Also known as the sponge mushroom, morel mushrooms are a culinary delicacy found in the wild throughout many regions of the world. To successfully grow morel mushrooms rather than forage for them in the forest, gardeners will need to provide the morels with a specific growing environment. Morel spores or “seeds” are available from commercial companies generally in the form of a morel mushroom kit. The spores are spread in a prepared plot and cultivated after they appear in the springtime.
In the wild, morels seemingly appear from nowhere; however, there is reasoning behind their appearance in a particular location. Morels grow in areas surrounding specific types of trees including oak, apple, and elm trees. They will also appear in areas where there have been recent fires. For areas where this type of environment is not available, tree chips and ash are typically used to prepare a spawn bed for the morels.
Morel mushrooms grow in regions where there are specific changes of season from winter to spring. Unlike some other types of mushrooms, morels do not thrive in tropical regions or environments that have mild winters. To properly grow morel mushrooms, a plot should be prepared during the fall months to allow adequate time for their appearance in spring.
The spawn bed to grow morel mushrooms should be prepared in a shaded area with weeds, grass, and excess debris removed. Many commercial morel mushroom kits cover an area of approximately 16 square feet (2 square meters). Sandy, loose soil that is well-draining is preferred. Over the prepared soil, place a layer of wood ash and chips, preferably elm or oak chips. Scatter the morel mushroom spores over this layer, add an additional layer of wood chips over the spores, and water the plot thoroughly.
If the spores successfully take hold, gardeners may begin to see sprouts in spring. Only a few morels may produce the first year, with more appearing each year thereafter. When first starting to grow morel mushrooms, gardeners should not be discouraged should no morels sprout during the first season. It is common to not have any mushrooms produce during the first year or even in the first several years.
Although the steps to grow morel mushrooms seem effortless, the key to a successful harvest is providing the proper habitat. Mimicking their preferred environment, such as adding burnt oak or elm logs and the ash, will help to ensure the mushrooms growth. The preferred habitat is also dependent on the type of morel. Yellow morels tend to prefer deciduous trees such as ash and tulip trees, while black morels are more frequently found near oak trees. Black morels are also more commonly associated with habitats that have been burned.
For many gardeners, the time and patience involved growing morel mushrooms are worth the effort. In many regions, morels are considered gourmet mushrooms and used in various culinary recipes. Due to their low toxin levels, it is recommended to cook morel mushrooms before consuming and never eat them when raw.