Some 5km from Kisumu town in Konya village sits a lucrative mushroom production enterprise run by Jeff Anthony, a former Big Brother contestant.
The bad roads notwithstanding, we arrive at his mushroom farm hosted in a structure measuring 5m by 6m, which he runs under the business name Mount Pleasant Mushroom Consultants.
Inside the house, Anthony walks from one side to the next inspecting the sprouted oyster mushroom.
“I have been in mushroom production for close to a decade. It is profitable business with a lot of potential if one does value addition,” he says.
Over the years, Anthony has learnt the art of planting the mushroom seeds on substrate, which is a mixture of sugarcane bagasse, molasses, beans straws and lime.
The ingredients are mixed, sprayed with water and turned on the fourth and eighth days.
“Mushroom production has four stages namely pasteurisation, planting, incubation and harvesting. Pasteurisation involves the elimination of harmful organisms that prohibit mycelium (the white substance that produces mushrooms) from growing,” explains Anthony.
The farmer uses methylated spirit as a pasteurising agent, which helps to inhibit the growth of competitor mushrooms, bacteria and virus.
The mixture is ready to be put in clear bags when the straws are darker, easy to bend and have a strong smell of ammonia.
He gets the mushroom seeds from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology at Sh500 per kilo.
“Spawning is the process of planting mushroom seeds in the composted mixture. Once the seeds are attached to the sugarcane bagasse, they become whitish,” says the 33-year-old, who represented Kenya in the 2007 Big Brother show.
HARVESTED SEVERAL TIMES
Mushrooms thrive in temperatures of between 16 to 300C. Therefore, Anthony uses moist sawdust to make the room humid. “Once you place the compost mixture in a mushroom structure, you water the floor to ensure the temperatures are below 250C and humidity is sustained at 75 per cent,” he says.
The plant is harvested several times throughout its lifetime. The first harvesting happens after 15-20 days of soil casing and 35 days after spawning.
“You know it is ready for harvest when the edges of the mushrooms start to dry whether it is huge or tiny in size,” says the farmer, noting the lifetime of a mushroom is three to four months.
A small-scale mushroom producer can harvest over 10kg of the oyster variety weekly. Anthony sells a kilo of mushrooms at Sh800 to individual buyers in the county and to hotels such Kisumu Hotel and Kiboko Bay Resort.
In a good month, the farmer make sales of between Sh32,000 to Sh60,000.
Anthony traces his dalliance with mushrooms back to his teenage years when his mother was undertaking a research on production of the organism.
“My first interaction with mushrooms was in 2000 when my mother was studying a PhD in botany, focusing on mushrooms. I would help her mix the compost for mushroom growth,” he recalls.
In November 2004 after his studies in South Africa, where he also undertook his high school education, he went into the business, starting with a capital of Sh25,000 from his savings.
AFFECTED BY FUNGAL PATHOGENS
He set up the grass thatched mushroom house and the materials for mushroom production. Besides selling the produce, he offers two-day training charging Sh15,000 for individuals, Sh30,000 for groups and Sh45,000 for cooperatives or NGOs. He also runs a fitness centre in Kisumu.
He warns that one should watch out for fungal attack on the oyster mushrooms.
“When fungi attacks the oyster mushroom, it is advisable to quarantine the infected sack so that the infection does not affect the plants further,” he says, adding he plans to expand the structure to produce 100kg of mushroom every week.
According to Anthony, his experience as a Big Brother housemate has helped him market his business and sign various contracts for his mushroom company.
Prof Mary Goretti Ohanya, a microbiologist at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, says that even though mushroom is a fungus, it is affected by a range of fungal pathogens.
“The fungal attack comes with greenish powder on the mushroom. The pseudomonas bacteria causes yellow to brown marks on the cap of the mushroom which become sticky.”
She advises farmers to observe hygiene when handling the equipment used in the production of mushroom.
“Every time you go into the mushroom structure, make sure you wash hands and limit the number of people going into the structure,” says Prof Ohanya.
Stages in Mushroom Production
There are four crucial steps in mushroom production. These are:
This is prepared to provide the crops with a place to grow. The bed must have nutrients suitable for the growth of the mushrooms.
Wheat straws are commonly used to make compost because they are easily available. The ingredients needed are: 250kg wheat straw (chopped 8-20cm long), 20kg of wheat/rice bran or cotton seed meal, 3kg of ammonium sulphate/calcium ammonium nitrate, 3kg of urea and 20kg gypsum.
Mix thoroughly the ingredients as you add water. The compost should be piled into stacks measuring about 1.5 by 1.5m.
The compost should be turned every two days to allow for aeration and proper watering. This also allows the wheat straws to be moved to warmer parts of the pile.
Here is the guide for turning:
1st turning – 4th day, 2nd turning – 8th day, 3rd turning – 12th day, add 10 kg gypsum and 4th turning – 16th day, add 10 kg gypsum. Final turning – 20th day
Gypsum reduces greasiness that the straws would otherwise have and is a conditioning agent.
The compost is ready when the straws become easy to bend, have a high water-holding capacity, the colour changes and becomes darker, and has a strong smell of ammonia.
The compost should then be packed into clear bags to enable the farmer to see the changes going on and to identify diseases and infections easily. The bags should then be taken to the mushroom house/building and placed on “shelves’’.
This is the actual process of planting the mushrooms.
The spawn is spread on the surface of the compost and it slightly penetrates the surface. You can do this by making a small hole using your finger and planting the spawn.
The temperature of the room should be contained at around 25 degrees Celsius. A humidifier should be used to make the room humid and if the gadget is not available, water can be manually sprayed on the walls and floor of the room.
Once the spawn has attached to the wheat straws and looks like a white substance, soil is added to the surface of the compost. A layer of soil is needed; here forest soil is preferred.
However, the soil has to be treated to rid insects. Formalin solution can be used to sterilise the soil before casing is done.
Growth and harvesting
Mushroom is harvested severally throughout its lifetime. What are harvested are called flushes.
The first flush comes 15-20 days after soil casing and 35-40 days after spawning. Mushrooms should be harvested at the right size otherwise they will become too big and rapture.
Each bag should produce at least a kilo of mushrooms throughout its lifetime. The harvests can go up to the fifth flush.
It takes approximately 15 weeks from composting to end of harvesting. A mushroom house should not be close to a cattle shed because the flies from the cattle can contaminate the mushrooms.
One of the biggest challenges in mushroom production is getting quality spawn.