By Andru McCracken

McManus inside his remarkable mushroom farm at the Valemount Industrial Park.//ANDRU MCCRACKEN

It’s a world of inoculation, mycelium, spores, marthas, constant humidity and sterile surfaces, Paul McManus of Robson Valley Gourmet Mushrooms’ farm in the Valemount Industrial Park is like no greenhouse you have ever seen. In fact, there is precious little green in it.

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Clockwise from top: Juvenile Oyster mushrooms are beginning to bloom. The shaggy mane of a Lion’s Mane mushroom. A close up of the gills of a rapidly growing oyster mushroomIn his hyper-plumbed sea-can, McManus is growing Oyster Mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) and Lion’s Mane (Hericium erinaceus).

Lion’s Mane is one of McManus’ favourite mushrooms because of its reported ability to repair neural pathways in the brain.

“All that partying I did when I was a kid? I’m fixing it,” said McManus with a laugh.

These bags of wood chips have been inoculated with mycelium… and if you like mushrooms, that’s a very good thing.

McManus starts with a small syringe full of liquid culture containing mushroom mycelium; he feeds it sterilized rye grain in a mason jar.
The mycelium grows through the grain until it is completely white, then McManus divides it into bags full of hardwood fuel pellets. The bags live in about a 6 by 5 foot enclosure about 2 feet deep called a martha.

It’s named for none other than Martha Stewart. She popularized the indoor greenhouse structures with her brand. It turns out they are just perfect for growing mushrooms (you may consider this when choosing indoor closets).

Each martha is kept at controlled temperature and humidity. Like most other living organisms they need fresh air and a build up of CO2 is deadly for them.

Fresh air sounds easy, but it is a bit of trick sometimes because the air can be so cold.

“It’s a battle doing this in wintertime, but I’m getting good at it,” said McManus.

The sea-can is full of plumbing, heaters and humidifiers, but while it’s moist and warm, one of the keys of the operation is the sterilization of instruments and raw materials. It’s a good fit for McManus who has a diploma in laboratory technologies.

McManus’ main customer is Mike Wiegele Helicopter Skiing in Blue River.

“People think that I go through a lot of effort to do this, but gardeners go through a lot of effort doing what they do. There’s no weeding to do because I’ve got sterile environments,” he said. “Once the bag is sealed I’m ahead of the game.”

McManus said the learning is part of the fun.

“I don’t know anybody else’s crazy enough to try this in this kind of climate,” he said.

If you are interested gourmet mushrooms give McManus a call at 566-3466.