The exotic mushroom industry in South Africa is still in its infancy, but demand is steadily growing and, according to Peter de Kock of African Gourmet Mushrooms in Stellenbosch, mushroom growing can create jobs in some of the country’s poorest communities.
Over the last 8 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 advise 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.
For 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 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 remediating our planet and also a reminder to stay open minded.
For the first time grower, think simply. 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 and moisture is the most important considerations. Most exotic mushroom breeds need light, fresh air, the correct temperature bracket and high humidity to produce viable mushrooms.
In designing your grow house consider adding a skylight or two for lighting, instead of using electrically powered light or design your lighting to work on a 12V system and power that from a solar panel and battery bank.
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 pump was a costly experience that took a chunk out of my 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 especially 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 some frogs in my grow room to aid me in keeping fungus gnats at bay.