For decades, people have been encouraged to grow their own, but for one Flintshire businessman, it proved to be an escape from a way of life he found stressful and unenjoyable.

After more than 20 years running a successful estate agency, Mike Barely made a dramatic career change, and after much consideration, decided to give growing his own gourmet mushrooms a try. For 52-year-old Mike, the opportunity to branch out from the world of bricks and mortar to ground coffee waste and fungi, was an inspirational one.

Mike said: "I was in property for more than 20 years and I'd just had my fill last year and decided to retire.

"I've gone from running a business I just wasn't enjoying to this, which is something I really love.

"I wanted to do something with growing and the outdoors and I looked into doing some form of training in horticulture and getting a qualification. But that would have then meant sourcing some land to grow on, funding it, and if it's not very profitable could potentially be a long, drawn out process.

"By chance, I stumbled across this online training for growing your own mushrooms and it just really got my interest right away and I was hooked."

Having completed an in-depth online video course on how to grow mushrooms from start to finish, Mike hit the ground running and started to grow a variety of mushroom known as grey oysters in April this year, but by learning more and more has already branched out into growing other types.

He added: "I'm constantly learning more and more, the further I get into it, so much so, I'm now growing shiitake mushrooms, which are proving to be my best seller so far.

"The shiitake are far more difficult to grow because the conditions have got to be even more sterile."

We've all been out walking in the woods and seen various types of fungi growing on old logs, and from the branches of trees laying on the floor, but just what are the optimum growing conditions for edible mushrooms?

For father-of-six Mike, it began with the construction of a purpose-built growing shed in his garden. The shed is split into two sections - behind one door is a warm dark room, which encourages the first part of the growing process, while behind the other, it is a much cooler and more humid environment, where the mushrooms actually begin to grow and bear fruit.

However, the very first stage in the complicated process is when Mike injects mycelium (a mushroom fungus/spawn) into a bag of sterile rye grain, which then begins a process of re-generation, which grows and grows, and as Mike tells me, just one tiny syringe of mycelium can produce up to 50 kilograms of mushrooms.

After a couple of weeks, the mycelium populated grain is transferred to larger grow bags, where - in the case of grey oysters - it is mixed with straw and recycled coffee grounds; and this is where the eco-friendly side of the business model begins to rear its head.

Mike explains: "We actually get our used coffee grounds from the Costa in Mold town centre, so rather than it going in landfill, it's used for growing mushrooms.

"They will typically have about 20 kilograms of ground coffee waste a day, which is bagged and ultimately intended for landfill, but they let me have it instead. And the best thing about ground coffee waste is that as long as we use it within 24 hours, it is completely sterile due to the boiling water use during the coffee making process."

Despite there being almost an endless variety of mushrooms, for Mike, it is still very much a learning curve about having the correct, ambient conditions which enable them all to grow.

He adds: "It's just constant learning. I've just grown a load of shiitake for well known Holywell chef, Chad Hughes, and we've got plans to do a promo video together to demonstrate to people how they can make best use of gourmet mushrooms.

"We're trying to encourage and educate people to understand the health benefits but also enjoy eating them, because if you don't cook them right, you're not going to appreciate how nice they really are.

"In the past you'd only ever be able to experience gourmet mushrooms in plush restaurants in the big cities, whereas now, if you like, we're bringing mushrooms to the masses.

"I was quite surprised at the interest people have in them, because I thought it might just be restaurants buying them, but it's not."

For Mike, who sells his mushrooms twice a week at Mold market, the concept has been incredibly rewarding and has also seemingly struck a chord with members of the public.

He said: "People seem to love the idea. When I go to markets, people come up to me and are genuinely fascinated and interested in what I'm doing.

"To go from being in a really stressful job last year, to doing this, and people really appreciating it, is just really overwhelming."

One of the other eco-friendly aspects of the process is after the blocks have produced their maximum amount of mushrooms, they are given to Flintshare, a local community-run social enterprise, who use them as compost across allotments they have situated at three sites across the county.

And for those wishing to grow their own at home, Mike even makes kits that allow people to do just that. Made from locally sourced reclaimed timber and slate.

Mike said: "People's perceptions of grow kits are generally of the old style ones that you'd just put in the back of the airing cupboard and you'd never get anything from.

"With these kits, you just simply put them on a window sill and they grow. It's exactly the same process as what's involved in when I grow the main bags, except it's on a smaller scale."

Within two weeks, people can usually begin to pick their mushrooms, and the blocks can be used again, with a maximum of three grows of the edible fungi generally expected.

He said: "We encourage people to keep the box and the single version of it was purposely made to appear like a bird box, so when they've finished growing mushrooms, if people don't want to buy a re-fill, they can put it outside as a bird or bug box. People seem to like that concept as they're not generating rubbish."

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