We are promoting mushroom cultivation as a diversification strategy for medium to scale farming enterprise (SMSFE). Despite the lack in diversity of mushrooms available to the UK consumer there are a wide variety of edible saprotrophic fungi that offer alternative nutritional and health benefits, flavours and texture. Some of these species are growing in popularity and are relatively easy to cultivate. The challenge of increasing the dietary diversity of fungi comes from the requirements of scale for a successful business. Mushroom cultivation of medicinal and gourmet mushrooms can be efficient and productive at a small scale. When attempting to convert these practices for a large scale business enterprise the amount of capital input, externalities and running costs can be prohibitive in the highly competitive food industry. The difficulty arises when making a business work at the medium scale, where the input costs infrastructure requirements can be kept to a minimum and the cultivator is not primarily reliant on this income alone.

We believe we can make medium scale mushroom cultivation viable by providing “bolt-on” cropping schemes that would work well alongside existing horticulture enterprise. Such businesses are already marketing and distributing in the food sector. Many horticultural enterprises use direct sales such as box schemes and appeal to a consumer base with a culinary interest and care for locally produced food, adding regular and seasonally grown mushrooms to their product list could create additional customer interest. These proposed schemes use substrates that are easy to obtain and, in some way, “by-products” of land management. The infrastructure and equipment required is minimal, in most cases already available of a small farming enterprise and the growing space needed can utilise marginal areas.

Over the next 2 years we will support 10 small to medium scale farming enterprises, predominantly horticultural, in adopting and adapting these mushroom cultivation cropping schemes. Participants will choose up to 6 species to grow and we will hold a 1-day training event at the participant’s farm to  share the skills required and begin the inoculation of the substrates for different the growing schemes.

One of these cropping schemes involves growing Oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) in a controlled environment. The thought of constructing and using an environmentally controlled grow room can be one of the limiting factors when considering mushroom cultivation. To give new entrants in mushroom cultivation the chance to experiment with indoor growing we have built a mobile mushroom grow room. This mobile grow room will be loaned for 8 weeks ato our participant SMSFE’s to trial the practice of using a grow room..

If the participants decide to adopt the use of a controlled environment for indoor growing schemes we will be converting used refrigerated truck boxes into grow rooms. Cheaper and more accessible than insulated shipping containers these truck boxes provide the ideal structure for conversion with interior cladding and insulation. We will be offering the grow rooms through an annual lease. Two of these we be demonstrated at the Myco Market Garden at the Botanic Gardens of Wales.

Other than the oyster mushroom production used in the grow room the participants will choose from 5 other growing schemes. We will provide the spawn (the mycellial inoculum of the cultured species) but the participants will need to provide the required substrate, ideally, locally sourced. Here is a brief overview of the species, click on the link for more details on the requiremnt of the cropping scheme:

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes)

They tried and tested method of growing shiitakes on hardwood logs a reliable method for create a regular supply of this popular gourmet mushroom. The participant will need to source 110 hardwood logs (oak/chestnut/alder/beech) 15-25cm diameter 80-100cm in length.

Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor)

Possibly the easiest mushroom to grow on logs. This sold as medicinal mushroom (“herbal remedy”) and has become increasingly popular of the last few years. The participant has the option of selling wholesale to us at a pre-agreed price. The participant will need to source 110 hardwood logs – 10 -25cm diameter up to 1m in length.

Wood Blewitt (Clitocybe nuda)

A late autumn and winter fruiting mushroom it is grown in a mulch/bed of mixed organic matter the participants will need to source 1m3 of woodchip and 10-20l organic manure, although this can be varied depending on local circumstances.

Wine Cap (Stropharia rugoso-annulata)

Also known as the Garden Giant or King Stropharia this is an ideal mulching mushroom grown in a layered bed of Woodchip. Participants will need to source 1.5m3 of woodchip.

Almond Portabello (Agaricus subfrunescens)

We are experimenting with cultivating this interesting species of the same genus as the closed cup and portabello mushrooms. Similar in appearance and flavour it is, in some ways, easier to grow than the bisporus and, potentially, has more health benefits. However, it requires warmer temperatures so we are suggesting that this can be grown as a mulch layer around tomatoes in greenhouses and polytunnels. Participants will need to provide 1.5 cm3 of compost and be willing to use a thick mulch layer in a tomato bed.

Through the demonstrate site at the National Botanic Garden of Wales and the training we will provide to the participating SMSFE’s we hope to expand the knowledge base and practice in low-energy low-input methods of mushroom cultivation that utilises local agricultural by products and waste streams and reduces the current dependence of single-use plastic in this sector.

Furthermore, by increasing the awareness of viable alternatives to the common Agaricus bisporus a species that is grown with methods heavily dependent on the use peat, we will open up the market to non-peat dependent mushroom species thereby reducing peat harvesting.

We hope that the outcome of the project will result in applied mycology playing a greater part in the knowledge base of horticulturists. Working together with SMSFE we will create thriving examples of an economic model of mushroom cultivation integrated into horticultural schemes and local supply chains. Resulting in greater farming diversification and thereby increasing income security and resilience.

If you are a Small to Medium Scale farming Enterprise here in Cymru and would be interest in joining as a participant in the project you can find more information and the application form here:

Apply as a SMSFE

We also have a Farming with Fungi Facebook group where we will be sharing are experience and knowledge of applying mycology in our food and farming systems.

Farming With Fungi – Facebook Group