This summer our team was fortunate enough to be a part of the Mountaintop Summer Research program. The goal for our research this summer was to optimize our current mushroom growing process by conducting three experiments remotely to answer the following questions:
- How does a ZECC (Zero Energy Cooling Chamber designed for an increase of humidity and a decrease of temperature of 10 C) influence 1) mushroom growth, and 2) mushroom yields.
- How is the lifespan of grain spawn affected by prolonged exposure to various temperatures (+/- 20C) and light (+/- 1000 lumens) around the optimal temperature and light for mushroom production (for Pleurotus ostreatus)?
- How is the production yield of mushrooms affected by 1) various substrate mixes (hay and straw quantities), 2) inoculation rate (amount of mycelium vs. amount of substrate)?
- Why is a ZECC significant in optimizing the growing process?
During the Dry Seasons in Sierra Leone, the temperatures and humidity levels are known to rise rapidly which presents a major problem for mushroom farmers who rely on the natural climate to grow their fruits. These temperatures are usually not suitable to grow mushrooms. The team realized that an effective and a relatively inexpensive way to tackle this problem is to design and build a zero energy cooling chamber that is able to support the microclimate needed grow mushrooms in Sierra Leone. This summer, our team member Belle, is conducting an experiment to see how mushroom growth inside a ZECC works and what improvements need to be made before we can implement it in Sierra Leone.
2. How would knowing the levels of heat and light stresses help optimize the growing process?
Although the climate in low resource countries such as Sierra Leone makes them an excellent candidate for growing mushrooms, a fundamental issue that farmers face is having access to grain spawn (comparable to seeds from which a plant/crop grows) to begin the mushroom growing process. Often, there a very limited suppliers of these spawns in country and even so, come with a heavy price tag. Another option is to rely on countries like the USA or the UK for the grain spawn. Although this might be a feasible option, it can still be quite expensive. Plus, the shipping time is certainly another unfavorable factor. However, once obtained the grain spawn needs to be stored in a relatively cool environment. This can also be an issue for some farmers as the access to refrigeration is not readily available. A sustainable way of solving this problem is to produce second generation grain spawn from the parent source in order to expand the lifecycle of the grain spawn so that more of it could be used to produce mushrooms in the long run without having to purchase grain spawn so frequently. In order to test the limits of the second generation grain spawn, our teammate Asgar is conducting two experiments to see how the second generation grain spawn fares under heat and light stresses beyond its normal bounds.
3. How can different substrate and mycelium ratios be used to optimize the mushroom production yield?
Mushrooms are very sensitive fungi in regards to the conditions that must be met for them to fruit properly. Adequate amounts of spawn and nutrition are needed to have a successful mushroom yield. Currently, our team has a comprehensive understanding of the mushroom production process, and when growing mushrooms, we mainly go by rough ratios when making our substrate and adding our mycelium. Our team member David has taken on the task of finding optimal nutrition ratios within substrate as well as optimal inoculation rate of the substrate in order to maximize our mushroom yields. This will help our team increase our mushroom yields when visiting Sierra Leone and will also help advance the knowledge in our field as David plans to include his results in a paper describing some best practices when growing mushrooms.
We will be conducting experiments in order to have tangible data to support the reasonings behind the answers to the questions above. We will be updating this post with our data soon!