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The Lake News Online
  • All You Need to Know about Mushrooms

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  • I had been turkey hunting and got tired of it.  As much as I like sitting out in the woods, hiding behind a buckbrush thicket with my back up against a tree, attracting ticks while making a noise like a hen turkey, it gets old if you don’t hear any gobblers.  My feet get to urging the rest of my body to go with them to somewhere’s else.
    When I was a young turkey hunter I would have been excited about seeing a hen walk by. But now, if a big old gobbler walks by me without doing any gobbling to let me know he is coming to my call, I am terribly disappointed. I might actually kick a rock or two and utter obscenities beneath my breath as I carry him home over my shoulder, wondering if he was coming to my call or just out looking for a baby quail to eat.
    So that’s why I took off to hunt mushrooms at mid-morning a week ago.  I know of a place where a cedar tree grows up a few feet away from a big oak, and it is a spot I use as an indicator.  When they erupt from the leaf litter there, I know to start looking for mushrooms everywhere.  And that morning, as spring wildflowers colored the woodland floor and birds sang in the trees, there they were, morel mushrooms!  Little ones, medium ones and big ones, all scattered around that cedar in a 30-foot circle.  It had rained the night before, and I had a feeling it would be a good day for mushrooms.  Sometimes, that little indicator tree has ten or twelve mushrooms under it in mid-April, and sometimes it has 25 or 30, but they are always there, year after year.  This year, in about 15 minutes I picked up exactly 60.  
    As I did, I reflected on what I have learned about mushroom hunting over the years.  Now while turkey hunting is a pastime which boasts thousands of experts and professionals and authorities, mushroom hunting doesn’t have many. I myself have taken it upon myself to study the edible mushrooms of April and May, by roaming the woodlands and conducting experiments.  One experiment I have undertaken involves leaving a small mushroom and returning for several days to see if it has grown.  They never have, not one of them.  So here is absolute rule number one… morels do not grow after they have sprung up.  If they are born short, they stay short!  Then I decided to see if I left one to die and decay if another would pop up the next spring in it’s exact spot from its old roots.  That didn’t work either.  Another one or two stood up a foot or so one way or another, but none from the exact same spot.
    Page 2 of 3 - Then one spring I fixed up my sleeping bag under a really good tree and lay there with a lantern before me all night long, watching to see if I could catch a mushroom growing up in the darkness before the dawn.  I dozed off about three in the morning, and when I woke up an hour or so later, there were three or four mushrooms, looking at me, wondering how I got there.  So I am sure of this----all mushrooms grow up in total darkness, late in the night, and it doesn’t take long.
    The only other experiment I tried was to see if I could write in a newspaper column about how morel mushrooms grow from little tiny invisible seeds, and convince people that I had some to sell.  I offered mushroom seeds in sealed envelopes for a dollar per envelope and I got three orders.  All three were lawyers, so I kept their dollars and sent them sealed envelopes full of invisible seeds.
    In all seriousness, I can tell you this about mushrooms: there’s no certain species of tree under which you will find mushrooms. And there is no particular spot! They grow anywhere they want to, and if they don’t want to, they don’t.  One year there may be a hundred in a spot where you never see them ever again.  I have found them under every type of tree you can imagine, and under bushes, in buckbrush thickets and in grassy fields.  I have found them growing in fencerows, on top of rocks, in gravel bars and on sand bars.  
    A year or so ago, a friend and I found a couple of dozen under maple saplings along a river sand bar, and you couldn’t possibly get the sand out of them.  I washed and washed them and when I tried to eat them they were still full of sand.  I got sand in my teeth so bad I had to use a power washer to get it all out!
    Some people learn to spot mushrooms at a distance, and when you do, mushroom hunting is easy.  Don’t walk through the woods looking at the ground before you.  Go slowly and look at the base of trees several yards away.  You will see them sticking up easier a few yards away than right at your feet. You recognize them by the PATTERN of the morel body, against a background of similar color which has no similar pattern.    I know some people who tried and tried to be good mushroom finders, but never got the hang of it. I can’t figure out why.
    The key to finding mushrooms is walking and looking, sometimes for hours.  I have done that and not found a mushroom in the most sure-looking of places, only to find a whole colony of them in an unlikely spot.  Last year was the only year I have found great numbers in cedar glades where no other trees grew.  
    Page 3 of 3 - In forests, look for trees with roots coming up and running out away from the trunk.  Morels like those extended roots.  All the mushrooms I find in such places, around big trees with roots coming out like tentacles, look much happier than mushrooms I find in buckbrush thickets or on gravel bars.  But I can tell you this, if you just find some big woods or a wooded creek bottom somewhere, and you walk and walk this coming week, you will find mushrooms.
    There’s lots more advice I can give you about mushroom hunting, but there isn’t space here, so I will leave you with this solid advice.  If you know a good mushroom finder get him to take you with him.  If he won’t, try to follow him sometime when he goes looking for mushrooms, and sneak along in the woods behind him. Sneak one of your grandkids in his vehicle in the middle of the night if you have to, and let him report back to you about where he went.  
    I’ll have more next week, on mushrooms, crappie fishing and turkey hunting, so you will have an opportunity to learn more valuable outdoor information from somebody who surely didn’t get it from a book!  And if there are any lawyers reading this, I still have several envelopes full of morel seeds.
    Write to me at Box 22 Bolivar, Mo. 65613. You can email me at lightninridge@windstream.net

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