Mushroom Cultivation in Spiti
Majority of Indians stay in rural areas with agriculture as their primary source of livelihood making India, largely, an agricultural country. Farming varies greatly across different regions given its geographical conditions and access to resources. It is increasingly becoming difficult due to growing effects of climate change across the country. Melting of glaciers, extreme weather patterns and excessive drought and rain have further increased our vulnerability. Farmers who are completely dependent on agriculture for their livelihood will face the brunt of changing phenomena and it is important to diversify our cultivation patterns. To aptly complement existing agricultural patterns, these alternatives need to be time-saving, less laborious and should also offer decent economic returns for the cultivator.
Photos Courtesy: Kalzang Ladey
Given Spiti’s mono cultural practises, I realised that mushroom cultivation in Spiti will provide a viable option for the locals. Growing mushrooms is fairly easy and anyone can replicate the process once they are a bit familiar with it. One can easily cultivate mushrooms 2-3 times a year without any mechanical equipment. Moreover, there are no constraints on the scale of cultivation. It can be considered as a viable option by both small and big farmers alike. All they need is a small space in their houses. It roughly takes one month to cultivate mushrooms from scratch. In addition to usual agricultural crops, mushrooms can be added delicacy to your meals. Mushrooms are one the cheapest crops to cultivate if done with proper care -thus, with limited space and time, one can obtain a good yield. Mushrooms are extremely delicious and nutritious. It is a great way to build a diet full of protein, fibre and minerals. It contains a lot of vitamins, especially vitamin D. The nutrients available in mushrooms are helpful for people suffering from diabetes and other ailments. It is not surprising, then, that its presence in global as well as Indian diets is increasing. This is all the more reason for farmers to take up mushroom cultivation.
Many types of mushrooms are in demand, but specifically in Spiti, we cultivate oyster mushrooms. Both fresh and dry varieties of these mushrooms are sold in the market. The mushroom soup you get is made from these oyster mushrooms. We have experimented with the cultivation of White oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus florida), Pink Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus Djamor), King Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus Eryngii/Kabuli Dhingri), Gray oyster mushroom (Pleurotus Sajor Caju) and Tree Oyster mushroom (Pleurotus Ostreatus). Oyster mushrooms are the best varieties to cultivate if you are trying it for the first time. These are very nutritious and require much less space and environmental conditions for a beginner. Mushrooms can be grown either through spawns or substrate. Spawns are referred to any carrier material which has mycelial growth to propagate mushroom. It can be considered like a seed in mushroom farming and comes in various forms like sawdust spawn, grain spawn (most popular for home grown mushroom cultivation process), woodchip spawn and straw spawn. Substrate is a soil-like material that provides mushrooms with the nutrients, moisture and energy. It is high in organic matter making it desirable for cultivation. Different species of mushroom have different preferences of substrate hence it is important to match those requirements. A good substrate is dense woody fibrous material full of carbon.
Photos Courtesy: Kalzang Ladey
I will briefly explain the cultivation process for those who are interested.
There are two methods of mushroom cultivation:
1) Organic sterilisation method
2) Chemical sterilisation method but I will recommend people to follow the organic cultivation method.
In the organic sterilisation method, fill a large sized utensil with ⅓ of water and keep it to boil. When the water starts boiling, add straw which will play the role of substrate. In Spiti, we add dry grass chips called Phungma. Keep the mixture on boil for about 2 hours (depending upon the quantity). Drain the excess water, lay the straw on a clean mat to dry it (overnight). When it is completely dry, you will need strong poly bags (14X18 or 16X24 inches) to transfer the material. As for spawning, for 80 Kgs of straw, we require 1 Kg of spawn (mushroom seeds). The spawn can be sprinkled on the straw and can be mixed. Then comes layering where first we put some spawn in the polybag, then apply the first layer (2 inch straw), followed by another layer of spawn and finally topping it with the final layer of straw till we fill the poly bags to the brim. When this is done, close the bags in a way that it’s air-tight and there’s no room for moisture to enter. Once the bag is closed, make around 10-15 holes in each bag. Place these bags in a dark empty room or closet at 25 degrees Celsius for 15-20 days until the entire bag turns white. If there is any other colour formation, you’ll have to dispose of the bag and start over.
It is important to keep the bags in a clean room with good humidity. Keep checking the mushroom bags every other day and start sprinkling the floor with water to increase the humidity in the room. Once it starts sprouting, softly twist individual mushrooms and pluck them for consumption. For the chemical sterilisation process, add 125ml of formalin and 10 gm of bovesteen (fungicide) in 100 litres of water. Washed and damp straw is then soaked in this water for 12 hours. Following that, the excess water is drained and straw is dried out and then transferred to polybags. The polybags are then tightly closed with a string and left for cultivation. Once the bags start becoming white, you can make a few more holes in it. Roughly, at every 3 inches, there should be one hole in the bag. This will help you get a better yield. These holes should be made by only those cultivators who are unable to maintain 90% humidity in the room.If the room temperature is between 20-22 degree celsius, then it is considered to be the most ideal for incubation.
Photo Courtesy: Kalzang Ladey
Once it sprouts, same bag of mushrooms should be harvested together otherwise, it would take longer to prepare for the second flash. Second flash can be carried out roughly 7-8 days after the previous harvest. In this way, each bag can take 3-4 flashes easily. After 3-4 flashes of harvesting, remove the poly bags and prepare for the second batch using different bags. If this is done with proper care, the mushrooms will be ready in 25-30 days. If you are planning to cultivate pink oysters (Pleurotus Djamor), then a slightly higher temperature is required in the room. Thus, you can cultivate these mushrooms in the month of June or July in Spiti. Other mushrooms can be cultivated between the months of April to September.
The Department of Horticulture in Spiti and honourable Agricultural Minister Shri. Ramlal Markanda helped me immensely in my journey of cultivating mushrooms. They helped me procure seeds, gain training and greater awareness about mushroom cultivation and subsequently helped me popularise it among local farmers. Along with the Department of Horticulture in Spiti, I have visited multiple villages to spread awareness and conduct training about spawn. We visited Losar Panchayat, Pangmo, Kibber Panchayat, Pin Valley, Kewling, Langza, Komic and trained about 500 people on mushroom cultivation. Men, women, young and elders all showed great interest and several of them started cultivating at household level. Along with awareness, we would also distribute free Spawns to encourage them.
We have been cultivating Oyster mushrooms till now, we can certainly try button mushrooms if we get the seeds. Institutions like ICR-DMR (Directorate of Mushroom Research), Centre for Mushroom Research and Training in Palampur and Dr. Y. S. Parmar University of Horticulture and Forestry, in Nauni (Solan) has been carrying out extensive research and training for mushroom cultivation. We should gain firsthand insights and attend their workshop. Their hands-on training is extremely beneficial. I am very thankful to the department and its officials. I will continue to work for mushroom development in Spiti and I hope that we are able to bear the fruits of this venture in future. My request to all farmers is to adopt mushroom cultivation actively and in case of any hurdles, please do not hesitate to reach out to me for any queries.
Photo Courtesy: Kalzang Ladey
About the Author
Kalzang Ladey is a mushroom cultivator from Spiti’s Chicham village. He has gained Mushroom cultivation training from Nauni University (Solan) and Centre of Mushroom Research in Palampur. He has been actively cultivating mushrooms since 2015 and produces 300 bags of Mushrooms throughout the year supplying it to local homestays, households and hotels.
With the support of the Horticulture Department in Spiti, he is able to train other farmers and spread awareness about it in remote villages. Collectively they have trained around 500 people in Spiti for the same.