The Sunday after the fabulous Eat Drink Blog conference all delegates got to choose an activity to be involved in. I was so excited by the opportunity to get a tour of a mushroom farm, and was hoping to pick up a few tips and tricks about growing my own or even foraging.
Sadly, that wasn’t to be the case. Mushroom farming is a fairly clinical and serious business. This particular farm had been run since 1972, by Trevor and Audrey. They started it because they didn’t like the price of mushrooms at the market. After a brief introduction, we went through the foot wash, necessary for those on foot but not such a concern for vehicles, which confused me, apparently is is to keep a balanced environment for the mushrooms.
As we turned to corner to the massive compost piles, I thanked my lucky stars I was out of my first-trimester and feeling less vomity, as the stench of these perfectly maintained compost heaps would have definitely set me off.
Chicken poo from the local poultry farm is combined with straw, gets left out for 17 days, and gets to temperatures of 80*C, and is then moved inside to the pasteurising tunnel for a further week.
It was lovely to hear that nothing on this farm gets wasted, the mushroom compost, once it’s been used to it’s full potential on site, is given away to local gardeners. On the other hand, I was shocked to hear how much is costs to grow mushrooms; $6000 extra per month throughout summer for cooling alone. This next part was the most technical part of the tour and my understanding was only very superficial, but I found it so interesting and was constantly torn between note taking and photographing, so bear with me if my information isn’t too clear.
Spawn is added to compost, then it is moved on these big pallet shelves, to a room where humidity and CO2 is increased as high as possible (you could feel it as soon as you walked through the door), it’s left in there for two weeks, then removed and a layer of mud added to the top. This process helps mycelium colonize, causing a micro climate and protecting compost. Mycelium, the root system of the mushroom, grows in the mud and mushroom grows through the mud. One fact that dropped my jaw, was that mushrooms can double in size over night and will grow particularly quickly during a lightening storm.
Each day, someone goes through and hand picks the right sized mushrooms, leaving the others to mature. From the first harvest, 2 weeks after the mushrooms have been moved to this room, 4 tonne will be picked. 1 week later, the second flush, will reap a further 3.5 tonne. Then the final flush, another week later, another 3 tonne will be picked. So over a month, these guys are hand picking 10.5 tonne of mushrooms! And that’s just from this one room, we were told that each week 27 tonne of mushrooms were picked at this particular farm!This made me giggle, the food bloggers all trying to get the right shot!
I love learning things and this after this tour my brain was chocked full of new information. For example; did you know that champion, button, cup, field mushrooms are all just different stages of the same mushroom. They have a stronger flavour the bigger they get.
As a teacher of mostly un-engaged students, I was also excited to hear that mushroom compost is packaged up into those home mushroom growing kits and given to schools. Some schools are getting up to three kits per classroom. They are able to be used in all curriculum areas, providing students a focus and even a purpose for some literacy and numeracy activities.It was a fabulous day! I learnt so much and I loved it. Do you love mushrooms? What’s your favourite way to cook with mushrooms?