How to Purchase it
No series of articles on gardening for profit would be complete without a chapter or two on the subject of mushrooms. There is a large and increasing demand for these edible fungi, and in the writer's opinion they are well worth including as a side line in a small holding conducted by women.
In certain parts of the British Isles, and more particularly in France, there are whole farms devoted to the culture of mushrooms, and from time to time in the periodicals and magazines one comes across articles under such alluring titles as: "Mushrooms in an Old Railway Tunnel," "Profitable Gardening in a Cellar."
Without a doubt, mushroom farms can be made to pay most wonderfully, and when established will yield a truly marvellous return to their owners. From a woman gardener's point of view, however, mushrooms - at the start, at all events - should only form one of several minor branches of business.
Imagine a woman who has undertaken the responsibility of a few acres in the country. She has a large and productive garden for vegetables; she grows fruit extensively; she raises flowers for market. Incidentally, she has a small French garden, where she practises the intensive system. It is on such a holding as this that the ideal circumstances are presented for growing mushrooms for profit. Put succinctly, mushrooms to a lady gardener make an excellent walking-stick, but a poor crutch.
The best time to start mushroom culture is the summer, so that one may have crops for marketing in the autumn and winter, when other side-lines do not bring much grist to the mill. Meadow-grown mushrooms begin to fail after September, and the market depends solely upon the cultivated supplies till spring comes round again. In the winter, obviously, the best prices are secured, and the receipts in this direction will certainly keep the ball rolling merrily through the dead months.
When one has gained the inevitable initial experience the mushroom is a perfectly simple crop to grow. Given care and judgment and good materials, there is practically nothing to go wrong. The demand, too, is a very real and steady one, and there is little risk of supplies failing a painstaking grower.
For the benefit of the uninitiated, the writer would explain that mushrooms are grown from fresh stable manure and spawn. Spawn is supplied by all seedsmen in the form of bricks, and it is of the utmost importance that these bricks shall be freshly made, for if stale they are ineffective. The size of the actual bricks varies slightly, each seedsman having his own type of mould; but usually they are some nine inches in length, six inches in width, and about two inches in thickness. Generally, fifteen bricks are counted to the bushel, retailing at 4s. 6d. or 5s. per bushel, though naturally a large grower would be able to purchase supplies on more advantageous terms.
If stable manure were as easily obtainable as spawn, mushroom growing would be a delightfully simple matter. The manure must be perfectly fresh. It must be obtained from stables where the horses are bedded l Q down on straw and fed on corn, chaff, and hay. Manure from stables where bracken, peat-moss litter, and such bedding material is used is of no use for the purpose.
Obviously, as the mushroom grower can only consider offers of the finest manure, she must be prepared to pay heavily for it; and if the material is not obtainable on satisfactory terms, the project might as well be abandoned immediately. A livery-stable keeper is the best man to approach in the first instance, or the head horsekeeper at stables where railway or other draught horses are kept. Farmyard manure is not suitable, and what mushroom growers will do when the ubiquitous motor becomes even more prevalent, goodness only knows!
Assuming, however, that the lady grower has been able to overcome the difficulties surrounding the provision of regular supplies of manure, she must next decide upon the form the mushroom beds are to take. In the first place, beds may be made up ridge-shaped out of doors, in which style a prosperous crop may be well expected. Then, again, any ordinary shed may be used - a disused coachhouse, a cellar, the space under the staging of a greenhouse, a greenhouse itself. Discarded pig-styes have been used, old henhouses, potting sheds, or stables. In fact, mushrooms may be grown almost anywhere. In the case of a greenhouse with a central space for plants, or under similar circumstances, flat beds may be made; but usually mushroom beds are ridged, much like an inverted letter V with a blunted, flattened apex.
Having decided upon the position and shape of the beds, the next step is to prepare the manure, and in this task lies the whole knack of the undertaking - a knack that no amount of word-painting could convey, and one that is only obtainable by sheer experience.
Assuming that the manure has been delivered fresh from the stable, the first work is to turn it with a manure fork and to stack it, at the same time removing any long straw, for mushroom manure must be of the class known technically as "short." In the height of summer, when manure dries quickly, moistening may occasionally be necessary; but even then water must be given sparingly, and only in sufficient quantities to ensure "heating."
Generally speaking, manure will need to be turned three times before it is ready for use. The object of this turning is to permit of the escape of the most virulent gases, and to dispose of the grossest of the heat. At each turning the manure should be thoroughly shaken out with the fork and re-stacked, and in the ordinary course of events the second turning should take place three days after the first, and the third two days after the second.
Gathering a crop of mushrooms and sorting them according to size into buttons, cups, and broilers. This industry is highly profitable if the grower can produce a crop for the autumn and winter markets