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Mushroom Cultivation (2018)

This year we partnered with mushroom expert, Danielle Stevenson, to introduce mushroom cultivation to the Botshabelo community. Our introduction of fungi to the community included three major parts;

  1. Infrastructure and construction;

  2. Mushroom education and skills training required for community members to maintain a healthy mushroom cultivation operation;

  3. Providing the equipment and tools required to operate a sustainable mushroom growing operation

We began our work by introducing oyster mushrooms to the community. Oyster mushrooms are full of protein, vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, and have immune modulating properties. Oysters are very easy to grow and prolific once established, thus making them the perfect type of mushrooms to launch Botshabelo’s mushroom operation.

 

Mushroom Cultivation 101

Mushrooms require a food source to grow, this is called a ‘substrate’. Oyster mushrooms love to grow on substrate that comes from dead plants and for the purpose of the Botshabelo Mushroom Project, we have chosen to grow our mushrooms on local straw and lucerne.

 

Mushrooms are also valuable decomposers and can be used to break down food scraps, plant litter and even manures. While these mushrooms may not always be edible, their role in building nutrient rich compost for gardens around the community are very valuable. Moreover, spent mushroom substrate is also a fantastic soil amendment and will help build productive soils for other gardening projects at Botshabelo.

 

Infrastructure and Construction

Our volunteers worked incredibly hard, and around the clock, for two straight weeks building the infrastructure for the Botshabelo Mushroom Project. We had to build and retrofit two specific areas of the community. The first space is the mushroom incubation room, which we’re calling the nursery. The nursery is where the mycelium, or baby mushrooms, spend their first few weeks getting ready for fruiting. This particular space was a lot of work. We not only had to empty the room, but we also had to clean the space, seal the roof, install a drop ceiling for insulation, concrete in the former windows for insulation and controlled airflow and humidity. We also had to install the racking systems and create safe storage.

 

The second space we had to create was the fruiting room. Mushrooms, while being relatively easy to grow, require a very specific environment to fruit. This means creating a space with the right amount of light, airflow, and moisture. We decided to retrofit the space underneath an existing building as it was the perfect size for the existing and growing mushroom project. With nothing but exposed wood and beams, this work required a never ending amount of paint and sealant. Since mushrooms like to grow on dead plants, we had to make sure that there was no spot available for the mushroom spores to spread and possibly fruit on the beams or ceilings. Once the painting and sealing was complete, we had to dig out and partition the floors which we would later fill with rocks for drainage. Next came the exterior fence. Fencing is critical for security purposes, so we worked with the community’s maintenance team to get this done. Finally we had to install the vapour barriers, and racking to hang the bags. This project was a character building one, pretty much everything we had was covered in paint, sealant and sweat. The mornings were very early and the nights were often very late, but with the continued work from our volunteers and the community, we got the work done, and it was a truly beautiful outcome.

 

Mushroom Education

Danielle from DIY Fungi prepared and delivered several workshops on mushroom cultivation with Botshabelo community members. The purpose of these workshops was to teach the skills needed for sustained success with mushrooms and enroll the entire community in this project. The workshops were grounded in hands-on skill building and focused on the holistic cultivation of mushrooms along with a plethora of theory. Our many workshops included training on:

 

  • Knowledge of the basic needs of the mushrooms (suitable food, water, air, and light);

  • The mushroom lifecycle;

  • How to have success with ‘fruiting’ lots of mushrooms (moisture/humidity, air/light, and harvesting);

  • Troubleshooting and understanding what can go wrong and how to address it.

  • Cultivating spawn

  • Operations and logistics (ordering supplies, schedules, communications)

 

We trained a team of six mushroom ambassadors to operate the project and hosted large-scale community-wide education programming.

 

Equipment and Tools

A lot of tools and resources go into growing mushrooms. We spent a great deal of time collecting and preparing all of these tools. We spent even more time training the mushroom ambassadors how to use the equipment. Take a look at our tools list, believe it or not, this is what low-tech mushroom cultivation looks like:

 

 

  • Garbage cans

  • Lime

  • Fruiting bags

  • Spawn bags

  • Hooks

  • Spray bottles

  • Sterile spawn tank

  • Large pot

  • Straw/lucern

  • Spawn (mycelium)

  • Rubbing alcohol

  • Gloves

  • Tarps

  • Blankets

  • Rakes

 

The video below offers a brief look at the Mushroom project. From education to hard working volunteers, it's in there!