A mushroom is a fungus, which means it grows optimally in warm, damp and dark conditions from a compost-like substrate. Wilmaré Lotz, the owner of Boland Mushrooms in the Western Cape, says the quality of compost is directly related to the quality of the mushrooms, as they feed off the proteins in the substrate. She makes her own compost on her farm.
- Waste materials from wheat farms (straw) and chicken farms (manure) is used in the compost making process. “If the wheat farmers have a bad harvest, we have a bad year as well,” says Lotz. Compost is pasteurised before it is spawned with mushroom spores.
- Because mushrooms are classified as fungi and not plants, their “seeds” are called spawn. All mushroom spawn in South Africa is supplied by a laboratory in Irene in Gauteng.
- Boland Mushrooms is a bag far, meaning a large bag is used for growing plants. Bigger farms can grow mushrooms on trays or flatbeds. Growing chambers don’t receive fresh air during the first growth stages.
- After the compost is spawned, they undergo a two-week spawn run. A top layer of peat moss, imported from Ireland, is used as casing soil on each bag to stimulate the growth of thousands of threads, or mycelium. All this happens at a warm 25 °C.
- When the grower suddenly set cooling units to temperatures below 20 °C, and introduce fresh air for the first time, the mycelium start to lump together and form mushrooms.
- Mushrooms can double their size in 24 hours and one bag of compost produces three flushes of mushrooms for harvest. The Boland Mushrooms farm yields 25kg of mushrooms per square metre.
- After they had been harvested, mushrooms are kept at 2 to 4 °C.