How to control pests and diseases in mushrooms

Connie Rutaringwa explains how she manages her mushroom project at her farm in Ntinda, Kampala. Photo/File

What you need to know:

  • Embracing natural and organic remedies is a holistic approach to safeguarding mushrooms from pests and diseases. By prioritising sustainable and chemical-free interventions, growers foster a balanced cultivation environment. This proactive strategy not only preserves the health of the mushroom crop but also aligns with eco-friendly farming practices, ensuring long-term success.

Mushroom cultivation, an intricate interplay of science and nature, faces challenges from various pests and diseases. This article elucidates the diverse types of mushrooms, their nutritional significance, and the pervasive issues of pests and diseases in cultivation. Embark on a journey through the intricacies of mushroom cultivation, exploring effective natural and organic pest and disease management remedies.

Common mushroom pests and diseases
Mushrooms, particularly white button mushrooms, are susceptible to pests and diseases that can significantly impact crop quality and yield. The most prevalent fungal disease, Verticillium dry bubble, manifests as globe-like masses of mushroom tissue. Effective management involves maintaining cleanliness, preventing spawn overgrowth, and utilizing easily pinning strains.
Green mold is a widespread concern affecting Agaricus, Pleurotus, and shiitake mushrooms. Identified by a mycelium layer transitioning from white to green on the casing surface, it poses a substantial threat to yield. Robust strategies for green mold control are vital for sustained mushroom production.

Phorid and sciarid flies
Phorid and sciarid flies pose significant challenges in the mushroom industry. Attracted by the scent of growing mycelium, female phorid flies lay eggs in compost or casing. Although their impact on crop economics has yet to be fully understood, their presence necessitates vigilant management. Sciarid larvae feed on mycelium, causing damage to mushroom tissue. Adult sciarid flies may not directly harm mushrooms but can carry pathogens, emphasising the need for thorough control measures.

Management strategies
While phorid flies outnumber sciarids, their damage to mushroom crops is comparatively lower. Effective management practices, are crucial for mitigating the economic impact of fly infestations.
Integrated pest management
Integrated pest management (IPM) practices play a pivotal role in preventing and reducing the spread of pests, safeguarding both production quantity and quality. Exclusion techniques, preventing pests from entering new spaces or escaping from existing ones, are critical to IPM. 

Disinfectants and sanitisers usage
Disinfectants and sanitisers, often used interchangeably, serve distinct purposes in mushroom production. Disinfectants target disease-carrying microorganisms, finding common use in picking halls and breezeways. Growers must carefully choose disinfectants based on their effectiveness and potential corrosiveness.

Sanitisers for safety
Sanitisers aim to reduce, rather than necessarily eliminate, microorganisms to safe levels by health codes. Sanitisers are categorised into food-contact and non-food-contact products and are pivotal in maintaining hygiene standards. When selecting sanitisers for different areas within the mushroom production facility, growers should consider the specific application requirements and regulations.

Use natural methods 
Mushrooms are a nutritious and delicious food crop that can be grown at home or commercially. However, they are susceptible to various pests and diseases, including flies, mites, nematodes, slugs, molds, scars, spots, and rots. To combat these issues, it is recommended to use natural methods that are safe for the environment and human health.

These methods include good hygiene practices, using resistant varieties, introducing beneficial organisms such as ladybugs, lacewings, predatory mites, or parasitic wasps, using botanical extracts with insecticidal, fungicidal, or repellent properties, and using physical barriers such as traps, nets, screens, or covers.
These methods help reduce the population of pests without harming the mushrooms. Additionally, using essential oils like peppermint, lavender, or rosemary can deter pests from the mushrooms. Overall, implementing these natural methods can help maintain the quality and yield of your mushrooms.

Set up traps 
To prevent pest infestation in mushroom-growing areas, it is essential to set up traps and barriers. Fly traps, such as sticky, baited, electric, or light traps, can control flies, damaging the mushroom mycelium, caps, and stems and spreading diseases like molds and blotches. These traps can be coated with a sticky substance, filled with liquid bait, electrocuted when touched, or lured with a light source.

Mite barriers, such as diatomaceous earth (DE), lime powder, or sulfur powder, can be used to control mites, which can cause stunted growth, reduced yield, and poor quality. DE is a fine powder from fossilized algae, while lime powder is an acidic substance that burns the skin of mites and kills them. Sulfur powder is a toxic substance that suffocates mites and inhibits fungal growth. These barriers can be sprinkled around mushroom beds or on the substrate surface to create a barrier against mites.

Use organic fungicides 
Use organic fungicides to manage mushroom diseases. Some of the most common diseases that affect mushrooms are green mold, dry bubble, wet bubble, cobweb mold, verticillium wilt, and bacterial blotch. These diseases can spread quickly and ruin your crop if not treated properly.

One way to prevent and control these diseases is to use organic fungicides that are safe for mushrooms and the environment. Some examples of organic fungicides are potassium bicarbonate, hydrogen peroxide, baking soda, vinegar, and garlic extract. These fungicides can be sprayed or applied to the substrate or the mushrooms to kill or inhibit the growth of the pathogens.

Use essential oils 
Use essential oils to control pests and diseases in mushrooms. Essential oils are natural plant extracts with various properties, such as antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, insecticidal, and repellent. Some essential oils that can control pests and diseases in mushrooms are neem oil, tea tree oil, peppermint oil, lavender oil, rosemary oil, eucalyptus oil, and clove oil. These oils can be diluted with water or carrier oils and sprayed or applied to the substrate or the mushrooms to deter or kill the pests and pathogens. 

Make sure there’s good air circulation to prevent diseases. Mushrooms need fresh air to grow well and avoid suffocation. Poor air circulation can create a humid and stagnant environment that favors the growth of molds and bacteria. To ensure good air circulation, you should use fans, vents, windows, or other devices to create air movement in your growing area. You should also avoid overcrowding your mushrooms and space them well to allow airflow between them.

Control temperature 
Control temperature and humidity to avoid pest and disease issues. Mushrooms have specific temperature and humidity requirements depending on their species and stage of growth. If the temperature or humidity is too high or too low, it can stress the mushrooms and make them more susceptible to pests and diseases.

To control temperature and humidity, you should use thermometers, hygrometers, heaters, coolers, humidifiers, dehumidifiers, or other devices to maintain the optimal conditions for your mushrooms. You should also monitor the weather and adjust your settings accordingly.