Mushrooms are very popular vegetables in Zimbabwe and around the world. Mushrooms also happen to grow very well naturally in Zimbabwe as well as in grow rooms. There’s another way to grow mushrooms and it could prove very profitable if done right. Hydroponic farming is gathering a lot of steam in Zimbabwe alongside vertical farming. The two farming methods have great appeal because they maximise space which is a critical resource for many. Secondly, the two methods also conserve water greatly and that too is a critical resource for many farmers as well. Let’s take a deeper dive into hydroponic and vertical mushroom farming.
While the equipment needs are a bit on the high side, you will find they are worth it. Firstly, you are going to need an environment you have temperature and humidity control over so a greenhouse is essential for your hydroponic setup. You will also have issues with light so it’s best if this greenhouse is set up in a place where you can control the amount of sunlight they get. You can grow mushrooms vertically so this should not be a limiting factor. You will also need a thermometer and humidity gauge to keep an eye on things.
Pick a cultivar
The first thing you have to do is pick a mushroom cultivar to grow. You have many options in that regard. Popular mushroom cultivars that grow well in hydroponic systems include Oyster, Shiitake, Button and Cinnamon cap. You’ll find many others that will grow just fine hydroponic systems but those cultivars listed will give you the best results.
Temperature and Humidity
When growing mushrooms one of the things you have to be aware of and take special care to regulate is the temperature of your environment. Hydroponic farming is usually done in a greenhouse of some sort so you will have some degree of temperature control. Your target temperature range is 23 to 27 degrees. While mushrooms will grow outside of this range your yields will be compromised significantly.
One of the issues in hydroponic farming is the provision of nutrients to the plants you’re growing and mushrooms have some specific requirements. The best material for mushrooms like button mushrooms is manure compost as it contains the sugar, nitrogen, protein, lignin, fats and starch that they desire. You can also use straw compost for this purpose. Other mushrooms like shiitake get these nutrients from wood and sawdust.
Mushrooms for the most part grow in the dark. It’s recommended they get no more than 6 hours of light. It doesn’t sound like much but in a hydroponic system, you can expect improved yields, size and flavour just by controlling the environment. Just remember they do need warm environments so a balance must be struck.
The best setup for spawning your mushrooms is still the mushroom cake. This is a compacted block of sawdust or compost that you will place mushroom spores in. You can also grow your mycelium from scratch. Mycelium is essentially the roots from which the fungus grows. This can be achieved from cuttings or purchased ready to grow.
Once you have your mushrooms growing you can reasonably expect to harvest every 5 days. If all the other growing conditions are met. If you are using sawdust cake you can reuse the cake after a few days. Reuse it until you notice diminished harvest capacity and throw them on your compost heap. Mycelium can continue to sprout new mushrooms.
The next step is to package your mushrooms. A lot will depend on how you are selling them and to whom but some basic tenets apply. For bulk sales, you can place them in open-top vegetable boxes. If you are supplying to a store or reseller you can place them in smaller packages using foam wrapped in cling wrap. This method helps people to see what they are buying and that is important with mushrooms.
If you want to further process your mushrooms you have many options to consider. Mushrooms can be dried, canned, smoked and even pickled. You will have to look at the market and your capacity to decide which is the best option for you.
Hydroponic and vertical farming of mushrooms is a viable pursuit. The initial outlay in equipment seems hefty but once they start to grow and you harvest regularly they quickly start to pay back the investment.