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White Morel, Morchella esculentes
Photo © 2004 Jim Jung. All rights reserved

Growing Morels

Morchella spp

If you're interested in do-it-yourself mushroom cultivation here's how to get started:

Get a pressure cooker, some canning jars and lids, brown rice and a stove. Cook the brown rice according to the directions given on the package but cut the cooking time by two thirds. Take your undercooked rice, fill the sterile canning jars about two thirds full and pressure cook these for 20-30 minutes at 15 pound pressure. Once out of the pressure cooker make certain the lids have seated and sealed and tighten the rings. Assuming that you did everything right you now have several jars of sterile substrate on which to start your mushrooms.

Next procure a mushroom of the species you intend to cultivate and swab the outside lightly with alcohol. With a sharp, sterilized blade cut into the mushroom and remove bits of mushroom flesh don't touch them with anything but the sterile knife! and transfer these bits to several of the jars of rice you prepared earlier, after which seal the jars up again.

Keep an eye on your jars after the transfer if anything but fuzzy white threads begin to grow your batch is infected with mold. Find a patch of pure white mycelium and transfer it to another jar of sterile rice. Keep doing this until you get a pure culture. This is your starter kit your mushroom spawn.

With it you can – hopefully – innoculate all sorts of media to get your mushroom garden going. And while each mushroom species has different preferences as to what they like to grow on (as the next few entries will show) all species can be initially cultured this way preparatory to actual cultivation.

Planting the Morels

Morels, while delicious, delectable, and probably the most desirable mushroom to grow at home are also the most difficult. I wish that I had a sure-fire method to pass on to you but, alas, Morels remain even more elusive in cultivation than they are in the wild. Still there are methods and techniques that sometimes under some circumstances produce a home Morel patch.

Commercial production of Morels using a patented process began about ten years ago and while they're available occasionally in supermarket produce sections they're very expensive. Worse, the method used to produce these mushrooms as revealed in the patent only works, apparently, for the patent holder. No one else has been able to duplicate morel production using the technique that was patented.

So that leaves us, the home growers, with the By-Guess-and-By-Gosh method of Morel cultivation. Which means that in practice it works sometimes and sometimes it doesn't. But for what it's worth I'll give you a process that has given some people a successful, personal Morel patch. Supposedly this method works best when used on a burn site so if you have one you're ahead of the game.

First till the site thoroughly, incorporating as much charcoal and partially burned wood as possible into the soil. Once the soil in your patch is thoroughly pulverized add your Morel spawn use about five gallons of spawn to 100 square feet of patch scattering it as evenly as possible over the surface. Better results have been claimed when apple pomice (the remains of cider making) or apple sauce is added. You can also add activated charcoal and wood ash (particularly if you're not using a burn site) and/or lime as well.

Once everything is evenly spread, turn the soil again and thoroughly incorporate it all into the soil. Then say a prayer perhaps, cross your fingers and keep the soil moist while you wait to see if your effort will bear fruit.

Fall planting seems to produce better results probably because the cooler temperatures and generally wetter conditions avoid the dryness and heat of summer that spring plantings entail. Fall plantings also give quicker results in some cases Morels appeared the spring following the fall planting. But if your patch doesn't produce mushrooms the first season don't despair. It sometimes takes two years before the first morels appear.

Of course it could be that nothing appears in which case you need to find another location and try again. This is not a fail safe operation. After all, one of America's foremost mushroom cultivators, after years of experiments and controlled tests, has concluded that Morels grow wherever they damn well please!

But I'm convinced that just a very few conditions are critical to successful Morel cultivation. It's just that no one has any idea what they are. So if you're temperamentally suited to long term results and also like quests then this problem is for you because who ever cracks the secret of consistent morel production will become rich beyond the dreams of avarice.

Good luck!

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The information on this page is tailored to Southern Illinois, Southwest Indiana, Western Kentucky, and Southeast Missouri

Copyright © 2004 Jim Jung