Mushroom Farming in South Africa

Shiitake culture Lentinula edodes

Over the last 11 years that I have been involved in mushroom production, I have seen a steady growth in mushroom cultivation in South Africa. South Africans are finding more and more interest in Exotic Mushrooms as well as medicinal mushrooms. There is a lot of potential yet for mushroom farming locally since we have such a large amount of organic waste products to contend with. “What is waste for the organic farmer is a substrate for the mushroom farmer.”

For this reason I advize potential growers to look first and foremost for a suitable substrate in your area that can be consistently obtained for free or a small fee (a sustainable resource).

King-Oyster-MushroomsFor example: If you live in an area where you have access to wheat straw, or have it as a waste product from your other farming activities, it will be your first choice substrate for producing Oyster Mushrooms. Both the winter oyster and the pink oyster mushroom prefer wheat straw as a substrate.

If you live in an area where you have access to Oak shavings, Black wood shavings/chips, ironwood, Forest Alder, Beech, Poplar and other broad leaved hardwoods you will be set to produce mushrooms like Shiitake, Reishi, King Oyster and Lions Mane. Oyster mushrooms will grow from a wooded substrate, but not as profusely as from wheat straw. And you will not harvest shiitake mushrooms sustainably from a wheat based substrate.

Commercial cultivation of Exotic Mushrooms in South Africa is still in the infant years. More demand for Shiitake and King Oyster mushrooms is slowly channeling interest into exotic mushroom cultivation and myco-technology.

If you are a keen fungi explorer, a must have book is “Mycelium Running” by Paul Stamets. I have found this book to peak my interest into the world of mushrooms and the potential these life forms hold for us, both in health and remediation of our planet and also a reminder to stay open minded. Also by Paul Stamets, “Growing gourmet and medicinal mushrooms” is a must have for any striving mycologist.

For the first time grower, think simply, DO NOT over-complicate things. There is only a couple of major components to deal with and these can be overcome with a little bit of thought and ingenuity. Light, fresh air ventilation, temperature and humidity is the most important considerations. Most exotic mushroom species will need light, fresh air, the correct temperature bracket and high humidity to produce viable mushrooms.

In designing your grow house, consider adding a skylight for lighting, instead of using electrically powered light. You could also design your lighting to work on a 12V solar powered system.

It is worthwhile investing in a good fan, to aid you in ventilating the grow house. Mushroom mycelium produce a large amount of CO2 as it grows and your grow house must be vented regularly to bring in fresh oxygen. There are natural air venting systems that can be incorporated in your grow house design, to minimize the use of electrical fans.

Up to date the best way I have found to humidify your grow house is using ultrasonic humidifiers. I started out using a high pressure misting system that proved to be very cumbersome over time and running the high pressure pump was a costly experience that took a large chunk out of pocket.

Choose the type of mushroom that will produce well for the season that you are in, and by doing so, avoid high electrical bills for attempting to keep heaters going or air conditioning devices for cooling the grow house.

Other factors to consider is keeping insects out of your grow house and away from your mushrooms as well as minimizing foreign fungal colonies to take hold. I have found that by “keeping to the program” and regularly attending to your mushrooms, you can minimize contamination in your grow house without the use of expensive HEPA filters and large fans. Insects however are by far the most difficult issue to overcome.

Fungus gnats are a menace in the grow house and will spread contamination rapidly from one source to the next. Here I would recommend using sticky paper and natural traps for keeping them at bay. I also use carnivourous plants and visiting frogs in my grow rooms to aid me in keeping fungus gnats at bay.

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