Morel mushrooms are prized for their distinctive, meaty flavor. Unlike more common varieties, however, morels are rarely farmed. Instead, hunters spend many hours foraging for these treasures in the wild. These beauties can be difficult to identify in the woods, as their netted brown caps camouflage against the woodland floor, blending in with leaves and decaying pieces of wood. Fortunately, growing morel mushrooms at home is also an option!
While there have been attempts to commercially farm morels, we have yet to work out a reliable method. This means that unlike other varieties such as oyster mushrooms, you won’t be able to purchase a morel mushroom growing kit.
However, growing morels at home is possible. It just takes a little bit of patience and the right conditions. If you’re interested in growing morel mushrooms, this guide will explain everything that you need to know.
How to Identify Morel Mushrooms
Depending on the variety, morels come in colors ranging from grey to blonde or apricot. Some are bulbous, while others are oblong. They also vary greatly in size, so some morels are as small as a fingertip while others are the size of your hand. The stems of the mushrooms also vary in length.
Despite this great variety, morel mushrooms do have a number of identifiable features. The most distinctive is their honeycomb-like exterior. These honeycombs can be loosely or tightly packed together, forming an imperfect pattern.
Morel interiors are white and hollow, with a faint goosebump-like texture visible on closer inspection. This hollow interior is a key feature of the morel, helping us to reliably tell it apart from false morels. Another identifying feature is that the base of the mushroom’s cap runs seamlessly into the pale stem. In contrast, the false morel’s cap will hang freely.
The true morel cap is covered in ridges or pits. This is a distinctive difference when placed alongside the wavy or lobed caps of false morels. Finally, false morel caps can be irregular in shape, looking almost squashed. In contrast, the morel mushroom cap has a uniform shape. The cap is often longer than the stem of the mushroom, but this isn’t always the case.
If you intend to go looking for wild growing morel mushrooms it is vital that you can tell them apart from false morels. Consuming large amounts of false morels can make you seriously ill. If you’ve never foraged for mushrooms before, go with someone who is experienced first. They’ll help you to safely identify which mushrooms can be picked and which should be left alone.
Varieties of Morel Mushrooms
There are a few different edible morel mushrooms. All look and taste similar and share common growing requirements.
Black Morel (Morchella elata) is the earliest variety to emerge. This variety usually grows in large colonies near ash trees.
Common Morel (Morchella esculenta) sprouts a couple of weeks after Black Morels. Also known as the Yellow Morel or the Sponge Morel. Unlike Black Morels, Common Morels sprout individually or in small groups.
Late Morel (Morchella deliciosa) is the latest-sprouting variety. They are small in size and infrequent in growth habit.
As we have already noted, growing morel mushroom kits are not available. This means that the variety of morel mushroom that you decide to grow will depend on what you can aquire.
Remember, growing morel mushrooms is a tricky process that takes time and patience. It can also take a few attempts before you’re successful. Your chosen location, the growing and weather conditions and a number of other small factors can all affect how successful your attempts at growing morel mushrooms will be. If you have the space, try growing a couple of different varieties to see which ones are most successful for you.
The Ideal Conditions for Growing Morel Mushrooms
For the best chances of successfully growing morel mushrooms, you’ll need to replicate their preferred growing conditions. These fungi grow in forested areas throughout the Northern hemisphere. As a result, growers in USDA zones 4-9 will have the most success with them.
A key part of growing morel mushrooms is identifying the perfect location. In the wild, morel mushrooms grow in forested or wooded areas.
If you don’t have your own forest, try growing morel mushrooms underneath trees or woody plants.
Morel mushrooms do best in a loamy soil. This is the reason that they are often found growing near dead or decaying trees. Dying trees release nutrients that help to create a loamy soil.
There are a number of natural mulches you can use to turn soil loamy. Dead leafs, sand wood chips, and wood ash can all help to create the ideal conditions.
Morel mushrooms dislike direct, intense light. Instead, grow them in shady or partial sun areas. In the wild, you’ll often find morels growing beneath—or near—deciduous trees such as oak, elm, or ash.
These fungi usually emerge as the deciduous trees’ leaves form, fully emerging before they’re fully open. The position of morel mushrooms and the timing of their emergence allows them to take full advantage of the filtered light that these trees provide.
Unlike plants, fungi don’t produce chlorophyll. This means that the light isn’t necessary for growing morel mushrooms: it simply helps to warm the soil. Try growing mushrooms under any deciduous plants such as jasmine or crab apple trees.
Healthy growing morel mushrooms require regular moisture. In addition, watering with rainwater is preferable to using chlorinated water straight from the tap. If you’re unsure whether to water, remember that the area around the morel mushrooms should be about as moist as a wrung-out sponge.
As we’ve already noted, morels like loamy soil. Enriching the soil with leaf mold, wood ash, well-aged manure, or compost can help to create these conditions. After all, growing in a rich, loamy soil will help to encourage the growing process.
Temperature and Humidity
Growing morel mushrooms like cool, moist conditions. The mild days of spring, when temperatures reach about 60𝇈F, falling to 40𝇈F in the evenings, is ideal. When the weather becomes warmer and drier the growing morel mushrooms will be quicker to wither away.
Harvesting and Propagating Morel Mushroom Spores
Every morel mushroom contains thousands of microscopic spores. Each of these spores is harvestable. If propagated correctly, each spore will grown into a new morel mushroom.
In nature, these spores are spread on the breeze. Only the spores that land in the ideal growing conditions will grow to maturity. This means that many spores are wasted. This unreliable method of propagation is one of the reasons morel mushrooms are so difficult to find.
If you wish to start growing your own, the first step is to capture as many of these spores as possible. The easiest way to do this is in a slurry.
Capturing Mushroom Spores
Freshly picked morel mushrooms will contain more spores. Older or store purchased mushrooms are less viable, but you can try harvesting their spores if you wish. As mentioned earlier, if you’ve never gone mushroom hunting before, go with an experienced hunter first. You don’t want to end up poisoning yourself.
Once you have a fresh morel mushroom, soak it overnight in a bucket of distilled water. This turns the water into slurry.
Spreading the Slurry
You should already have area ideal for growing morel mushrooms identified and prepared.
Spread the slurry this area. With the proper care and attention you can encourage the slurry to begin the process of slowly gathering nutrients from the soil. If successful, this will lead to mycelium forming.
Mycelium is the vegatative part of the fungus. It usually takes the form of a thin, white netting or web that covers the substrate. From here, the mycelium will continue to absorb nutrients and grow into morel mushrooms. This will eventually lead to fruiting.
Depending on the variety and growing conditions, this process can take some time. In fact, it may be between 3 to 5 years before you’re harvesting your own morels.
Harvesting Morel Mushrooms
Unlike fruit or vegetables, morel mushrooms don’t need to reach a set size before they’re ripe.
They don’t lose their flavor or tenderness the older they become, either. However, the longer you allow these mushrooms to remain on the ground, the chances of damage, either from weather or animals, increases.
To harvest a morel mushroom cut it as close to the ground as possible. You can also pinch them out. Placing the picked mushrooms in a mesh bag allows the spores to naturally fall back into the soil.
Storing Morel Mushrooms
Morel mushrooms taste best fresh, but you can keep the mushrooms between moist paper towels to safely store them in a refrigerator for up to a week.
Growing morel mushrooms can be a difficult process—one that isn’t helped by their unpredictable growing habits. That said, with a bit of patience and the right conditions, you’ll eventually be rewarded with your own crop of great tasting, morels.