Morel mushrooms have been a springtime treat from the woods for more than 100 years. Their tiny conical heads can be found near elm or apple trees or in the area of a recent forest fire. Because they grow for only a short time every spring and because they are such a culinary delicacy, several companies now sell morel spores (the "seeds" of the mushroom) to allow home gardeners to cultivate morels in their backyards. Although the preparation steps to grow morels at home are simple, the mushrooms themselves are not always reliable under cultivation, and yields are generally lower than other types of mushrooms. Many gardeners, however, feel that the reward is worth the effort.
Locate a suitable growing area for your morels. Morels prefer a shaded, sheltered location away from prevailing winds and foot traffic. The area should receive filtered sunlight only. The north side of most homes often provides the best opportunities for suitable growing areas. Soak the potential location for 15 minutes with a hose and make sure that the ground takes less than five minutes to drain the water completely. There should be no puddles after five minutes.
Prepare the growing bed by removing all debris such as rocks, sticks and weeds. Lightly rake the growing area to fluff up the soil. Add the composted manure and ash to a depth of two inches and rake flat, ensuring that the compost and soil are not compacted in the process.
Scatter the morel spores evenly over the growing bed. Follow the instructions that came with the spores to ensure the correct coverage. Do not cover the spores with soil and do not press the spores down into the soil.
Water the growing bed using a watering can with a fine pouring head. The bed should be completely moist but not soaking wet. Place the applewood or elm logs adjacent to the growing bed, nestling firmly into the soil.
Keep the soil moist at all times when natural rainfall is scarce. Remove any large sticks or other debris that accumulates over time on the bed.
Check for morel growth beginning after the last expected frost of the season. This can occur any time from February to May, depending where you are located in the country. Morels will poke through the ground and appear as small cones. Look for soil or dead leaves pushed up off of the surface. Harvest the morels when they are at least four inches tall by slicing the stem horizontally at the soil line. When all morels have been harvested, add a thin layer of composted manure and ash to the bed in preparation for the next year's crop. Once established, a morel bed will produce mushrooms for many years.
Things You Will Need
- Morel spores (available from specialty gardening stores or online suppliers)
- Composted and aged manure
- Ash from recently burned logs
- Applewood logs or elm logs
- Watch for and remove any wild mushrooms or fungi that may appear in the bed before they become established.
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