Mushrooms come in all shades, from the beautiful and edible types to the odd-looking and poisonous…
Ah, morels… America’s most beloved mushroom. Sitting pretty at the top of the fungi hierarchy. Mysterious, elusive, and highly sought after. Sprouting in the forest in spring, like sunshine after a long winter.
A gourmet prize for those mucking about in the wild scouring the forest floor looking for these oblong- and sometimes bulbous-shaped beauties. A sight for sore eyes indeed.
Their attributes aren’t just superficial, either. Expensive as they are at $20 a pound, it’s no wonder they’re such rock stars in the food world. Perhaps it’s their nutty flavor that people fall in love with. Or maybe it’s their unique meaty flavor that has people foraging the ends of the earth (or backyard forest) hunting for them.
Maybe it’s their exotic brain-like appearance that mesmerizes people. Whatever the reasons, one thing is for sure: morels are in very short supply and high demand, and they cost a pretty penny too!
But what if you could delight in morel mushrooms without the hassle of having to hunt for them in the forest or pay a fortune in the store? That has piqued your interest, hasn’t it? Well, you’ve come to the right place.
Here’s the ultimate guide to growing morel mushrooms.
Growing Morel Mushrooms 101 – What You Need to Know
Morel mushrooms are classified as Fungi. They don’t belong to the Plantae kingdom. So, they don’t produce seeds, nor do they have roots. So frankly speaking, growing morel mushrooms is not an easy undertaking. If it were, then everyone would have them sprouting in their backyard.
But that is not to say it is impossible to grow morels. You only need to be patient, as it can take a couple of years for the morels to start growing. And you need to follow the morel-growing instructions carefully.
Morels have a very short growing period and only appear in the spring between March and May. When growing them, the idea is to replicate the conditions present in their natural habitat, which is where things can get a bit tricky if you don’t do it correctly.
Here’s what you need to know.
Wild morels grow around burned, decaying, and dead trees. Decaying trees usually release nutrients into the soil, which, when combined with the leaf litter, create the loamy fertile soil that these fungi thrive in.
So, to mirror these conditions in your backyard, some of the additives you’ll need to add to the soil include wood ash, wood chips, and sand. You can also enrich the soil using composted manure. Steer clear of using artificial fertilizers.
Wild morels grow with minimal sunlight, which is why you’re likely to find them in forest spots that have dim, filtered light. Also, if you think about it, they don’t need sunlight since they are not plants; this means that they don’t make chlorophyll.
The role of sunlight in the morel lifecycle has more to do with warming the soil rather than in aiding mushroom growth. Bear this in mind when finding a suitable spot to grow them.
Morels thrive in moisture-rich soil. You need to ensure that your cultivation area is kept moist, especially in the late Winter and Spring morel growing season. While you shouldn’t soak the soil with water, it should feel wet to the touch.
Avoid using chlorinated tap water. Instead, if you can, use well water, or capture and store rainwater in an underground tank or rain barrel to use for watering your morels.
Morels wither away in hot and dry weather conditions so you won’t have great luck in an arid climate. They grow best in the northern forested areas of the US and Europe. The best time to grow them is in the spring when the weather is moist and cool.
Optimum temperatures for morel growth are in the low 50°s F during the day and the mid 40°’s F at night. Cloudy overcast conditions with scattered rain significantly extend the growing and harvesting period.
How to Grow Morel Mushrooms
There are different techniques for growing morel mushrooms. The choice of one over the other ultimately boils down to experimentation to find out which one works well for you.
Here are two methods you can try.
1. The Growth Kit Method
This technique involves purchasing a growth kit which comes with spawn. The mushroom spawn will come in a block of special soil, or substrate. You will chop this up and spread it into your mushroom bed.
All you have to do is prepare your morel bed, making sure to mirror the ideal morel growing conditions described in the previous section. Most kits have enough spawn for a 4×4 ft—square bed.
Next, mix the spores and some hardwood chips (preferably from ash, elm, tulip, or old apple trees) into the prepared bed by spreading them through the top layer. Then wait for them to produce mushrooms.
It may take a couple of years, or even more for your morels to grow, so don’t be discouraged if nothing happens this spring or the next one. Continue to keep the area moist and exercise (a lot of) patience.
Morel Habitat Kit – Backyard Morel Mushroom Growing Kit by GMHP Gourmet Mushroom Products — This is the kit that I recommend. I planted my morel patch last fall with this one. It comes with good instructions and seems to have a pretty good grow rate, though I won’t know if mine is successful for another year or so.
2. The Spore Slurry Method
If you have top-notch morel mushroom hunting skills, you don’t need to purchase a growth kit. You can use the spore slurry method to grow them instead. Here’s how.
- Start by gathering some wild mature morels
- Add a tablespoon of molasses and a pinch of salt to a gallon of non-chlorinated water
- Next, add the mushrooms and let the mixture sit for about two days in a cool place
- Strain the mixture to remove the mushrooms. You’ll now have a liquid that contains millions of spores
- Spread the liquid evenly over a prepared bed or at the base of old decaying ash, elm, tulip, or mature apple trees. If you don’t have any of these types of trees growing in your yard, you can mix wood chips from these tree types into the soil before planting the mushrooms.
The purpose of the molasses is to provide sugars for the sprouting spores, whereas the salt is supposed to inhibit the growth of bacteria. Ensure that you use a food-safe container for the process. Don’t leave the wild morels soaked in the solution for longer than the recommended period; otherwise, they run the risk of bacterial contamination.
This method is by far the easiest and cheapest way to grow morels but has a lower probability of success compared to the growth kit method. You will have to wait a couple of years to see if your morels grow.
The Best Things Take Time
Successfully growing morel mushrooms requires patience and experimentation. The secret to success lies in maintaining an environment that’s conducive for your morels to thrive in. Have fun with it and don’t give up if you don’t see immediate results. Once your morels start growing in a couple of years, you’ll be glad that you never gave up.
In the meantime, please see our article about foraging for morels to learn where to find these delicious mushrooms in the forest!
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