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The Elusive Morel

| 5/4/2017 12:51:00 PM

Country MoonHere in the Midwest it is mushroom season again, and many of us spend any free minutes we have hunting those elusive morels. Those earthy, nutty, and steak-like-flavored morsels of fungus that, just when you think you have figured out how and when they like to grow, change it up on you. It’s either too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, or too something. Although they are found in all 50 states, we Midwesterners claim the hotspot for them.

Morels are persnickety little creatures that like conditions just right, which brings up the question: “Can they be grown in controlled conditions?” The answer is “Yes,” although it can be a complicated process. The instructions for growing them are pretty simple, but the failure rate is high. Before even attempting to cultivate them, there are a few general things that are good to know whether you are growing or hunting them.

Temperature is a big factor. They like temps around 60 degrees F or warmer during the day and around 40 F at night, keeping the soil temperature between 45 F and 50 F. After a good warm rain is one of the best times to seek them out.

Knowing the lay of the land will also give you an advantage. They seem to prefer loamy soil, like creek bottoms, that are well drained and moist but not wet. A good mix of clay and sand with some decaying matter is ideal. A little calcium or lime is an added bonus. Back to the persnickety part: Even though these conditions are ideal, they can also be found in gravel.

Disturbed ground is also a good place to find them, places like burn sites, logging areas, and on ground that has been ravaged by wildfires. The site Global Incident Map tracks current and past eroded areas that have been torn up by large equipment, logging machinery, and flooded areas. It may be worth the effort to check this out and get a jump over those that are headed out “cold turkey.”

Knowing the different species of trees will also give you a huge advantage. Morels can be tree huggers, literally. They like to hang around elm, ash, poplar, and apple trees. Whether these trees are living, dead, or dying, they are always a good bet to find morels. But then again, morels are finicky, so they have also been found under pine trees. Generally they show up wherever they show up. Because of all these variables, there are basically two kinds of morel hunters; one type scans the ground for morels, and the other type scans the forest for certain types of trees. Either way can be a gamble.

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