By Tom Nauman
The 2003 morel season is upon us, the first sightings reported were from California on January 17, followed by a report from Texas on March 12. You may follow the season at Morel Mania's Sightings page at http://www.morelmania.com/6Sightings/index.html.
The 11th annual Illinois State Morel Mushroom Hunting Championship and Spongy Fungi Festival will occur on the first weekend of May. Complete details on the Magnolia festival are at http://www.morelmania.com/2Championship/index.html.
Want to grow your own morels? There are several garden kits on the market that can work. We also know of many people that have successfully discarded there trimmings in the back yard to grow morels in subsequent years. We heard another technique this winter that sounds like it should work. In fact, it sounds so logical, I'm surprised I didn't think of it myself. We met Craig from Washburn, Illinois at the Peoria Fishing Show in January. He wouldn't tell us his last name because he didn't want anyone following him to his mushroom patches. He had several of his children with him and it was obvious that morel hunting was a frequent family activity as they were all very knowledgeable about "roons".
Craig said the he cuts a live elm tree into logs that are approximately four feet long. He then digs a trench in his garden deep enough so that the top of the log, when buried sideways, will be about one and a half inches underground. Before he covers the log he spreads his trimmings from cleaning morels on top of the log. According to Craig, morels will grow so that you can see exactly where the log is buried.
This is one I can and will try at home. Craig didn't say whether he waters the area or not, but I think it would help and non-chlorinated water would probably be best. It might also help to put organic waste (potato peels, apple peels, compost, etc.) in the mixture also. You could even use entire apples and potatoes. What's the price of fruit compared to having fresh morels? A word of caution, we actually tried a similar experiment several years ago where we planted morel mycelium growing on rotting potatoes that were buried on a piece of sterilized elm. Racoons and other woodland critters dug it up for the rotting potatoes.
Since Craig uses trimmings from fresh morels he has picked, planting would be done in spring. One could also purchase one of the garden kits on the market to obtain morel spores. Or, hold your morels in a mesh bag over the log and gently raise and lower the bottom of the bag so the spores would fall onto the log. Thanks Craig, we'll let you know if we have success.
I learned another technique for cleaning morels from Jim Thompson of Weldon. Jim says that after you think you have all the little bugs soaked out of a bowl of fresh morels, add one small drop of dish soap. According to Jim, you will be amazed at the number critters that will rise to the surface. Of course you still need to rinse the morels thoroughly to remove the soap. Jim prefers Dawn brand dish soap but thinks any brand would work. He also stressed that only a small drop was needed. Thanks Jim, we'll try this one too.
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 http://www.morelmania.com/5Mushrooms/index.html. 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, Tom@MorelMania.com.