Following a long career in Business Management and Marketing / Advertising, in mid 2010, I decided to do something new and closer to where my interests now lay. As a quite keen and long time garden designer and vegetable grower I embarked on this as a venture beyond the realms of just subsistence growing on a rented property in the rural valley between Oudtshoorn and the Cango Caves of the Klein Karoo.
An interest in providing limited stock of Organically grown vegetables and herbs and selling them through a limited outlet was realised during the period. In the search for augmenting products I stumbled upon the world of Exotic edible fungi.
What quickly followed was a short period of basic research into the world of mycology and leading us to search for, and find training courses aimed at Exotic Mushroom growing.
Caro and I completed the Mushroom Academy in Stellenbosch ‘s Edible Exotic mushroom course under the instruction of Dr W. Adriaan Smit as soon as we could, and embarked upon developing as best an infrastructure as we could to provide the needs for Exotic Mushroom Production as well as made contact with a number of suppliers of Spawn and other base product needs for substrate, and other aspects of Exotic Mushroom production.
We also studied the two Exotic Mushroom Growing “Bibles” by World renowned mycologist Paul Stemets, along with our course materials and notes to compliment our knowledge base, which has over the following years become a passion and unending search for more information concerning the world of the wild mushroom
We built two grow rooms from ground zero making use of as primitive infrastructural equipment as any other ‘casual grower’ does – A fact that we later found to be fairly common. We also met with a number of other growers in the region at various markets, to our regret none were willing to have us visit their facilities. (reason being that they were probably also making do with far from optimal facilities themselves). We would have to discover this world by trial and error the hard way.
As a business man by nature the opportunities for Edible Exotic Fungi into the South African market became very clear. Back in 2010 there was extremely little to be found even in retailers like Woolworths where I had occasionally come across some Winter Oysters and purchased out of curiosity without knowing that they were an Exotic species. Now I know.
We embarked on a number of trials across a range of mushrooms that would be forgiving of the best we could provide with our facility – Our real challenge was cooling in the desert but we managed temperatures of 16 -17 degrees Celsius – Far from optimal but low enough for us to get our results and prove the concept without doubt.
We grew in separate batches the King, White, Pink, Blue and Yellow Oyster Mushrooms – All the ones which could be grown within the temperature range of 12 – 24 degrees. Not being able to reach the lower scale of temperature was only and knowingly impactful on the timeframes it took to move from the Mycelial run stage through to the fruiting stage and flushes. The follow on flushes themselves challenged by the small range of environmental elements we could play with. We none the less succeeded. Across all the types along the trials. We were sold.
During the Trails period and with further research it became plainly obvious that we needed to move from the hot desert of the Karoo back to the commercial hub of Johannesburg as we had decided that commercial growing was a market opportunity we wanted to follow through on.