Food Heroes, Aloma and Gordon Fleet
Organic Oyster Mushrooms
After spending 15 years in England, Aloma and Gordon Fleet settled in Dargle, built a solar powered home and looked around for a way of earning an income. “Our 12 hectares is a bit small for keeping cattle,” says Gordon, “So we were pleased to find a mushroom growing opportunity in the Midlands that fitted our farming needs neatly, although we didn’t have a clue about them to start.” All they had to do was build a wooden cabin to create the right humid environment, learn fast and get going.
Racks hold hundreds of bags of straw inoculated with mycelium and the spores of oyster mushrooms. After about a week they start to ‘pin’ (sprout). Although the temperature is controlled and humidifiers keep the room damp, the outside weather does affect their growth. When it is too hot they can dry quickly and are sprayed with extra water, or have frozen 2l bottles join them on the shelves to keep the air coming in cool and, when it is cloudy, rainy and misty (very common in Dargle) they grow like crazy.
Aloma tends the needs of the mushrooms. “They are like art, just marvellous to observe. I really love it when they start pinning and the tiny mushrooms poke their heads through the slits in the plastic bags, looking like Mohawk hairdos!” Every morning, afternoon and evening she checks the racks and chooses the best clusters to pick, before they go wavy around the edges and begin to scatter their spores. Oyster mushrooms cannot be picked individually, or the cluster will die. Each cluster has 8 – 40 mushrooms, some of which ‘die’ off to give space to others. Each bag should produces up to 1kg of mushrooms over 10 weeks, which means she spends a lot of time in her grey gumboots, blue gloves and funky mask amongst the mushrooms. Once the inoculated bags have finished producing, the straw is tossed on the compost heap.
The Fleet’s sell their organic mushrooms to a central distributor but are also regulars at the Dargle Local Market where their just picked and utterly delicious mushrooms are very popular. Locally grown organic Oyster mushrooms are also available at the Karkloof Farmers Market and at Dovehouse in Howick.