The true morel mushrooms, scientifically called Morchella esculenta, are famous for having a honeycomb aspect. They include a complex network of ridges, while the pits make up their cap. This species of mushrooms is very appreciated by chefs, especially in French dishes. They are quite complicated to grow, which led to the development of a huge industry in North America, for example. For this reason, today we will learn how to grow morel mushrooms and see different ways of doing it.
How to Grow Morel Mushrooms 101
Method #1: Grow Kit and Spawn
1. Buy a Grow Kit
One of the easiest ways to learn how to grow morel mushrooms is through the grow kit and spawn method. You simply need to buy some spawn, which is the mycelium, the vegetative growth on the plant, together with the area where it grew. You can find it available online as woodchips, sawdust, grain, etc. The material that is infused with mycelium should be used for creating a mushroom bed.
2. Create a Mushroom Bed
You should follow this step sometime between summer and autumn. Obviously, this applies to people who live in an area with an obvious change of seasons. Keep in mind that morel mushroom kits will not thrive in a tropical environment where there’s no real winter or spring.
3. Choose the Right Spot
The perfect spot if you want to know how to grow morel mushrooms is a shady one. Measure the dimensions and check if it’s right. Always check the instructions you get on the package, but generally, a square that measures 4×4 foot should be just fine.
4. Prepare the Soil
Ideally, you should use a sandy soil mix. Don’t use too much rock or clay, since you need to have an adequate drainage. Use a soil tester to see what type of soil you have. Go for a sandy soil with peat moss and gypsum added to it. Extra tip: add ashes from some burned wood to the soil. Morels usually appear after a forest fire takes place. As such, ashes bring some extra nutrients, simulating a natural habitat after a fire.
5. Plant the Spawn
Mix the morel spawn into the bed you prepared. Remember to respect the instructions on the package. The process is not complicated, you must spread it on the top layer. When you’re done, add some hardwood chips on the spawn bed. Morels grow naturally next to tulip, old apple, elm, and ash trees, so it’s recommended you choose chips from these species.
6. Wait for It to Grow
Perhaps the hardest part of knowing how to grow morel mushrooms is to wait until you can enjoy your own mushrooms. In general, the mycelium is a fast colonizer, but it’s still going to take a couple of years until it grows any product. Even though the next spring you see that nothing happens, keep maintaining the area nutritious and moist. If you’re lucky and provide the plant with the right morel mushroom growing conditions, you can enjoy them quite soon.
Method #2: The Spore Slurry Method
If you know how to hunt morel mushrooms, then you don’t need to buy a kit like the one we mentioned above. In this case, you should use the spore slurry method. You will need some wild morels to make the slurry. Make sure they are mature, but not rotting or mushy. You just need a couple of mushrooms for a gallon of water.
1. Prepare the Water
The water you need for the slurry should be non-chlorinated. Make sure it’s clean and place it in a food-safe container.
2. Add Salt and Molasses
Take a tablespoon of molasses and a pinch of salt and add them to the water. Stir it all well. The salt is used for preventing any bacterial growth, while molasses brings some sugars for the spores that are germinating.
3. Add Mushrooms
Add the mushrooms to the mixture and let everything sit for 1-2 days. Make sure the area where you leave it is a temperate one. Don’t leave it too much, otherwise, the mixture will be contaminated with bacteria.
4. Remove the Mushrooms
After 1-2 days, strain the water and remove the mushrooms. What’s left is a liquid that contains millions of spores. Spread this liquid over a bed that you previously prepared just like in the method #1. Alternatively, you can spread it in a natural habitat, such as next to an elm tree. You might like this because it’s simpler, but truth is that this method is not as reliable as the first one. This happens because the slurry doesn’t live as much as the mycelia in spawn, which means your chances decrease. However, since it’s cheap and easy, you can always try it.
Method #3: Inoculated Trees
Another method we suggest on how to grow morel mushrooms is to inoculate trees. We already mentioned that morels usually grow naturally next to certain trees. That’s why it’s good to inoculate their roots with morel mycelia. Here you have three options if you choose this method:
1. Use the Slurry Method
Prepare a morel slurry by following the method described above. Spread it around the base of an ash or an elm tree.
2. Infect the Tree
Take the roots of a young tree and “infect” them with some mushroom spawn. Choose a young ash, elm, or apple tree. Take the spawn from a kit like the one we talked about in the beginning. Plant both the spawn and the tree together. Make sure that the spawn is strewn through the tree roots. Next, simply take care of the tree in the normal way.
3. Buy Trees that Are Already Inoculated
If you look online, you will find plenty of baby trees that are already inoculated with morel spores or mycelia. You will also receive instructions on how to take care of them. If you follow them closely, in a couple of years you will have your own morel mushrooms.
Method #4: Growing Morel Mushrooms Indoors
We’re saving the best for last, which means we will deal now with the most difficult method to learn how to grow morel mushrooms. Growing them indoors is a hard process because the mushrooms have a fickle nature. Here you have the steps you need to take. However, if you try and fail, don’t be too disappointed since this method has a low rate of success.
1. Get Fresh Morels
The first thing you need to do is to get some fresh morels and keep them like that for as long as you can. For this, you need to store them in a bag or box in the field, then refrigerate them.
2. Take Out the Spores
Go to a clean area, such as a HEPA hood, and get a sterile paper clip. You can either sterilize it through heat or through alcohol. Take a mushroom that looks healthy and pierce it. Then, hang it by the paperclip and place it over a petri dish with an agar mix. Simply let it drip the spores onto the dish.
3. Wait for the Mycelial Strands
Cover and seal the plate and let it sit. If you notice moisture building up on the lid, you should invert it. Soon, the spores will start making the first mycelial strands on the agar. This can last from a couple of hours to a couple of days. Then, you will see a web formed by these strands.
4. Take the Strands Out
The strands on the edges are the most important since they spread out quickly. Now, you can either cut out sections and place them again in fresh agar, or you can place it in a grain media. The first option allows you to propagate the culture indefinitely, while the second lets you try and grow your own mushroom right away.
5. Place in Grain Media
For this step, you will need to get some rye grass seed, rapeseed, hemp seed, rice, or birdseed. Cover the grain with water and let them soak for 24 hours. Drain it and mix it with some potting soil (1 part potting soil to 5 grain).
6. Transfer the Mycelium
Finally, you will need to use a sterilized scalpel and transfer sections of mycelium to the mix. Use clean surfaces and sterilize the scalpel after each transfer. Shake them all together in a jar and store it in a cool dark place. After 4 – 6 weeks, you will notice some white strands of mycelium growing from the medium.
Of course, this is a simplified guide to how to grow morel mushrooms indoors. However, the entire process is much more complex, and you can find information about it in the specialty books or websites. Many people try to avoid this method, since it’s the most difficult, requiring plenty of time and money.
As you have seen, it’s not that easy to learn how to grow morel mushrooms on your own. There are various methods which you can adopt, but none of them guarantees a good result. Moreover, you will have to wait a few years before enjoying your own product. Despite all this, the taste of the mushrooms gets better when it’s accompanied by the satisfaction of having grown them yourself.
Image source: 1