Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Indoor Morel Habitat

Today, my morel mushroom habitat kit arrived.  Morels are delicious wild mushrooms, and one of the fleeting joys of spring.  They look like a small sponge on a stick, and are hollow inside:

black morel, via Wikipedia
They are rather finicky about where they set up shop in the woods, but once found, a morel "spot" can last for years.  You just have to beat all of the other morel hunters to them.  As with all wild mushrooms, if you're not 100% positive of what you have, DO NOT eat it.  Every year, a handful of people die from eating poisonous wild mushrooms.  

This is also why I have decided to grow my own.  Growing up, I used to go mushroom foraging with my mom and aunts.  In the woods of New England, we'd forage for lion's mane, chicken of the woods, and chanterelles.  Every so often, someone would get lucky and find a morel.  Sadly,  I never quite picked up the skill of identifying the safe ones from the poisonous ones, even after reading a few books on the subject.  

After some searching on the internet, I found GMHP, the Gourmet Mushroom people.  I did some research, ordered a kit for about $35, and today, assembled my kit.  It can take a few years for this to start fruiting outside, but I'm hoping for ANY results in an indoor growing bed.

My research revealed that I would have to "grow" the morels in compost, but not manure.  I finally settled on organic earthworm castings which I picked up from Amazon.  I knew that the earthworm castings wouldn't have chunks of decomposing wood chips, which can be bad as far as mushroom growing goes.  Morels like pH neutral soil, at about a 7, leaning toward the "sweet" alkaline side of the pH spectrum.  Some wood chips can be acidic, like pine.  So, wood chips avoided successfully.  Next, the kit states to bury kitchen waste (coffee grounds, peelings and the like) in the soil every so often to introduce biological material to start to decompose.  This makes complete sense, as in the forest, leaf litter would cover the ground every so often.  I also ordered some mushroom substrate growing medium.  Essentially, this is organic rye flour mixed with minerals to keep it airy.  It isn't a necessary step, but I want my morel spawn to have a boost in the growth department.  Lastly, keep it in the shade (or with a maximum of a couple of hours of sunlight per day), and keep it moist.  Then, wait.

To make my kit, I recycled a plastic storage container that was just taking up space.  I poured the earthworm castings over some straw, mixed in the rye flour substrate, the coffee grounds from this morning, and some organic garden lime to boost the pH a bit.  Then I crumbled my "brick" of morel spawn (which looks like a moldy clump of dirt) over the whole mess, mixed it all in, then watered it.  It is sitting on the front porch at the moment, pretending that it is winter outside.  In a few days, I'll bring it back in, check on the moisture level, then keep it in the unused dining room/seed starting headquarters.  If nothing happens, I'm okay with that, since it can take a few years to fruit.  I might keep it in the workroom in the basement once fall hits, to mimic a mild winter.  It is cold in the basement, but not freezing... definitely around 40 degrees, though.  This is what the process looked like:

Bag o'castings, aka. earthworm poo

Rye flour substrate

Straw on top of castings

Morel spawn.  Those white mold-looking filaments are going to be mushrooms!

Mixed all together
I'm sure the day a mushroom starts sprouting, I'll be jumping about with glee, and taking photos of it like it's a newborn baby.  That might not be for quite some time, so I'll leave you with this quote, "Falling in love is like eating mushrooms; you never know it's the real thing until it's too late." -Bill Balance

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