Cultivation of mushroom is steadily gaining a foothold in many communities where the crop is considered to be a delicacy.
Gone are the days when people would wait for the crop that has medicinal value to grow in bushes or hillsides and then go to harvest.
“Demand for mushroom is rising. Farmers need to grow it just the way they plant maize and beans,” Paul Kisiang’ani, a mushroom researcher at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST), in Kakamega, says.
Also a mushroom farmer, he makes substrate, organic matter, which provides the necessary nutrients for the mushrooms to grow under room temperature and in darkroom conditions.
“I make substrate from farm waste such as banana leaves, maize cobs and stalks, wheat and rice straws and sugarcane bagasse,” Kisiang’ani says. The resident of Sakali in Kakamega County, sells the substrate at Sh100 per 2kg pack and has been in the business since 2006.
He says that it took him more than a year to get it right on mushroom farming, with getting the exact quantity of moisture content needed to make substrate as his biggest challenge.
The 38-year-old recalls how he made the first substrate to grow mushroom but it decayed because of excess moisture. “Any excess moisture in the substrate makes it decay,” he told Seeds of Gold.
The postgraduate student is among the researchers spearheading the Mushroom and Spirulina Project at MMUST.
Kisiang’ani says making substrate is easy as one uses maize stalks and cobs and banana leaves, which are locally available.
“One chops the farm waste into small pieces and sprinkles water on them or soaks in a container with water to moisten them,” he says.
The water should be mixed with lime. Lime is available in agro vets.
The solution should also have molasses at a quarter kilogramme to 20 litres of water. “The lime is significant for the solution given that it reduces the pH and acidity because the two cause bacterial infections.”
Molasses is important as it provides the sugar that enhances mushroom growth. Thereafter, insert the mixture in a heat-resistant plastic polythene bag, he says. “Tie the mouth of the plastic bag with a rubber band and insert the mixture in a metallic drum, seal the drum and close with a metal lid or plastic paper and tie tightly.”
Thereafter, one pours at least 20 to 30 litres of water onto the drum and heats for two to three hours. Heating is meant to kill all the germs, after which the drum is opened to remove the bag of substrate that then cooled.
The metallic drum can accommodate 30 to 40 bags of substrate.
“After cooling, remove the rubber band from the bag and then take a table spoon of mushroom seeds. Then spread them on the surface of the substrate. Thereafter, take a plastic pipe of half an inch and fix it in the mouth of the bag and seal with cotton wool soaked in spirit. At this stage you have already planted your mushrooms.”
The bag of substrates is then transferred to a dark room and left for three to four weeks. This will allow the mushroom seeds to cover the entire substrate. This process is called colonisation.
“After the four weeks, one opens the bag by removing the cotton wool and the plastic ring. Ensure the room has high humidity. This can be done by pouring water on the floor or spraying with a pump.”
The mushrooms will start growing in a week’s time. One needs to ensure there is high humidity all the time.
According to Kisiang’ani, mushrooms start to mature after three to four days from the time they appear. They are harvested by twisting, turning and pulling.
With an initial capital of Sh50,000, the post-graduate student makes between Sh100,000 and Sh150,000 a month. “Besides selling dry and fresh mushrooms, he also makes and sells seeds at a cost of Sh400 per kilo.”
He sells the substrate and the mushroom to individuals and supermarkets in Kisumu, Eldoret, Trans Nzoia, Vihiga and Busia counties.
“My products are approved and certified by the Kenya Bureau of standards. I sell the products based on order from the supermarkets,” he says.
Each substrate produces a maximum of two kilos of mushroom.
“I have constructed four mushroom units and each has about 1,250 substrates,” says Kisiang’ani, who also makes mushroom powder and enriched flour for porridge.
Mushrooms are dried using a solar drier and then milled in a blender. The flour can be used to make mushroom soup, milk and cake.
Prof Asenath Sigot, a nutrition scientist at MMUST and a specialist in Mushroom and Spirulina research, says the crop is rich in potassium, phosphorus, sodium and calcium and they contain low cholesterol levels. They are a good source of proteins.
“The medicinal value of the plant can be used to ease high blood pressure, cancer and regulation of sugar level. It is an immune booster.”
Prof Sigot says there are different varieties of mushrooms, namely agaricus popularly known as button mushrooms, Oyster and Gamordema, which have medicinal value and are used for making capsules that can help cure cancer, high blood pressure and arthritis.
The oyster mushroom is the most common in East Africa. Shiitake is another type of mushroom, which is not widely grown but it has components that can boost HIV patients’ immunity.