If you have eaten wild morel mushrooms, you will know what a very delicious delicacy they are. Those who grow these tasty fungi don’t tell their friends or neighbours about them lest they all come morel hunting! Unfortunately though, in any case, these mushrooms aren’t that easy to find and when you go to market, it’s not likely you will find morels either. If you are fortunate enough to find them, you will pay a lot to have them.

The good news, though, is that you can grow your own morel mushrooms, fresh and ready for you in the spring. It’s not a very easy process, but let’s learn how best we can grow them – you won’t be sorry.

Actually, growers, for a long time, haven’t known about the exact science of growing these specific mushrooms. They didn’t know what soil to plant them in or the care needed to grow them, let alone the right weather conditions to bring out their best. Ronald Owen of San Francisco successfully patented a growing process for morel mushrooms in 1982.

Today, more and more growers have started experimenting in their own backyards. In China, they have been so successful, that 6,000 have been seen to grow in just one acre of land.

Our suggestion to you is to start in a much smaller area, for instance like your backyard.

Planting morels

The planting is the hardest part. There are several options, but most people find that making a morsel surrey is the best way.

1. Decide where to grow your morels.

A good, easy choice is to plant the morels on the side of a dying tree – that might not be an option for you though. The space you select should be well shaded and receive not more than three hours of full sunlight during the day. Temperatures, ideally, should be in the 60s and 70s when you plant. Morels grow best in cooler weather, like going from winter to spring type weather.

2. Preparing the soil

Wherever you decide to plant your morels, you still need to prepare the soil properly. You can burn some wood chips to make ashes. Take some peat moss, some wood chips, as well as the ashes; mix them all up in equal amounts for a good mix to add to the soil. Then hoe up an area about 0.25 inches deep for whatever area you want to plant the mushrooms in. Many growers do well with an area covering four foot by four-foot square.

3. Making your morel growing kit

You can buy your morel growing kit, but it’s also easy to make your own at home, from morel mushrooms.

Here’s how

  • Boil up one gallon of filtered tap or distilled water. Don’t use unfiltered tap water as it contains too much chlorine for the morel mushrooms to grow.
  • Add one tablespoon of molasses to the water. This helps provide energy for the morels to grow. Also, add one-quarter teaspoon salt – this stops bacteria from forming.
  • Stir this mixture into the water, and then let it boil again. Allow the water to return to room temperature.
  • Now add the spore part of some of the morel mushrooms.
  • Put the mixture in some corner of your home, allowing it to stand for around 44 hours. After that, pour the mixture through cheesecloth and set the liquid aside.
  • Take this liquid to your prepared soil and pour the liquid over the peat moss mixture. Then cover the soil with around one-quarter inch of leaves.
  • Wait for your mushrooms to start growing.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Remember that growing morels can be a tricky business – the attempt might fail. After about 10 days if you don’t notice any morels growing, try again by repeating the whole process.

Growing the morels

Soon you are going to see a tiny and thin match-like stick poking out of the ground. After that, you will soon have a three-inch morel mushroom ready for harvesting. This can take around six days, so keep an eye on your patch of soil every day. If the soil seems dry, you can water it, otherwise, just leave it alone.

Harvesting the morels

Take a sharp knife and use this to cut the caps off the top of the mushrooms. A lot of people prefer to harvest caps when they are around three inches tall. Take a brush and remove any bugs and dirt off the mushrooms. After that, you can place them in a food container. Store in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.

Don’t wash the morel mushrooms until the day you want to use them. The moisture makes them deteriorate faster. Keep them lasting longer than three days by freezing them – although it’s not a good idea to freeze raw morels. Wash them before you freeze them. If you notice they are bigger than one-inch in diameter, then you can quarter them. Either blanch, steam, or sauté your mushrooms – this inactivates the enzymes.

You can also dry morel mushrooms. When you choose this method, make sure the mushrooms have less than 10% moisture content so that you discourage micro-organisms growing. A lot of the modern ovens don’t have temperatures under 140 degrees so it would a be a good idea if you have a dehydrator to dry the morels. Cut the mushrooms all to a uniform size – the dehydrator takes about 8-10 hours to dry the morels.

It will depend on the humidity in the air if you want to hang morel mushrooms out to dry. Use around 18-inch of string, threading the mushroom on very carefully – it can be difficult! In some climates it is difficult to get the water level in the mushrooms low enough to halt bacteria and microorganism growth.

Common problems

There are things that can go wrong with growing morel mushrooms. Let’s have a look:

• Lack of moisture, because morels need to grow in a moist environment.
• Too much moisture – when you allow the morels to stand in water, it creates mould and bacterial growth – this will no doubt prevent the morels from growing.
• Wrong temperature – morels need to grow in soil that is between 55 and 59 degrees.
• Contaminated spawn – if the spawn is contaminated, it is not likely to grow.

Some facts about morels

o If you are successful with the growing of morel mushrooms, you could make yourself some extra cash – often they sell for up to $50 a pound.
o Don’t eat morels raw – cook them first as this neutralizes any reaction you might have with eating them.
o Did you know that morel mushrooms are high in magnesium, fibre, and iron? They offer one of the highest protein sources for those who don’t eat meat.
o Watch how to grow morels here.

“A meal without mushrooms is like a day without rain” – John Cage