Growing and packing mushrooms for the farmer markets
Hannes and Theres Krummenacher came to New Zealand in 1998. They are both Swiss and came with a view to buying land, after having previously travelled in NZ and feeling it was a place they could happily make their home. They particularly liked the South Island, especially Moutere and bought an old deer farm of around 53 hectares, 20 hectares of which is now in trees grown specifically for mushroom production. They have planted over 2000 trees since buying the land.
Planting trees to produce the mushrooms began as a hobby, but it has since turned into a business. In Autumn 2014 they harvested 700 – 800 kg of wild mushrooms. The long term aim is to get 3-4 ton/year which will sustain sales.
Hannes also worked as an electrician until about a year ago, but the mushroom business is now supporting them. Theres did a lot of the work for many years, while Hannes had his ‘day job’.
Keeping the crop maintained is not too arduous. The weather plays a big part – a hot summer is essential and some irrigation in summer is needed to get the mushrooms growing.
The farm was initially in gorse and the couple spent a long time cutting this back and planting trees. They can’t and won’t use sprays to control the gorse so prior to the growing season they need to mow areas where the mushrooms will pop up.
Mushroom harvesting happens in Autumn, from the end of March till about end of June. They clean, dry and pack the mushrooms in their farm based commercial kitchen and sell them as a dried delicacy to restaurants, farmers markets and on line.
Drying the mushroom intensifies the flavour. The dried product is in hot demand – they sell out within 6 – 10 months.
Theres and Hannes also produce a risotto mix featuring their mushrooms and have experimented with a range of other mushroom related products.
In 2005 Hannes and Theres were the first to commercially grow a variety called saffron milk cap. The mushroom takes its name from the golden orange milk that oozes from the cut stem. This and some of the other varieties they grow are a lot firmer, denser and tastier than the field or compost grown mushrooms many NZ’ers are used to.
Some varieties of mushroom are specific to particular trees – they live in a symbiotic relationship with that tree specimen and no other. One example is the Birch bolete which only grows around birch trees. Hannes says the tree gets as much from the mushroom as it gives. The mushrooms attach themselves to the roots and help the tree take up more minerals and water. Other varieties the couple grow include larch bolete, painted bolete, pine bolete, slippery jack.