Regular readers and those who follow me on Instagram will know that mushrooms are one of my favourite foods, and something I eat with gusto most mornings for breakfast. So you can imagine how thrilled I was to be invited to visit a mushroom farm in Woodford, about an hour’s drive from Brisbane.
Our host, Steve Willemse of SjW Mushrooms, has been growing mushrooms for about 30 years, and grows 30 tonne of mushrooms a week between his two farms at Woodford and Chevellum in South East Queensland. As the third largest mushroom grower in Queensland, what Steve doesn’t know about mushrooms isn’t worth knowing!
We visited on a day that was teeming with rain, so I turned up with suitable wet-weather gear for a walk. Only to discover we were walking inside, as all Steve’s mushrooms are grown in an enormous climate-controlled shed that is split into a number of individual – and very large – rooms.
SjW Mushrooms grows only three types of mushrooms – button, Swiss brown and portobello. Technically only two types, as portobello are really just big and flat Swiss brown mushrooms.
While weather isn’t a problem for Steve’s mushies, disease is. To combat this, there is very strict management of cleanliness when working in and between the rooms.
It takes Steve’s 64 workers – mainly Taiwanese and Filipino – three months of training to learn to correctly pick and grade mushrooms to the industry standard of 20kg an hour (!!). A good picker can pick 30kg an hour (and yes, Steve offers a bonus to his more efficient pickers).
Picking mushrooms is called “cropping”, and this happens every day of the year except Christmas Day and Good Friday.
Mushrooms grow from compost, which comes from Sydney after already going through a six-week process. The final two weeks happens in Steve’s shed, then, voila, mushrooms! OK, it’s probably not that simple…
The mushrooms appear in “flushes” that grow over 7-10 days. Steve’s first flush produces four tonne of mushrooms, and he harvests eight tonne over five flushes. Once completed, he sells the compost to a dairy farmer whose cows produce milk for Maleny Dairies (my favourite locally produced milk in case you’re wondering).Did you know mushrooms double in size every 24 hours? #powerofmushrooms Click To Tweet
A few of my favourite mushrooms facts:
- they double in size every 24 hours – and grow at a rate of 4% per hour
- mushrooms are like humans – they breathe in oxygen and expel CO2. They are always alive and don’t go mouldy – but they do dry out if not stored correctly
- it’s not true that they need to grow in the dark – but Steve keeps the lights turned off to save on the massive electricity bills
- mushrooms can absorb sunlight, which means they absorb vitamin D which is transferred to humans when eaten – so pop your mushrooms in the sun for 15-20 minutes before you cook them
Once harvested, Steve sells his mushrooms to the Brisbane markets via a mushroom-specialist agent he has worked with for over 25 years.