By Tom Nauman
The incoming mail from readers suggests it is time for a morel story. After all it is February, and those of you that are fortunate enough to head south could be finding some of them next month. Darrell Cox of the Champaign/Urbana area has found morels in Southern Illinois in February! Incidentally, Darrell sent me an article for a future story about truffle hunting dogs in Italy and the competition for truffles so fierce that some dogs are being poisoned by competitors.
In the last article I promised we would go morel hunting in this issue without leaving the living room. Actually, we're going to think about a new method of finding morel hunting sites.
I wish I could take credit for this technique, but all accolades should go to Tom Licavoli of Vassar, Michigan. Tom is the individual who developed the Morel Boosters Garden Kit and has forgotten more about morel mushrooms than most of the rest of us will ever know. He first explained the method to me in April of last year but with all the activities we are involved in with the Spring mushroom events, I did not have a chance to try the method until later. Upon entering the Southern Illinois area for the Mid-America Morel Mushroom Festival at Jonesboro his first stop was at the USDA Soil Conservation Service office. His mission was to acquire a Soil Survey of the county he planned to go morelling in.
The Soil Survey is available in book form and may or may not have a price tag. For my local area, the Putnam County, Illiniois book was free and the Marshall County, Illinois book cost $20.
Mr Licavoli's theory is fairly simple. On the premise that if you know the type of soil that the morels you find are growing in, there should be morels growing in other areas that have the same kind of soil. Once he finds the mushrooms in a new area, he checks for that same type of soil in his Soil Survey book. It may be a little more complicated than that. Tom thinks there is a relationship between the soil type and the plant vegetation it supports and the fungus types that the decaying vegetation supports.
I didn't get a chance to put this method into practice until I met Tom in Janesville, Wisconsin on May 31. We met at a restaurant on the edge of town and Tom had the Soil Survey book on the table with several areas highlighted in fluorescent yellow. He had permission to hunt from several landowners and, after finding some mushrooms at one area, had marked that soil type for the other areas. The results for the day were mentioned in the August '97 article. We found eight pounds in about five hours of hunting. Not bad for that late in the season.
I would tell you the soil types necessary, but each county names the soils differently. My suggestion is to get a book and check the soil type where you have found morels before. Then mark the areas with the same soil type for inspection this spring. Another suggestion, you may also want to get a plat book so you know the landowner(s) to call to get permission to hunt. Just tell them you want to check their soil types! (Just kidding, I doubt there are too many landowners that would mistake a bag of morels for a soil sample). The plat book will also help because it show landmarks and roads better than the Soil Survey Book. Let me know of your successes.
In other mushroom news, the Third Annual Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Championship in Magnolia will be held on Saturday, May 2, 1998. We do have a new hunt site this year and that's all that will be revealed about it at this time. We will have a limit on the number of contestants and there will be no walk-ons. If you wish to compete, you must be pre-registered. Entry forms will be mailed in late February to our entire mailing list. If you're not on it, contact us at the address below.
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.
The new Morel Mania catalog is available. To get one, phone or mail your address to us. Or, they're available at our booth at Crafter's Marketplace at Glen and University in Peoria.
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.