Mushroom Hunting: Mushroom Propagation

By Tom Nauman

This month's column is a continuation of a previous column on the conserving and propagation of mushrooms suggested by Bob Heinek of New Carlisle, Indiana. Bob would also like me to address some common practices such as: mesh bags for collecting, throwing the wash water out in the back yard instead of down the sink, cutting the mushroom above ground level to prevent damage to the mycellium, and leaving one or two in a patch for "seed". The last column was completely devoted to the use of mesh bags because, in my opinion, it is one of the best methods available to make sure there will be mushrooms in the future.

I've had people tell me that disposing of the mushroom rinse water in their yard has produced mushrooms, I've also had people tell me they've been adhering to the practice for years with no results. I admit that I am one of the latter and have not seen any fruiting where I've dumped the rinse water. One of my problems is that I've not lived in any one residence for more that seven years and if any of my "plantings" were successful I might not have been there to witness it.

From what I've read, it may take from one to five years after the spore is "planted" for mushrooms to appear. If the spore and/or mycellium could survive up to five years of freezing and thawing, one must assume that they could probably survive indefinitely, so could it be longer than five years? On the other hand, mushrooms appear the next season in an area that has suffered a forest fire or burn. Commercial pickers in the Pacific Northwest only search in areas where there's been a forest fire. Therefore, the mushrooms fruit within a year of the burn. Whether the mycellium was there all along waiting for such a trauma to occur before fruiting or if the spore grew into the mycellium and the mycellium then fruited all in one year is a question I can't answer. So my answer is that I'll continue dumping the rinse water in a likely area. especially since I've had several people tell me it worked for them. Additionally, I suggest that you thatch the area with a leaf rake before and after disposing of the rinse water.

Cutting the mushrooms above ground is also a practice I believe in. The theory is that if you pull the "roots" with the mushroom you are breaking the hypha which carries nutrients to other mushrooms. It is easily compared to breaking the branch of an apple tree when you pick an apple. Other apples further out on the branch won't get needed nourishment from the tree and roots. There are those that disagree with me and maybe they are correct. I admit that I don't know.

One reason some hunters dig up the roots is to destroy any evidence that there were once mushrooms there. And, that if you leave just the stumps for another hunter to find, he or she will beat you to the spot next year. Do you really think that an experienced hunter won't notice the disturbed ground in an area where there should be mushrooms? If you're that worried about it, the best way I know of to disguise the area is to cut the mushroom and then cover the stump with leaves or dead grass.

Another reason to cut the mushroom above ground is too keep you bounty clean. Imagine going out to your garden to harvest fresh cabbage. When you get there don't just take the cabbage head, take the roots too, and all the dirt around them. Next, throw the cabbage (roots and dirt too) into a big bag. Then repeat the previous steps so that you end up with a big bag of cabbage, roots, and dirt. But that's okay because you'll separate the good from the bad back in the kitchen. I think you will have a hard time getting the cabbage clean. Morel mushrooms would be even harder.

One of the more famous mushroom tales is, "They weighed so much I could hardly carry them." Believe it or not, my arms have gotten tired carrying mushrooms. I can't waste any energy carrying the dirt too!

A good friend believes in the one-in-five rule. In other words, he leaves one for every five he picks. I'm sorry. I apologize. But I can't force myself to leave twenty percent of the mushrooms behind. It is probably a good practice but, I guess I just wasn't raised that way (we all have our faults). I figure that I miss a few anyway and those are my donation. What I do to make up for my transgressions is when I find a mushroom that is getting old and should still have some spores in it is to impale it on tree branch as high as I can reach so that the next wind might carry those spores further than if it were to stay on the ground. So the next time you see a morel out on a limb, you can figure it was me.

Thanks to Bob for his excellent questions. I hope this helps.

Incidentally, all previous articles can be viewed on our website in the information section.

Remember, whenever you want to try eating a mushroom you're not familiar with, check it in at least two field guides. If they say it's edible, try just a nibble, wait 24 hours, and if there are no ill effects then consume larger amounts. All past articles are available Please feel free to contact us with questions or comments. Especially if you have ideas or suggestions for future columns: Tom and Vicky Nauman, Morel Mania, RR1 - Box 42, Magnolia, IL 61336, Phone 309-364-3319, Fax 309-364-2960, Business Hours: 7:00 am. to 7:00 pm. CST. Monday through Saturday.