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The recipe for mushroom compost varies from company to company, but can include composted wheat or rye straw, peat moss, used horse bedding straw, horse manure or chicken manure, cottonseed or canola meal, grape crushings from wineries, soybean meal, potash, gypsum, urea, ammonium nitrate and lime. The compost ingredients are weighed out, then mixed in.
Huge piles of mushroom compost sit for about 30 days and do what compost does - heat up. The straw provides the structure and some food for bacteria, and the urea, cottonseed or canola meal and manure provide most of the nutrients. The bacteria multiply, forcing the temperature inside the pile up to more than 160 degrees, killing any weed seeds or pathogens that might have been present in the straw or animal wastes. The result is mushroom compost, ready to grow a crop of commercial table mushrooms.
The compost creation process produces the distinctive aroma. Weather conditions (wind, temperature, humidity, rain, temperature inversion) influence the aroma flow. The odor is not dangerous, according to the Santa Clara County Environmental Health Department.
The cured compost is placed in beds in a dark, cool and humid warehouse and then is pasteurized at about 140 degrees to kill any surface disease-causing organisms and pests. Workers then inoculate the compost with mushroom spawn, or mycelium. Underground roots called mycelium grow in the compost, then five weeks after inoculation, mushrooms are ready to pick. A crop continues to be harvested for three to four weeks before the bed is exhausted.
After every planting cycle, the compost is removed because it is "used up," by the growing mushrooms. But it still has plenty left for gardeners and landscapers - it is sold to nurseries, landscape supply firms and general contractors.
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About Charles Kellogg
Charles Kellogg …Morgan Hill resident, American vaudeville performer (The Bird Singer) and early environmentalist (Save the Redwoods).NPR Radio …audio from Nov. 26, 2003 CK • CK2 • CK3 • Books Home: Coyote Highlands • Fountain Oaks Video • Nash Quad
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