The ecology of paper mill by-product and its evaluation as a casing medium in the culture of agaricus bisporus (Lange) Pilat
Effluent from pulp and paper production at the Kemsley mill of Bowaters U.K. Paper Company Limited passes through two treatment stages before its discharge into the Swale estuary. Suspended material removed during treatment is deposited on wasteground as a thin sludge. The solids it contains are mainly wood components lost during pulp production, whilst it also has a high salt content, derived from chemicals used in pulping processes. After deposition the sludge undergoes an ageing process during which it dries out and its salt content is reduced. This ageing can be reproduced and accelerated by improved drainage under controlled conditions. The paper mill sludge was investigated as a casing medium in the culture of Agaricus bisporus (Lange) Pilat, the cultivated mushroom. It was unsuitable up to one year from deposition due largely to the inhibitory effect of its salt content on fruiting. Material eighteen months or more in age gave yields comparable to standard peat casing. Before use as a casing the material must be shredded to a satisfactory structure, neutralised with chalk, and pasteurised to eliminate organisms harmful to the crop. The prepared medium has a high water holding capacity and a structure resilient to management procedures, important requirements of a good casing. A passive movement of salts from the compost to the casing was shown to occur during culture, capable of enhancing the natural decline in cropping if sufficiently great. The ions chloride, potassium, sodium and sulphate were shown to be responsible, their damaging effects being due to high conductivity created in the casing. Studies of elements available during culture suggested phosphate availability in the compost could limit crop potential, whilst iron released by mycelium of A.bisporus in the casing may be utilised by associated micro-organisms.