Mushroom Farming in Kenya
Guide to Mushroom Farming.
I never knew that fungi would be of such importance as it is in this type of agribusiness venture. Mushroom farming has become a great source of income for millions of farmers in the world today. The idea of a substance or an organism having to replicate itself multiple times over to make an extra income for you is amazing.
Types of mushrooms.
There are millions of types of mushrooms. And each and every one of them that are grown has a specific benefit to humans; in medicine, food preparation, and even livestock farming. The two most common mushrooms in Kenya are the;
Button mushrooms: These are the most common type of mushrooms that are grown in Kenya. They are known for their small round button shape and their unique taste. In most cases, the button mushroom is grown by large-scale farmers since growing this type on a small scale will turn out to be a waste of resources. The most common type of button mushroom grown is white in color.
Oyster mushrooms: These are other common types of mushrooms grown in Kenya. The oyster mushroom is white in color and grown by most small-scale farmers in Kenya. Why small scale farmers though? Because the process and resources required to grow this type of mushroom are favorable for the average beginner farmer.
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My experience with mushroom farming.
I used Oyster Mushrooms to learn!
I started out with mushroom farming as an experiment… I love doing experiments. I purchased the spawn, substrate and little containers to grow the mushroom in.
I made sure to sanitize each and every surface and substrate that I used for the project. I was 99.9 percent clean at all times.
I put my growing house in order and arranged the growing ‘cups’ on shelves.
Sadly I only saw minor results after a month. After a months-long wait, I couldn’t even describe the disappointment that I had. All the growing cups had mold in them and it was only one cup that had some form of white mushroom that had sprouted. 98 percent of the rest of the cups were not even fully inoculated. However, I was not worried because I learned from my effort and mistakes.
I read about mushroom farming and learned about it from a few experts that I met within my rural area. This is what I learned;
- Hygiene is everything.
Mushrooms are very delicate! Any form of negligence to hygiene and purification practices can lead to serious impurities in your crop. You would be genetically planting mold, which is useless.
- Experiment and test out your environment before going big.
According to me, research and experimenting is the key to finding success in a field or a project. You will never know success if you do not try something out… Experimenting on the mushroom project will also dictate how much you spend on the project. Spending will be fully dependent on the power of the farmer, however, as a farmer who has gone through this helpful article, it would be smart for you to take notes, inventory, and learn from your investment and mistakes.
- Get certified spawn.
Certified spawn is just another phrase for first-generation spawn that is produced in a laboratory. A few universities in Kenya with reputable laboratories reproduce and sell spawn to the public.
- Mushrooms take time to grow, just like any other crop.
This was a problem for me. The goal of having to make money from the project in long term clouded my judgment to be patient. Mushrooms take time to grow just like any other crop in the field.
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What you need to grow your own mushrooms.
- The mushroom spawn (seed)
Spawn in easier terms is the seed that is used to grow the mushroom. Just like there are different types of mushrooms, there are different types of spawns used to grow mushrooms. I say this because spawn fairly looks the same. The only difference is the seed that it is inoculated in to form enough spawn.
For more professional mushroom farmers who use laboratories and Petri dishes to come up with their own spawn, I will cover that in another article. This one is just for beginners…!
- Mushroom incubation chamber or a simple room where you will place your mushrooms.
Mushroom is a delicate ‘crop’ or fungi that cannot typically grow outside like any other crop. In some regions with high humidity though, it is possible. However, for those regions that have unfavorable conditions, a mushroom grows house may be in order.
This is because there are certain conditions that are required to regulate the effective growth of the mushroom. It doesn’t matter the type of mushroom. Having a safe place that is free from rodents like lizards and insects like spiders is great for mushroom growth.
The common norm is that mushrooms grow well in humid areas at night. Meaning they do not need sunlight to grow.
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Naturally, mushrooms grow during specific seasons in different parts of the country in open areas. Be careful while interacting with mushrooms in the wild because most of them may be poisonous.
An incubation chamber is the best place to grow your mushrooms in. Here you can regulate the conditions to suit the growth of the mushroom effectively.
The chamber doesn’t need to be complicated. Even a tent is fine, so long as you are able to regulate the temperature and humid conditions within the tent.
- A source for the substrate.
Am sure, I have talked about it a few times already. A substrate is a medium where you will place the spawn that will grow over time. The best mushroom substrate comes from agricultural waste. This was the main reason why I wanted to venture into mushroom farming. Utilizing (plant) agricultural waste for benefit is a milestone that the people in my country are yet to achieve. The best substrate however comes from cereal crops. Hay is the most used substrate with most farmers in Kenya and around the world.
- Planting containers or mediums to put the substrate.
Closed planting containers are by far the best medium for growth. This is because a closed medium will keep impurities out of the substrate at least until it is fully inoculated or colonized by the mushroom spawn. Leaving it open by using cups, as I did, will be grounds for contamination, and even though you work hard to keep your room spic and span through the project, there are some impurities that the human eye cannot see. That is what will cause a negative result for the project. This is in regards to oyster mushrooms.
Mushroom Growing process.
Different mushrooms have different processes of planting and growth. However, the general process involves;
1. Substrate Preparation
Preparing the substrate for inoculation is the most important step of planting mushrooms. It is in this stage where one can succeed or destroy the whole process of growth.
Selecting the right substrate is the first stage of coming up with a substrate. Books and Google will tell you that any form of plant agricultural waste is good for mushroom growing. The most common substrate used in my country is hay.
It should be completely dried to work best.
Hay is commonly used because of its spacing ability and the nutrients that it provides to the mushrooms as they grow.
Do not just keep it neat, tidy, and clean, it should be sterile. Free from any bacteria or harmful living organisms. This may be difficult for some beginner farmers. But the fact is, if you ignore any of the practices of sterilization, you are bound to lose, get disappointed, and be discouraged.
Sterilization is a simple process that has been revolutionized by already established farmers to suit different methods of farming mushrooms.
Button mushroom substrate may be sterilized differently from oyster mushrooms.
The most common way of sterilizing a substrate is to boil it before inoculation. Another great way that I personally used was to dip the substrate in lime or calcium hydroxide and let it sit for about twenty-four hours. This will reduce the acidity of the substrate to the levels in which impurities cannot survive therefore making the process easier for the next step.
This is a harder term for the word planting. Here, for more professional farmers, a laminar flow hood is used.
A laminar flow hood is just a cabinet that works to purify the air that is within its chamber. There are different sizes of these cabinets and to be honest, they are just too expensive! Maybe establish a farm before getting yourself a laminar flow hood.
But what about us beginners you ask? While inoculating your substrate, you could easily come up with an inoculation station; which is just a box with a pair of gloves in it that enables you to regulate the conditions of your inoculation process. Use alcohol as a sterilizer at all times.
General maintenance of the mushroom crop includes many things.
Regulation of temperature from time to time in case of a change in the climate.
Regulation of the humidity of the room since humidity is what promotes the growth of the mushrooms. Too much humidity is bad because it will cause rot, while too little humidity causes the mushrooms to dry.
Pests and rodents are suckers for mushrooms. The most common that I know of are spiders and lizards. Try and keep them off as much as possible. But be careful not to use pesticides in your inoculation chamber, fruiting room, or incubation chamber. Pesticides are a huge source of impurities for mushrooms.
Have clean hands while handling mushrooms because in cases where one is harvesting for the first time, the mushrooms always grow back. Leaving impurities on your fruiting bags would be a bad idea. And might even affect your harvest.
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Reasons why you need to grow mushrooms in your home.
- They are nutritious.
- It’s a new experience.
Is there a market for mushrooms in Kenya?
This is the most common question asked before starting any business venture in my country. Is there a market? Yes, there is! Mushrooms have a huge market because most of the people in Kenya have no knowledge of the advantages and benefits of the mushroom crop to the body.
You can sell your crop to famous hotels and restaurants in Kenya. Even supermarkets sell mushrooms today in Kenya. But mostly button mushrooms.
Rating my experience with mushroom farming?
I can say that mushroom farming is a wonderful venture, especially for people looking to add to their hobby list. There are millions and millions of mushrooms that are grown around the world. Some for medicine, some for better dreams, and even some for sweet delicacies.