The more rare an item, the more valuable it generally is perceived to be. This is true of both truffles and morels. Elusive and erratic in its growing patterns, the morel is North America’s most prized wild mushroom, with a fruiting season of less than a few weeks and such a finicky nature that it will only grow under optimum conditions in any season, and some years, not at all.
Dedicated morel hunters may find the evergreen-shaped treat growing in thick woods one year, or in open gravelly soil another, depending on soil temperature, light and moisture. To many, it seems as if the morel grows randomly, with no consistent environmental requirements. Some claim that morels grow only after Mothers Day (as if the little mushroom has its own calendar!), while others insist that it can sprout to full size in mere minutes.
I have harvested morels in April and in June, in the same spots in various years. There are, however, a few locations in which they seldom grow, including directly under spruce or fir (largely due to the harshness of the soil and lack of filtered sunlight. Similarly, they rarely are found in knotted, thick grass, and their own underground “root” network has difficulty wending among thick grass roots and compacted soils.
Morels propagate uniquely, via both a lattice of fibre underground and airborne spores. Even with these two “failsafes,” they do not produce fruits every year, waiting for optimum conditions to grow. Yet, they can survive the harshest winters of Canada and the wettest winter seasons in the northeastern USA alike. Morels have largely resisted domestication, in part due to the complexities involved in establishing morel colonies and maintaining (or, more properly, adjusting) the precise atmosphere and soil requirements that enable the mushroom to flourish.
Following is a description of the complex, sensitive process that is the most successful choice for reproducing morels.
Begin by inoculating, or introducing morel cultures to an agar plate. The agar plate is simply a sterilized glass or petri dish with a layer of agar jelly on it. Agar red bean jelly is available at most Asian food stores. The agar allows the fungi spores to grow. The dish, with the samples of morel fruit and spores is covered with plastic wrap, and placed in a darkened cool (but not cold) environment for several days. Soon you will see a network of mycelia (spider-like thin filaments) spreading across the dish. These are often rust or white in colour.
Now begins the real fun. Take some grass seed, such as annual rye, and soak in water for 24 hours, then drain and mix in a ratio of five parts rye to one part potting soil. Put 1 teaspoon of this mix in a 1 quart canning jar with a micro-porous lid and sterilize. Cool the unit and add a few pieces of the agar/mycelia mix to each jar and reseal. Cover, shake well and store in a room-temperature dark area for 4-6 weeks.
Now, the really tough part: getting the morels to produce.
Mix leaf mold or other rich coarse compost with 1/5 sand or porous fine gravel and 1/3 heavier black soil or potting soil. Balance Ph to 7.1-7.4 (using lime or commercial balance solution), add water to saturate, then heat to 160-180F for 20 minutes. Add to seedling trays that have been sterilized.
Carefully break apart the mycelia root networks from the grass seed spawn and add about a large handful of the morel fibres throughout the tray of soil substrate. Refrigerate for 30 days at 0-5 degrees C, and allow the mix to return to room temperature. Flood each tray gently with sterile water, let stand for 12-24 hours, then allow to drain slowly.
Place in a dark, slightly cooler (18-20C) area, with moderate air movement, for 7-10 days.
Small nodes of growth should occur. Before you begin celebrating, though, there is more work to do.
Now, keep the soil at 50-65% moisture, air humidity at 85-90%, air temperature to 22-24C and air movement to 6-8 exchanges per hour ( In open air, this would be a very mild breeze). Mimic spring daylight patterns, with light/dark periods of 12 hours each. After 5 days, reduce oil moisture to 50%, air temperature to 10-15C and humidity to 85%.
If you re truly masochistic, you will have enjoyed this humbling exercise, and, with a lot of luck, produced a few trays of morels. If you are typical, however, you will require numerous attempts and readjustments before you achieve success. Good luck with morel propagation, or, if you are like most of us, enjoy reading about how to grow your own morels, then head out into the woods and pick them in the wild. It is a lot easier!
Barter Best For Living Simply
3 years ago