Name: Capel Mushrooms
Where: Capel St. Mary, Suffolk
Produce you might find in your box: white mushrooms, brown mushrooms, flat mushrooms
If there has been one constant in the history of our business it has been with mushrooms. Since day one we have always had Capel Mushrooms for the boxes. With a bag of mushrooms going into virtually every box thats an awful lot of mushrooms over the years. In fact, my own personal knowledge of Capel mushrooms goes back even further to when I was a young boy as my uncle, Robert Wilden (of Springhill Lamb and Mutton fame) used to rent a cottage on Churchford Grange Farm, where Capel mushrooms is based.Capel Mushrooms is very much a family run business. It was initially set up by Peter Hearne, a world war two fighter pilot who was decorated with the DFC, when he purchased Churchford Grange in 1962. With seven children and an eighth on the way Peter had a ready made workforce and sons Damian and Gregory in particular were drafted in to help during the farm's formative years. In 1975 Peter purchased a second site, in Trimley St. Mary and then in 1982 came the defining decision to convert the farms to organic production. In all likelihood this makes them the first organic mushroom farm in the UK.
Today Damian and sister Niki have taken on the running of the farm along with younger brother Patrick, (pictured below), who has featured on Ready Steady Cook and Jimmy's Food Factory. The third generation of the Hearne family is also, now involved, with Gregory's daughter Fay (pictured on the front cover) working at the Trimley site.
The mushrooms that we eat are actually just the spawning heads of a much larger organism beneath the surface. The mycellium grows through a layer of compost. The growing environment for mushrooms is dark, humid tunnels in which the atmosphere can be controlled
and changed at different stages of the growing cycle. These are filled with rows of frames which contain the compost in which the mushrooms grow. The growing cycle takes eight weeks, and each of the farms has eight growing tunnels operating in a rotation to ensure a continuous crop. Farmed mushrooms are constantly under threat from diseases such as dry bubble, mycogone and cobweb and pests like mushroom fly. Being organic means that Capel mushrooms do not have the option of using pesticides or fungicides to control them. The growing system employed at Capel mushrooms was actually developed by Peter. The crop is transferred into the tunnels after the spawning cycle to help prevent the incidence of disease in the tunnels. When each tunnel has finished cropping it, and the frames, will be thoroughly steam cleaned. Non organic mushrooms will also routinely be sprayed with chlorine a day or two before picking. This is to make them appear whiter and extend their shelf life. Naturally, this is not done at Capel.
Capel mushrooms are particularly proud of their compost making facility, as most mushroom farms will buy in ready made compost. The base material is wheat straw which, of course, must come from organically grown wheat. At the end of the mushroom cropping cycle most of the spent mushroom compost is sent to nearby Home Farm at
Nacton, who also supply our box scheme with vegetables. What a fantastic, working example of the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle. Incidently, another destination for the mushroom compost from Capel mushrooms is Jamie Oliver's kitchen garden.