Flora Fadzai Sibanda, Chronicle Reporter
FOR the past three years, Ms Christine Nkomo (32) of Cowdray Park suburb has been using her backyard to grow mushrooms, a flourishing business that has enabled her to diversify.
Supplying Willsgrove market and other small outlets, she is now into poultry farming and detergents manufacturing.
Ms Nkomo was assisted by a charitable organisation, DanChurchAid (DCA) to launch the mushroom business to enable her to support her two-year-old daughter who was living with down’s syndrome, a genetic disorder associated with physical growth delays.
She was part of a group of parents the organisation trained as a way of ensuring that they generate income to pay for medical costs when their children living with disabilities go for treatment.
Mrs Nkomo’s daughter died last year in June.
Her business has been profitable and she says she has been able to send her 13-year-old son, her only remaining child to a boarding school.
Mushrooms are a rich, low-calorie source of fibre, protein, and antioxidants. They also mitigate the risk of developing serious health conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Ms Nkomo grows the grey oyster mushroom (pleurotus ostreatus). This species is easy to manage, and a great option for home growers.
It grows in large clusters containing dozens of delicate stems topped by bluish-grey, shell-like caps.
The mushrooms boast many health benefits. They are high in folic acid, fibre, protein, and vitamins B1, B3, B5, and B12, as well as iron, zinc, potassium, phosphorus and selenium.
Ms Nkomo said starting a mushroom business is very easy as one needs as little as US$50 to buy the seeds, plastics and ropes.
The mushroom farmer said a starter might also need to buy lime and detergents and the mushrooms are grown in small plastics inside a room.
She said the room has to be covered so that it acts as a darkroom.
Ms Nkomo said mushroom seeds are only sold in Harare and she buys them for US$2 per kg.
She said each kg produces at least four kits of the mushrooms which she sells and gets a total of US$12.
“I order my seeds online and they come in 2kg packages via posting. After I get them, that is when the real work starts,” she said.
“After the seeds arrive from Harare I soak them with the cotton hose which is like my manure as it is cotton waste. I add lime and detergents when I am doing that. This is all done in the darkroom because insects will not enter the room and infect the mushrooms.”
Ms Nkomo said her mushrooms take at least 28 days to mature and what comes from each seed can be harvested for almost three months
“When I am planting the mushrooms. I first soak layers of cotton hoses in water and then mix with lime and detergent and this is all done inside a plastic so that germs which might contaminate the mushrooms when they are now growing are killed. I soak the mixture for 12 hours, so I can say overnight, in the dark room which is the room for the first stage. In the morning I then drain the water and pack the mixture into 5kg packets and move them into the next room,” she said.
She said because mushrooms are very sensitive, one needs to be smart at all times when going into the rooms and should avoid putting on perfumes.
“They also need a lot of water so I water them three times a day using a spray. However, watering them is not that hard as I may use the same water twice because as you are watering them some of the water will be harvested and can be used again,” said Ms Nkomo.
She said the mushroom business is very profitable.
“I have managed to start my poultry project using money from the project. Currently, l have close to a hundred broilers at my home. I am also running a detergents business that I recently started and I am in the process of fully registering it so that I can supply supermarkets. My firstborn son is at a boarding school at the moment because my funds are allowing me to send him there,” said the businesswoman.
Ms Nkomo said she has applied for land so that she could expand her businesses.
“The only challenge that I am currently facing is lack of land and once my application is approved and I get my own land working will be easier and more productive,” she said.
Ms Nkomo is training youths who want to venture into mushroom production as she believes it is a productive area that one can venture into to easily generate income. [email protected]_sibanda