According to Abel Kiddu, although the value of mushroom growing in Uganda is not clearly documented, the number of people growing it is visibly going up. It is not surprising that mushroom growing is one of the enterprises being promoted by government under the urban farming programme.
“When I visited the Netherlands in 2018, I realised our practices were still low. It is while there that I learnt how to add value to the mushrooms to not only improve their shelf life but also earn more,” he says.
Kiddu`s African Mushroom growers farm can rightly be called a ‘mushroom factory’. The farm is divided into several operations that include the cottonseed storage facility, the mushroom seed preparation area, the mushroom growing area and the value addition area.
“When I won, I had just a small enterprise with just one mushroom house. I have since expanded to three big operations including value addition,” Kiddu says. He produces mushroom wine, mushroom herbal skin jelly, mushroom powder and dried mushrooms.
“We worked with the Uganda Industrial Research Institute (UIRI) to start processing sausages from mushrooms,” he says. Kiddu has partially paid for the equipment from the Netherlands that he is going to use for processing sausages. The sausage system will be in the country by October 2022. The breakthrough especially with value addition is largely due to the wide exposure that he has garnered after winning the competition.
“I did research and realised that many people do not like meat sausages for largely because of fats and sometimes the unhygienic conditions were they are processed,” he says.
How Kiddu makes a ‘garden’
According to Kiddu, you need cotton husks to make gardens. A bag of 40kg costs sh20, 000. These can be ordered for from cotton ginneries in areas like Lira and parts of Teso and if there is a scarcity, Kiddu buys his from Tanzania.
-You need to soak the cotton in water for about an hour then you drain it to a level of just being moist before packing it into polythene bags so that you boil the bags all together and kill the germs that could be on them. It is necessary to soak and cook up to the highest temperature in order to kill germs.
-Pack this cotton husks in polythene bags before cooking it. After packing, place it in a metallic drum. But put pieces of wood at the bottom to prevent water from logging into your cotton because it affects its quality, the ‘garden’ and harvest as well.
-It is advisable to cook in the evening and you for about three hours and then you let it cool slowly throughout the night. Whenever you are going to touch the ‘gardens,’ you have to wash your hands with a solution with bleach to kill all germs.
After cooling you put it in a clean, dry and cold place for 1-2 days before you put on the mushroom seeds (spawn), after which it will take about 30 days to be ready to produce mushrooms.
“For farmers buying already made gardens, it is advisable to buy them at 27 days. This is when they are starting to produce mushrooms. This means that you will cater for them for only three days before they produce mushrooms,” Kiddu says.
-Make sure that your growing room does not have direct sunshine. A lot of light can cause certain mushroom caps to turn dark brown. You would need to ensure you have a cool and dark surrounding for it to grow successfully.
-You also need to spray the ‘gardens’ with water daily to help them grow. Constant humidity is necessary for the mushrooms to develop and grow. Each spawn needs just about half a litre of water daily, delivered in the morning and evening. If you live in a dry climate say above 38degrees, you may need to spray more often. Mushrooms need a lot of air to prevent carbon dioxide build up. Too much carbon dioxide will make your mushroom production stop, so don’t try and grow mushrooms in a small closet or an enclosed space. Leave the mushroom house open with air passing through.
After 30 days, the gardens will start producing mushrooms. When the veil that attaches the cap to the stem begins to tear, it’s time for the mushrooms to come out.
-Depending on your mushrooms, it may be when the mushrooms are the size of an orange. Turn the block daily to check for harvestable mushrooms that may be hiding. Gently twist and pull mushrooms from the garden. Partial stems left on the block will rot, so do not cut them.
-Protect your mushrooms from insects by spraying the flaps of the growing box with cooking oil spray. The oil will trap and kill the insects before they reach your mushrooms. This is done as soon as the mushroom start coming out.