Tuesday, September 27, 2011



Can you grow mushrooms in Belize? The answer is yes. Be sure you have your market lined up first. Like Papaya grown in Belize, mushrooms are a daily and regular activity.

Some highlights on growing mushrooms for export. In the U.K. there are 288 mushroom farms. In the USA, or Canada, ( dont know? )
Mushrooms in the U.K. earn about 200 million pounds ( British money ) a year. The small individual farmer rarely grosses less than 100,000 pounds sterling a year. Harvesting is a 7 day a week job. A big USA California operation, employs 350 people. The crop taking about 85 days. Picking and packing mushrooms is labor intensive. Ideal for Belize ( theoretically, if you could get Belize City cry babies to leave the city and work on a mushroom farm operation. )
Here is one commercial business in Ventura, California.

Since mushrooms are a favorite, not to mention indispensable, part of cooking, we though it would be interesting to explore how the tasty fungi are grown. After all, the subject is somewhat mysterious -- most living organisms don't prefer to grow in complete darkness.

Greg Tuttle, a grower at the Pictsweet Mushroom Farm in Ventura, California took us on a tour that took most of the mystery away, but the truth was no less fascinating than the myths.

Pictsweet runs a huge operation in Ventura, picking between 50,000 - 60,000 pounds of mushrooms per day. Even more amazing is the fact that each and every one of these mushrooms is picked by hand by one of the farm's 350 plus employees.

The Ventura Pictsweet facility services most of Southern California, including Los Angeles and San Diego as well as parts of Nevada, including Las Vegas. That's a lot of mushrooms!

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The entire process of growing a crop of mushrooms takes eighty-five days. Covering the sprawling grounds are 87 "Mushroom Houses," like the ones in the picture at upper left. Each of the houses contain 63,000 square feet of growing space and produces a combination of regular white button mushrooms as well as giant Portobellos. It's an extremely efficient system with growing beds stacked inside the houses like bunk beds in a dormitory. Each house will produce between 50,000 - 60,000 pounds of mushrooms per crop -- so one house is picked per day. There's a constant rotation of the facilities going on, 365 days a year!

Upon walking onto the Pictsweet grounds, visitors receive an olfactory greeting that emanates from the huge steaming rows of compost (pictured upper right) which take up the space between the mushroom houses. Efficiency and recycling is the theme throughout the mushroom growing experience and the compost piles are no exception. This facility is one of the largest users of "green waste" in the state, as the compost is comprised of recycled wood chips from wall board manufacturing as well as organic waste from two of the Southland's top race tracks: Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.

It takes three weeks for the compost to be ready for growing. Huge machines form the mixture into neat rows, which the same machine turns daily in order to mix the compost. I mentioned earlier that the compost piles were not only fragrant, but steaming. This is because they produce a natural heat. If you dug 12 inches or so into any pile, it would be too hot to touch! (Not that you'd want to.)

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After a mushroom house has been thoroughly cleaned from its previous crop, the readied compost is brought in. It will take seven tractor loads of compost, or 325 cubic yards, to fill a single mushroom house. Once in place, steam will be used to heat the compost to 140°F. (photo above left). After this magic number is reached, the compost will be slowly cooled over a period of ten days. This process will sterilize the growing medium by killing any competing bacteria.

Millet seeds are then sterilized before being inoculated with mushroom spores. After planting, the growing beds are blanketed with plastic covering and left in darkness. The seeds will be completely white in 15 or 16 days (center photo above). At this point the plastic covering will be removed and replaced with a "sponge" made of peat moss and sugar beet lime (there comes that recycling again).

Soon after mycellium threads, like the ones in the photo above right, begin to form. This flowing stage is known as "pinning" in the mushroom biz.

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Once the pinning process begins the mushrooms will double in size every twenty-four hours! Now you know where the phrase "growing like mushrooms" comes from. Needless to say, once the harvest starts, the 'shrooms require daily picking. Portobellos often need three to four pickings per day. Be thankful your kids don't grow that fast! The photos above show Portobellos on the left and button mushrooms on the right.
Once picked, the mushrooms are processed, packaged and held at lower temperatures to preserve freshness. Once again, we found ourselves impressed with the efficiency of the Pictsweet plant as Greg explained that the mushrooms are trucked out so quickly, they often arrive at Southern California supermarkets on the same day they were harvested.

There are lots of natural growing mushrooms in Belize, but you probably would want a recognized variety that is sold by supermarket chains in North America and Europe.

Contributed comment: Unfortunately growing Portobello or Button mushrooms in Belize would be a rather costly enterprise as they require quite low temperature to thrive and fruit (62-72F). With the energy as expensive as it is here just the cost of cooling the facility would very likely eat any profit. Much better choice would be something like Oyster, Shitake or Straw mushrooms which can grow under ambient temperature in Belize.

*** We have lots of native mushrooms. What would be a marketable local climate adapted type?

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