Mushrooms are exotic, delicious and a very nutritious addition to our stock of standard vegetables. Rich in vitamins and proteins, mushrooms have a very low starch contents and hence make valuable food for the diabetic.
They are very versatile and adaptable to any recipe. They have also been found to certain anti-cancerous ingredients and a cholesterol-inhibiting alkaloid.
There are many varieties of edible mushrooms, but the most easily-grown species is the Pleurotus or the Oyster mushroom. Oyster mushrooms grow easily in our climate and take a lesser time to reach maturity than others. This type also has a longer shelf-life and costs very little to cultivate.
Not much space is needed to cultivate the Oyster mushroom. A small corner in the bath room, or a shelf in the backyard, will do nicely. No soil is needed.
Things needed include a tub, a few plastic bags (14 inches x 24 inches) and about 3 kgs of paddy straw. The seeds, called the spawn are available at any nursery or with a horticulturist. Considering their yield, these seeds are quite inexpensive.
Cut the straw in finger length pieces and soak in tap water for about 10 hours in a tub. After this time, drain the straw well, and douse with enough boiling water to cover the straw completely. Let it stand for 45 minutes.
Drain again and press-squeeze slightly to remove excess water. The straw must be left merely moist. Open a plastic bag and put in some of this prepared straw, so that there is a 3 or 4 –inch layer of straw at the bottom. Press the straw down well to make the layer compact.
Now, take 2 tablespoons of the spawn and sprinkle all along the periphery, like a border. Fill another similar layer of straw and spread more spawn the same way. Repeat this process till ¾ of the bag is filled.
Tie the mouth of the bag tightly. Punch two or three holes at the bottom of the bag for aeration. Leave the bag in a cool and shady place (never in direct sunlight) for 20 days.
During these 20 days, there is no need to tend the bag in any manner. You can just forget about it! In this period, a white cottony growth can be noticed inside the bag. This is the actual 'plant' which is called the mycelium. After 20 days period, cut and open the bag. You will find that the white growth has fused all layers of straw together into one compact cake-like block.
Leave this block open in a well-ventilated place and sprinkle a little water on it twice a day. By about the 3rd or 4th day after opening the bag, you will notice oyster-like mushrooms sprouting all around the block. Allow these mushrooms to mature to their maximum size. This will take about 3 days. Then, they are ready for harvesting.
After the first harvest, leave the block in its place and continue sprinkling water twice a day. One block will yield nearly 4 crops. Oyster mushrooms need minimal care during cultivation. Watering, in the conventional sense should be avoided. To check against any possible contamination by other fungi, do not treat with any gardening chemical spray. Treating the plastic bags with a 4% formalin solution, before use, will suffice.
Oyster mushrooms provide a no0fuss crop, giving maximum satisfaction to the grower. Even a beginner, with no green thumbs, can achieve a remarkable harvest. Mushroom cultivation is an immensely satisfying and profitable hobby.