Far in the “damning hot soils” of Juja—an arid region just 36 km northeast of Nairobi—the Upendo mushroom growers of Molo district attended a one-day workshop on mycelium at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology. They also visited Juja-based farmers who are successfully cultivating the fungi in soil-and-wood constructed houses.
Oyster mushrooms are not only delicious and high in protein but provide income to farmers and are especially important to people n arid parts of developing countries.
The Upendo Mushroom Growers started growing oyster mushrooms this year with mixed results—they believe that some of the problems they faced stemmed from contaminated “seeds” (spawn).
The idea behind Friday’s visit, which NECOFA sponsored, was partly to give the growers a greater depth of knowledge about mycelium and partly to demonstrate that they cannot grow quality mushrooms without quality spawn, which they can only get from experts with specialized equipment (the university, for instance). Jomo Kenyatta university uses a mixture of mushroom spores, sorghum, lime-derivate calcium carbonate, dextrose and a number of sterilization gadgets and lab equipment worth approximately $30 to $40 million Kenya Shillings to create high-growth spawn using what they call “binary creation” techniques. Partly funded by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), the university is the only institution in East Africa that provides research on mycelium.
IDEA coordinator and practicing mushroom farmer James Njore and his associate John Mucheru also participated in the visit.
Mushroom Factoid: Even expert mycologists haven’t yet fully plumbed the depths of this mysterious lifeform. In The Omnivore’s Dilemma, author Michael Pollen has this to say about it: “What we call a mushroom is only the tip of the iceberg of a much bigger and essentially invisible organism that lives most of its life underground. The mushroom is the “fruiting body” of a subterranean network of microscopic hyphae, improbably long rootlike cells that thread themselves through the soil like neurons. Bunched like cables, the hyphae form webs of (still microscopic) mycelium. Mycologists can’t dig up a mushroom like a plant to study its structure because its mycelia are too tiny and delicate to tease from the soil without disintegrating. Hard as it may be to see a mushroom—the most visible and tangible part!—to see the whole organism of which it is merely a component may simply be impossible. Fungi also lack the comprehensible syntax of plants, the orderly and visible chronology of seed and vegetative growth, flower, fruit, and seed again. The fungi surely have a syntax of their own, but we don’t know all its rules, especially the ones that govern the creation of a mushroom, which can take three years or thirty, depending. On what? We don’t really know (374).”
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