6/3/2013 12:48:00 PM Publisher's Column
Morel crop presents
us a garden mystery
Melanie found our first morel mushroom Friday evening out by the clothesline. She was pretty excited as this was the first evidence that a project we started several years ago might be finally paying off. Without doing DNA testing, we may never know for sure, it is just possible the morels now growing in our yard came from spawn we planted several years ago.
A few years ago, someone patented a process for growing morels and began marketing the spawn with instructions on how to start your own morel garden. We have a dying elm tree in the yard, so I sent for a package of the spawn and worked up an area for the mycelium, which is the real mushroom, to begin growing. When the spawn arrived, I carefully followed the instructions for mixing with nutrients and soil, watering and waiting. The most critical part is the waiting, but anyone who hunts morels is used to waiting.
A couple years after planting the spawn, Mel spotted a solitary morel one spring about two years ago. Solitary morels are unusual. Usually, if there is one, there are plenty more. Since there was only the one and it was rather puny, we speculated that it might be from the spawn. We anticipated a bumper crop the next year but never saw any that spring.
This year, we hadn't even bothered to check the yard. I did head out to Oxbow and Wasioja looking, but didn't even think of looking in our morel garden. I found a few but nothing spectacular. Friday morning I had gotten up at 5 and gone out searching with no reward.
To be honest, I was more interested in getting the grass mowed than in searching through it for morels, at least until Mel found that one. After finding one, however, my heart was suddenly in the hunt.
What we call mushrooms are the fruit of the mushroom organism. The bulk of the organism is mycelium, a mass of fibrous material that permeates the medium within which the mushroom lives. Morels live in the ground but mushrooms live in trees and in a variety of other materials. When the mycelium is healthy and conditions are right, it sends up those delicious fruiting bodies we call mushrooms.
We are hoping that our planted morel spawn is responsible for the modestly generous crop we harvested this spring. At any rate, we have enjoyed a couple meals using the morels. Friday night we had pizza with chicken, bacon and morels. Saturday morning I made omelets. We dried the rest for future use. It is fun to think it may be the result of the our labor rather than just our luck. (I'm happy either way, though.)
There are several websites now that offer tracking information on when and where morels are being harvested. Real die hard morel aficionados can start in the south and follow the harvest north into Canada, if they have the time and money. If you are interested, try www.morels.com; www.morelhunters.com; or morelmushroomhunters.net.
I would love to have the time to take off early some spring and travel from Georgia to Maine following the morel season as it moves north. I may just add that to my list of reasons to consider retiring.
Meanwhile, if any of you see any unusual mushrooms, I am always interested in checking them out. Give me a call. Also, is there a local mushroom hunters organization? If you know of one, let me know.