The Auckland family helping Kiwis grow their own oyster mushrooms at home

An Auckland mother and daughter have devised a genius system using household waste to help Kiwis grow their own deliciously fresh NZ mushrooms.

Esperanza Chua was helping her daughter with a school sustainability project when they stumbled upon came the idea of growing oyster mushrooms using waste materials. They gathered coffee grounds, which were free from Esperanza's work cafe, some cheap barley straw and a couple of recycled buckets, and discovered that it was the perfect environment for the delicious funghi.

They were amazed at how easy it was to grow premium quality, delicious mushrooms at home and decided to start manufacturing the mushroom kits for others to experience and enjoy. Mushroomate was born.

We caught up with Esperanza to get her top tips for growing mushrooms at home and why it's a fantastic way to reduce household waste (including the leftovers from your beloved coffee!)

What do you love so much about growing mushrooms and creating the kits?

I honestly haven't got any gardening skills and I even managed to kill my money tree, so when I learned how to grow mushrooms i was ecstatic! I love sharing the experience, the joy it gives me when they are bursting out of the buckets. Watching them fruit is always exciting. Creating kits takes the stress away from my busy daily life and helps me find peace and serenity.

What is the most important thing to know about growing mushrooms? What does it take to make them thrive?

When growing mushrooms it's important to have all the ideal conditions and environment as per the mushroom variety to be able to get a decent harvest. You need to be aware of the temperature that they love to grow in, have the right level of humidity and usually a nice shady place. The mushrooms we are growing are native/endemic to New Zealand. One of the great things about them is that they're very adaptable - they're happy whatever the weather.

How long does it take to grow your first mushrooms when you buy a kit?

The Mushroomate kit will have to go though the incubation stage first. This is when the mycelium are spreading inside the bucket and forming a white fluff. It normally takes 2-3 weeks before little mushroom pin heads show up and another 3 to 5 days before it's ready to harvest.

The kits are a fantastic way of using household waste – such as coffee grounds – that would otherwise be thrown away! Do you think Mushroomate could help raise awareness of recycling and cutting down on the amount that we throw in the bin?

Absolutely! A cup of coffee is truly a wonderful thing but when a cuppa is made, less than 1% of the coffee biomass actually ends up in the cup. The other 99% of the coffee bean is wasted. However, this huge amount of waste coffee is still packed full of nutrients which oyster mushrooms love to grow on.

What is it about coffee grounds that mushrooms love so much?

Oyster mushrooms in particular are extremely versatile and have been shown to grow on more than 200 different agricultural waste materials. Aside from making use of a huge waste stream there are many other reasons to grow on coffee grounds. It's simple to get started as you don't need to sterilise the substrate. It's also free and easy to source.

What have sales been like so far? What kinds of customers are showing an interest in the growing kits?

We got a good steady stream of sales thanks to our lovely customers who care about New Zealand ecology and choose to grow our native/endemic mushrooms rather than the imported variety. We got a good mix of the general population, permaculture enthusiasts, sustainability minded and alike, mostly families with small kids who like to grow mushrooms together, mums and dads, people who are on a plant-based diet or prefer vegan/vegetarian meals and people who are keen to learn a new hobby.

Do you have a favourite way of using the oyster mushrooms?

I'm not a great cook so I just fry and toss them with butter garlic! My kids love it when I make them tempura style oyster mushrooms for snacks. In saying that, these mushrooms are also great for soups, stir-fries, risottos and many other favourite dishes.

Is there anything about mushrooms or growing them that people might be surprised or interested to know?

Imported strains of mushrooms grown in New Zealand send out billions of spores that have the potential to genetically pollute or wipe out our beautiful endemic mushrooms. There are strict government biosecurity restrictions that are in place for people growing imported mushroom varieties, but the risk is still there. Hence we are only growing our very own native New Zealand mushrooms and raising awareness about the issues of importing them, so future generations can still enjoy them.

What’s next for Mushroomate? Do you have any exciting plans or developments in the pipelines?

We are busy putting together our mushroom coaching program which has been requested by our customers, along with building partnerships with local communities and environmental and sustainability groups. We are also looking at offering our fresh gourmet mushrooms in our local farmers market once it re-opens.

Do you have any announcements, offers or upcoming news that you would like to share with New Zealanders?

We would like to thank everyone that has supported us during this time, it has been my great pleasure making the kits for our customers. We will extend the 10% off discount for our Gift Boxes until the end of June 2020 and we will open a coaching session soon, if anyone is interested to know more about growing New Zealand native/endemic oyster mushrooms at home.

You can learn more about Mushroomate here.