Morel mushrooms are a culinary delight, though fresh ones are tricky to find and expensive to buy. That’s why many people consider growing their own morels to keep them in stock without the high price tag.
Unfortunately, these mushrooms aren’t the easiest to cultivate, so even experienced gardeners don’t have much success. If you can figure out how to grow morel mushrooms indoors you’ll have a steady supply to add to all your favorite dishes, but make no mistake, it won’t be easy. The following information can help you get started, though you should keep in mind that it may take a few tries before you succeed.
What Do Morel Mushrooms Need?
Like many other plants, morel mushrooms have specific care needs that need to be met for them to grow. In this case though, their care needs are extremely specific, and slight deviations from this can cause a failed crop. When growing them, you need to be very diligent and careful to provide the exact care they need. Otherwise, the plant is likely to die. It bears repeating, morel mushrooms are difficult to grow, so be prepared for a lot of work.
When growing morel mushrooms indoors, you need the right container to ensure they have the space they need to survive. Unlike traditional plants, mushrooms grow best in trays or pans instead of deep pots.
The best options for fruiting trays are metal pans or even an old cake pan that you’re no longer using. Be sure to sterilize your container with 5% bleach and rinse it well. You’ll also need to add some drainage holes before adding the soil to the pan to prevent overwatering and to give excess water a route to drain.
In its natural habitat, morel mushrooms grow near trees that have died or burned down. These decaying trees, combined with the leaves and other discarded plant life around them release nutrients to create the perfect loamy soil that morels love. When growing morel mushrooms indoors, you can replace the dead trees with wood chips, wood ash, sand, and peat moss. These additives ensure that the soil will give the morels the nourishment they need to thrive.
There are some existing mediums for growing mushrooms that you can purchase as well. You can use these, and supplement with the above as needed to create a good environment for your mushroom to grow from.
Unlike green plants, morel mushrooms don’t create chlorophyll, so they don’t need light to survive. This doesn’t mean that they should be kept in the dark, though. They grow in shady areas but do need the heat of the sun to warm the soil they’re growing in. When growing them indoors, you’ll need to place them beneath a grow light for 12 hours at a time, followed by 12 hours of darkness for the best results.
Morel mushrooms need a lot of moisture to survive, so it’s best to keep them well-watered. To be sure they’re getting the right amount, water them until the soil feels like a wrung-out sponge. The drainage holes in the trays also ensure they don’t get too waterlogged. Be sure to check the dampness of the soil each day and add more as needed to prevent the soil from drying out.
In the wild, morels do best during the cool, moist months of the year, which is why they thrive during the spring. When growing them indoors, the temperatures should be kept between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit. They also need at least 90% humidity to prevent the morels from withering and dying. You can check out some of our humidity boosting tips to help with this.
If you’re using the right soil and additives, you shouldn’t need to add fertilizer to keep the morels happy. Those additives can include compost, wood ash, or even composted manure. Adding these to the soil can give the mushrooms all the nutrients they need.
How to Grow Morel Mushrooms
Once you know the basics of what morel mushrooms need to survive, it’s time to try your hand at growing them indoors. You can purchase a morel mushroom kit, which includes spawn or spores and the instructions needed for growing them. This is the easiest way for beginners to get started with growing morels. For those who want to buy or pick their own mushrooms, we’ll discuss how to get the spores needed for this process.
Step 1 – Getting your spores
The easiest and quickest way to get spores from a mushroom is using the spore slurry method. First, boil clean, non-chlorinated or distilled water to remove any impurities. Let the water cool, then add a pinch of salt to prevent bacteria growth and a tablespoon of molasses to give the mushrooms some much-needed energy.
Add your mushrooms to the water, either left intact or broken up into pieces. Leave the mixture for a day or two, then strain it using a cheesecloth. The strained water will contain millions of morel mushroom spores for you to plant.
Step 2 – Prepare the tray
Clean and sterilize the metal trays, then add holes in the bottom for proper drainage. Mix 30% potting soil, 50% organic compost, and 20% sand together for the substrate. Add this substrate to the pan until it is about 2 inches high. Soak the substrate with water, then let it drain thoroughly.
Step 3 – Add the spore slurry
Once the tray and substrate are ready, it’s time to add the spores. Take the strained water that you prepared earlier and sprinkle it over the substrate. Then add another layer of compost that’s about ¼-inch thick. If you’ve purchased a spore kit, follow the directions on how to add them to the substrate.
Step 4 – Store the tray
Store your fruiting tray in a dark area of your home that has a temperature of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity levels of at least 90%. It may take between 4 to 6 weeks for you to notice mycelium or sclerotia poking up out of the substrate. When this happens, move the tray to a refrigerator with a temperature of 35-40 degrees Fahrenheit for about 2 weeks. This period of cold is important for stimulating further growth.
Then move the tray to its permanent location, with a temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit and back up to around 90% humidity. Use grow lights or natural sunlight to give the mushrooms 12 hours of light, followed by 12 hours of darkness. After another week, the stalks should begin to develop.
Step 5 – Harvest the morel mushrooms
Morels don’t have a specific size that they need to reach to be considered ripe. You can harvest them when they’re small or wait until they’ve matured to a larger size. Either way, they will still taste fantastic.
To harvest them, cut or pinch them off right above soil level to reduce the dirt you’ll have to wash off. Then cook and eat them right away or moisten two paper towels and place the mushrooms between them in the fridge. Don’t wait too long though, morels are best eaten within a few days of harvesting.
Things to Keep in Mind
It can be quite tricky to grow morel mushrooms, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see any progress with the first batch. Even seasoned gardeners may require several attempts before they actually see any mushrooms sprouting indoors. The process doesn’t seem too difficult, but even slight variations can prevent your mushrooms from sprouting.
If you do succeed, you can use the new mushrooms to propagate more morel batches to expand your little indoor garden. Use the slurry method we described above to get the new spores and grow even more mushrooms.
There are also a few varieties to choose from when growing morels. They all have similar tastes and appearance, plus they all require the same growing conditions, so you can pick any type you like or grow a few varieties. Some morels, like the black morel, grow in larger colonies and are bigger in size, so may be more worthwhile to try. The white morel is a late-season mushroom, though they are somewhat small and grow in smaller colonies, so may not be worth all of the work, especially for first-timers.
Growing Morel Mushrooms Indoors
Morel mushrooms are a challenging and labor intensive fungi to grow. Their very specific care needs means that only the most hardened of gardeners should attempt to grow them. Those that do, and succeed, will be rewarded with a delicious and nutritious mushroom that is prized around the world for its culinary uses.