In Annex estate, three kilometres from the Eldoret Town centre, a man has taken up a unique challenge and started growing mushrooms in a house within his compound.
When the Seeds of Gold team visits him, we find Mr Joseph Hinga busy inspecting his crop in the small, darkened room. The mushrooms grow in several sacks, appearing as tiny white protruding balls of various sizes. Joseph walks between the two stands that support the tens of sacks, constantly pausing to check on his crop.
He picks one mushroom from a sack and observes it. “This is a button mushroom. It is ready for consumption,” he says.
To grow the mushrooms, Joseph sources for wheat grain, wheat straw, cotton seed, mill cake and gypsum. He mixes them with chicken waste to make compost.
“The chicken waste contains plenty of nitrogen but one can use sorghum or millet instead of wheat grains. The waste from the poultry helps in the decomposition of the mixture, which might host several bacteria and viruses,” says Joseph.
The wheat hay acts as the food or substrate of the mycelia as it helps to colonise the whole compost with the mushroom spawns.
He says that the method is simple and makes a lot of economic sense.
“Most farmers use the expensive way of pasteurisation, which involves the use of a sterilising machines and a fan. It has also proven to be labour intensive,” says the farmer, who started mushroom farming with oyster species in 2013.
“I grew oyster mushrooms for a year, but I realised the production was low. I also had to do a lot of lobbying to persuade people to buy the mushrooms, unlike button mushrooms, which many people are familiar with.”
He explains that from his research, one needs not sterilise the compost since it would require one to build a house, purchase a motorised fan and a costly boiler to heat the compost under 600 degrees centigrade.
The process of preparing compost is conducted in open air, and takes about two weeks before it is ready to be transferred into the dimly lit room with openings covered with nets. The nets keeps off insects from entering the room at same time allowing air to circulate.
“Outside you can sterilise up to 700c-750c, which is required to kill bacteria but with the other pasteurization, the burning of the grass goes to 600c, which may not kill all the small creatures.”
Once inside the room, he puts the casing soils on after another 14 days. The soil is preferably from deep inside forests.
“One needs to use disease-free soils, mainly from forests, to grow the mushrooms and to minimise disease.”
The next phase entails exposing the mushrooms to plenty of oxygen through aeration to facilitate growth.
The computer science graduate from the University of Nairobi explains that mushroom farming offers better returns than most agribusinesses.
“With this farming one needs to be patient. I remember trying four times before I succeeded. I had to learn to maintain good hygiene to keep diseases and pests such as pink, green, and grey moulds and mites at bay.”
From 141 bags, he says, he will harvest on average 1.5 kilograms of mushrooms per sack. A plastic food container which carries mushrooms weighing 165 grams goes for Sh200 with a kilogramme fetching Sh800 in the local market.
“It takes two months for the mushrooms to mature. One harvests continually for another one month and several days, so long as you keep watering the crop,” says Joseph.
He sells most of his harvest to big supermarkets and hotels in Eldoret, Nairobi and even Mombasa.
As soon as he is done with harvesting session, he does not throw away the compost. Instead, the compost, rich in urea, is used to improve the soil fertility on his farm.
“A 50kg bale of the compost can fetch up to Sh2,000 in the market,” he says.
Mr Ahoya Oindi, a microbiologist at the University of Eldoret, recommends button mushroom farming in the country as the mushrooms are considered nutritious and is on high demand.
“Button mushrooms are on high demand in the market. For instance, most mushrooms grown in Eldoret are taken to Nairobi. There are not enough mushrooms to satisfy the insatiable demand in the town like big supermarkets and hotels.”
He adds that the mushrooms contain vitamins and cancer reducing components.