Traditionally,mushroom cultivation in Punjab has ended along with the winter. Two new varieties will now seek to break the myth that it is only a winter crop. These summer varieties,developed by Punjab Agriculture University (PAU) in Ludhiana,are said to be of quality richer than the winter ones.
The university,which has been growing the varieties on its demonstration plots for a few years now,has of late been briefing farmers,who have begun to warm up to the option. A large number of farmers have been asking questions this year about how they can start cultivating these summer varieties.
Their cultivation season is mid-April to September. Punjabs traditional mushroom season is October to March. The milky mushroom (Calocybe indica) summer variety goes through four cropping cycles,and the paddy straw mushroom (Volvariella volvacea) through three. Both can withstand temperatures between 30 and 43°C.
Around 400 farmers in Punjab grow mushrooms in winter,but the number in summer has been negligible so far. That is because neither farmers nor consumers were much aware about mushrooms as a summer crop, says Dr S S Gosal,PAUs director for research. Now farmers have been demanding seeds for the coming summer,and making various enquiries during the universitys kisan melas in various districts.
PAU has engaged in mushroom-related research and development for over 25 years. The summer varieties,however,were developed only a few years ago,he says.
Both are high-yield varieties that can be cultivated with low-cost methods. Their cultivation involves locally available agri residues from wheat and paddy,and simple technology. The mushrooms are grown on beds made from substrate where their spawn are cultivated, says Dr Shammi Kapoor,senior mycologist with PAU.
The milky variety can be harvested after 30 days of cultivation and the paddy straw variety after 40 days, Dr Kapoor adds. From a 10-ft×10-ft room or shed,a farmer can harvest around 200 kg milky mushroom and 60 kg paddy straw mushroom in 40 and 45 days respectively.
A room of normal height can accommodate four-storey beds for growing the mushrooms.
Each variety can earn farmers between Rs 80 and Rs 100 per kg in the market, Dr Kapoor says. After taking into account all expenditure,including that on seeds and crop residue for preparing the beds,a farmers profit margin can be 40 per cent if he grows both varieties.
The university is also encouraging production in households,says registrar and scientist P K Khanna,a move aimed at ensuring not only fresh mushrooms but also nutritional security. Consumption of mushrooms should be encouraged as they contain varied amounts of quality proteins,carbohydrates,minerals and vitamins, Khanna says. They contain 20-30 per cent protein,which is twice as much as in vegetables. The summer varieties are richer in quality than the popular winter varieties are.
The winter varieties grown in Punjab are white button (Agaricus bisporus),dhingri (Pleurotus spp) and shiitake (Lentinus edodes). The last of these contains a polysaccharide called lentinan,which has anti-cancerous properties. However,around 90 per cent of Punjabs growers restrict themselves to white button mushrooms.
Mushroom consumption has grown in Punjab over the years. From less then 1 gram per capita till the late 1970s,it is now more than 25 g/capita at present,says Dr Gosal. Punjab is a leading producer with an annual output between 50,000 and 60,000 tonnes,which accounts for about 40 per cent of the national produce.
Being an indoor crop,mushrooms dont need agricultural land and can be cultivated on a small plot and enhance farmers profit,says horticulture director Dr L S Brar.
Now all year long
Paddy straw New variety (pictured),April-September season,with 3 cropping seasons
Milky The other new variety,same season as paddy straw,4 cropping seasons
White button 90% Punjab growers go for this winter variety,October-March season
Shiitake Winter variety,contains lentinan with anti-cancerous properties
Dhingri Punjabs third winter variety,same season as other two