Rabu, November 05, 2008

Love makes these mushrooms grow

By : Nadia Badarudin


ALOR STAR: To grow good mushrooms, you have to be a little in love with them.
"And with shiitake mushrooms, extra patience is needed because of the meticulous cultivation process," said Ooi Chooi Liang the director of Agro Bio-Future Sdn Bhd, the company that runs the shiitake business.

Ooi also described how he and his wife, K. Rajakumari, came to be organic shiitake mushroom farmers on Gunung Jerai.

"Finding the perfect location was not easy. After years of research and experimentation, we found the best spot at the top of Gunung Jerai."

Shiitake mushrooms grow on dead hardwood trees in an environment that combines temperatures of 18o Celsius to 24o Celsius and a relative humidity of more than 85 per cent.

In addition, the location must have daily temperature changes of aboutfive per cent and be misty for most of the day.

Ooi grows his mushrooms on logs specially made from rubberwood sawdust and other ingredients which include wheat, oats, rice and nutrients to put the spawn in.

The sawdust is locally sourced and the spawn imported from Japan.

After harvesting the mushrooms, the used logs undergo a natural process called "vermicomposting" -- breaking down the organic matter with earthworms, producing a nutrient-rich organic fertiliser and soil conditioner called "vermicompost", which is used on the farm to grow organic vegetables.

Ooi said they grow more than 10 types of vegetables, including lettuce, cabbage, purple cauliflower and radish.

"They are safe to be eaten straightaway because they are pesticide-free. And because the vegetables are organically grown, they fetch higher prices."

The farm was established in 1985, and for the first 10 years production was slow.

But now, all the hard work is paying off , and his son and daughter have left their careers to help their parents.

Their son worked in IT and the daughter was a medical doctor.
"I'm proud to say we now produce export quality shiitake mushrooms consistently and systematically.
"Our farm produces an average of 200-300kg of shiitake a day, and it is sold for RM40 to RM50 per kg.

"We export the mushrooms and vegetables mainly to Singapore and we also sell them to some local supermarket chains."

The Oois are exploring other markets for their produce, including Australia and Japan, and looking at expanding the farm.

"At present, we are using only about four hectares out of the 10 we have. We are trying to increase capacity to meet the rising demand for our organic mushrooms and vegetables.

"Of course, we need to do this without felling a single tree or destroying the environment."

Ooi also said he and his green entourage are ready to share their knowledge and expertise with other farmers in the area.

"Agriculture has a lot of potential. We at Agro Bio-Future have proven that it is economically viable if it is done smartly and sustainably." -NST

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