New to the mushroom growing world and wondering how to grow morel mushrooms? Then you are in the right place. These mushrooms are not like others, and they are not very well understood. For the most part, morel mushrooms only grow in the wild. This means that growing them at home can be difficult, but it is not impossible.
What are morel mushrooms?
There are more than 70 species of morels, but you will likely only see the Black Morel (Morchella elata), the Common Morel (Morchella esculenta), and the Late Morel (Morchella deliciosa). The size and shape of these mushrooms make them almost invisible to the naked eye in the wild.
For morels to grow, it can take up to five years for the mycelium to appear. Once the mycelium is present, though, the mushrooms can appear in as little as six days. If you want this to happen at home, you will need to replicate the growing conditions that allow these mushrooms to grow in the wild.
Here are some ways to grow morel mushrooms at home:
Use a grow kit and the spawn method
One of the easiest ways to grow morel mushrooms is by using a grow kit. By now you may know that the mushroom spawn is the mycelium and the material in which it can grow. In some cases, spawn arrives in the form of sawdust, grain, or wood chips.
Once the material has been infused with the mycelium, this can be used to inoculate larger batches of substrate for the mushrooms to grow. However, it may not be easy to find spawn, unless you purchase a morel mushroom kit. Your kit comes with spawn or spores, and you can learn how to plant them.
While your kit must have specific instructions, you can always follow some of the following steps:
Start planting somewhere between summer and fall, as it gives your mushrooms time to grow. Keep in mind that morels typically come out around springtime, which is usually when hunters harvest them in the wild.
You will also want a spot in the shade to plant your mushroom bed. Most mushroom kits require a 4×4-foot spot, but you should follow specific directions. If you can, pick a spot near a tree, because morel mushrooms like to grow close to them. Also, for best results, go for a sandy soil mix.
Some growers prefer to add charcoal to the soil, because morels prefer scorched earth. The ash add nutrients to the soil, so using them increases your mushroom growth. If you can, try peat moss and gypsum. These two ingredients increase the size of the mushrooms, because of their calcium sulfate content.
Next, mix the morel spawn or spores into your prepared bed. Follow the instructions in your kit, including spreading the spawn over and through the outer layer of the bed. Try adding hardwood chips to finish off your bed. Since morels like ash or elm trees, wood chips from these trees work well and help motivate mushrooms to grow.
Waiting is probably the hardest part, because in some cases, the mushrooms take a few years to grow. Even though the mycelium colonizes quickly, you may need to wait for two years. However, once mushrooms do sprout, your mushroom garden continues to produce fruit for years to come.
As a tip, continue keeping the area moist according to your kit’s instructions. Even if nothing grows within a few seasons, it does not mean that your garden is ruined; it just may take a few more months.
Growing morels without a kit
Also try growing morels at home without a home growing kit. This method is called the spore slurry method. Use a solution of water, salt, some kind of sugar, and the morel spores. Suspend the spores in water and then use them to inoculate your chosen spot outside.
Keep in mind that to use this method you will need wild morels handy. Use mature mushrooms that aren’t mushy, wrinkly, soft, or rotting. Use a handful of mushrooms per gallon of water, but keep them in a bag in the fridge until ready to start the process to keep them fresh.
To begin, place clean, non-chlorinated water in a container. Add a bit of salt and a tablespoon of molasses. This sweetener provides enough sugar to nourish the germinating spores. The salt helps prevent bacterial growth, so use at least ¼ of a tablespoon.
Once your liquid mixture is ready, add morel mushrooms and cover the mixture for a couple of days in a room temperature area. Do not go beyond two days, as bacteria can begin growing quickly after that. You can then remove the mushrooms and you will have only spores left in the liquid.
Use this liquid full of spores to spread over the bed that you have created. Use a blend of sandy soil mixed with peat moss, ashes, and wood chips for your bed. If you have one, you can also use this liquid next to a dying elm tree, as morels grow in these habitats quickly.
Despite appearing to be an easy process, the slurry method is not necessarily reliable. This liquid is not as far along as the mycelium in spawn, so there is no real assurance that you will have something grow.
Still, the next step is the same: waiting. Give your bed enough nutrients and water, and wait to see if mushrooms begin to grow after a few months to a couple of years. Remember that with this method, mistakes are easier to make. There is never a guarantee like when you follow direct instructions from a growing kit.
Use a tree instead
If you are in an area near trees, this option can also work. Because morels grow near certain trees, some people like to inoculate the roots of these trees by using morel mycelia.
When doing this, the easiest way is to multiply your spores using the slurry spore method and spreading it all over the base of the elm or ash trees.
Alternatively, you can nurture a young tree by infecting the roots with mushroom spawn. Go for a very young elm, ash, or apple tree, and use the morel spawn from your mushroom kit. To do this, plant the tree and the spawn together, making sure the spawn is entangled throughout the roots. You will then have to care for this tree as you would any other young one.
Some people choose an easier route, but a more expensive one. You can also purchase an inoculated tree online. In this case, the baby trees tend to be inoculated with morel spores, or mycelia. You can find all the instructions along with the tree, and by following them carefully, your morel mushrooms will grow on the tree within a few years.
Grow your own mushrooms indoors
Not many can take care of a young tree for years to come. It is not an impossible task, although you can certainly try to grow morels indoors.
To safely do this, you will need to come up with a mixed soil that is 50% organic compost, 30% potting soil, 20% sand, and some lime that can help get the pH level to 7.2. Also, consider having wood chips or wood shavings from elm or ash trees. If not, fresh ash from these trees works too.
Start by placing the substrate in a pan. Take a clean cake pan and create some water-draining holes into the bottom. Place the substrate mix into the pan and mix in some morel mushroom spawn.
The morel incubation period should be started next. To do this, put the pan in a dark room where the temperature is never above 70 degrees F and 90% humidity. In about 4-6 weeks, the pan will have white mycelium and some brown-looking lumps on the top.
To promote a seasonal change like in the outside world, you will want to place the pan in the refrigerator at about 39 degrees F for two weeks. If you are using a cycle timer to give fresh air, you should do about four air exchanges per hour.
Finally, remove the morel mushroom pan from the fridge and place it in an area that is about 72 degrees F and 90% humidity so it can begin to fruit. You will want to use 12 hours of light and 12 hours of darkness. Your morel mushrooms should start growing within a week. Just like the step before, you will want to use a cycle timer for fresh air and do about four air exchanges per hour.
This method is not always easy, and it will not ensure that you have morels at home. Keep in mind that human error can occur at any point in the process, so make sure you pay attention to details and are extra careful.
Another indoor method
In 1982, Ronald D. Ower reported the first success growing morels inside. Since then, the process was patented. In this method, you will need to grow the morel mycelia from the spores or a small piece of mushroom on a nutritious agar media. You then transfer the mycelia into a sterile environment inside a spawn jar. This jar is sterilized with rye seed, or another grain of choice. The mycelia should colonize the jars in around two months, and you should see the sclerotia forming as brown lumps.
Finally, you should transfer the sclerotia from the grain spawn to a substrate of soil and wood chips. The sclerotia should fruit into morels under a controlled environment.
Keep in mind that this may be the hardest method, and it is not reliable at all.
Now that you know the methods, here are the conditions that make morels grow
Condition #1: Soil
As mentioned throughout the article, the soil is essential for morels to grow. These mushrooms like wood chips, wood ash, peat moss, and sand. You can use a mix of these in the soil you use for your bed at home. Pick wood chips from ash, elm, or apple trees.
Condition #2: Light
Morels grow under filtered light, particularly under trees like elm, ash, alder, oak, and apple. Because morels do not make chlorophyll, the light is only used in warming the soil, and not for mushroom growth.
Condition #3: Temperature
Morels grow better in cool and moist weather. This is why you can find them during the spring in the wild. These mushrooms grow best at a mild temperature, between 60-79 degrees F. Cool evenings around 40 degrees F and a bit of rain here, and there can also work wonders in the growing process.
Condition #3: Water
For morels to grow at home, you will need to keep the soil moist every day. Your morel growing spot needs to be watered, but preferably with rainwater and not chlorinated tap water.
Ready to grow some morels?
By now you may know that morels are not easy mushrooms to grow at home. You can always try one of these methods and see the progress in a few years. There is never a guarantee, but if you are careful and attentive to details, you can care for your mushroom bed or growing area enough that it may produce morels someday.
Give it a go and have morels at home for years afterward! Coveted ingredients for all of us who know how healthy and beneficial mushrooms are. Morels are not any different, and in fact, they are often considered a luxury.