrooms are the same. However today, I’ll give you a few basic steps on growing the most common mushroom – Button.
Preparing your compost
Your compost has to be prepared in open air and it can take approximately two weeks before it’s ready to be used. The basic ingredients for your compost are straw and nitrogen-rich manure. You can mix your straw with chicken waste to make compost. Chicken waste contains lots of nitrogen and it helps in the decomposition of the mixture, which might host several bacteria and viruses. Remember, to soak and toss the straw in water before mixing in the manure. Allow the compost to rest but ensure it’s always moist. When you can no longer smell ammonia, your compost is ready.
You need to add wheat hay to this mixture because it acts as the food or substrate of the mycelia as it helps to colonise the whole compost with the mushroom spawns(mushroom seeds). If you can afford it, you can use the expensive way of pasteurisation, which involves the use of a sterilising machines and a fan. Otherwise, there are lots of other ways to pasteurise your soil which we can discuss in the future. Otherwise some people argue that you don’t necessarily have to sterilize the compost as the process of sterilization can be time consuming and costly.
Growing your button mushrooms
Mushroom like to grow in cool, dark, damp places. So, once your compost is ready, transfer it into the dimly lit room with openings covered with nets. The nets help to keep off insects from entering the room at same time allowing air to circulate. So, create a room with near darkness and control temperature and humidity.
Transfer your compost inside into in a mushroom box or bed for another 14 days. Tightly pack the mushroom beds with your prepared compost and scatter the spawn(seeds) across the surface, before covering with damp newspaper. The room must be 21 degrees Celsius – the ideal temperature to encourage mushroom growth. After about 3 weeks, the compost will be colonized by mycelium. The spawn will have “rooted.” Once this happens, drop the temperature to between 13 and 16 C. This is the best temperature for growing mushrooms. Then remove the newspaper and cover the compost with a 2.5cm of potting soil . Your soil has to be disease free otherwise your mushrooms won’t sprout.Mushrooms will begin to develop 3 to 5 weeks after adding the casing layer. Cover the soil and pan with a damp cloth and spray the cloth with water as it dries.
You also have to maintain good hygiene to keep diseases and pests such as pink, green, and grey moulds and mites at bay.
In three to four weeks, you will see small mushrooms appear. It can take two months for the mushrooms to mature. You can continue to harvest for another month as long as you keep watering. Mushrooms are ready for harvesting when the cap has fully opened and has separated from the stem.
As soon as you’re done with harvesting, don’t throw away the compost. Instead, you can use the compost, rich in urea to improve the soil fertility on your farm.