Blog : mycology

Indoor Morel Cultivation

Indoor Morel Cultivation

I’ve recently identified with the tag of ‘citizen scientist’ – which I love.  It implies the science aspect but also that I am not trained and or have any higher educational background other than an associates degree.  I do what I do with the means I have in my best attempt to solve things related to the mycology field.

That being said I’ve studied in my own home built lab morel mushrooms for over 5 years.  Theory, test, waiting, results.  It’s quite simple – the hardest part is being wrong a lot and then continuing on.  I’ve been wrong in my theories and in some I’ve been right and use those tests results today for other fungi.

The morel itself poses a problem for indoor cultivation – it has 2 life cycles by which it passes its genetic code on.  The spore as most people know is the mushrooms ‘seed’ and morels have the ability to spore underground via their root structure ‘mycelium’ and or if the occasion arises to spore above ground via the mushroom we all see.

It has been the work of 5+ years to determine what about spring makes the morel switch from one method of life to the next.  Environmental?  Nutritional?  Is it paired another life cycle like a tree or plant?

Well after 5+ years I have my answer.  For the first time back in December I was able to grow morels in a sterilized container, indoors, from a single culture method.  I say ‘single culture’ because back in the 1980’s a few mycologists developed a method which required 2 stages of growth  and patented those ‘processes’ and now those processes are open since it’s been over 20 years.  The science required ‘transferring’ a growth of the morel to a nutrient poor media from which the morels would grow upon.

To be clear – my methods never required transfers and were grown from highly nutritious media.  This approach would make morel growing viable in all facilities because it is the classic ‘spawn to substrate to fruiting’ all done in a sterile enclosed container which is of course the rest of the mushroom growing world.

The photo below depicts one of the areas which we saw fruiting morels in a line.

Taking that same method I then applied it to agar media for further testing and sure enough I grew morels in a petri dish.  Confirming my science.  Agar if you don’t know is fairly simple media to be growing fungi on and most fungi like shiitake, maitake, and reishi won’t produce their caps/fruit on petri dishes.  But there they were – and a lot of them.

The most interesting factor was size.  The morels on the petri dish were considerably bigger which is slightly reverse of how I saw this going.  But it indicated that maybe size is not of nutrition but of growing conditions.  Mushroom farms call this ‘fruiting’.

Since morels come up where they want to and to this day have never been cultivated indoors like this testing fruiting conditions has been impossible.  But that’s where I’m at – to test fruiting conditions.  Fruiting conditions are tailored to each mushrooms from shiitake, maitake, and to reishi.  Everything comes into play such as light, temp, air, and maybe even water.  It’ll take a bit of time to dial in fruiting conditions even if we get it right because it may require specialized setups which dial in spring as re-creating spring isn’t easy.

The agar trials though reinforced my theory about morels.(right)  Standard size split plate agar with control added.  Morels can be seen fruiting in the center and a macro photo shows the stalks with caps forming.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That being said in the past 7 months I’ve now gone through possibly fruiting scenarios of which may dictate a morel creating itself – within about 2 or 3 other scenarios.  It’s actually really hard to create micro tests because industry doesn’t do micro testing so it’s taken some time to theory, create scenario, run test, and wait.

That fact that the morels self-fruited on 3 plates means the ’cause’ by which gets them to turn in to a mushroom should not be too complicated.

The amount of variables that can occur in a small petri dish are limited and currently I’ve gone through a considerable amount of those variables.

 

So for now my research is on going.

 

Updates: 10.26.19

It’s been almost a year since our first fruiting and I know far more than ever – we’ve successfully fruited morels again and are currently in full media trials which should end in full edible morels and of course the creation of the year round market of morel mushrooms.

Here are some more photos of the morels of course with watermarks.

 

Morels create themselves from single mycelium threads.
Morels(agar)
Morel macro(agar)

 

Spring means Morels.

Spring means Morels.

As a mushroom cultivator you get a lot of assumptions.  The first two you’ve just thought about it – funny mushrooms and pizza mushrooms.  No one ever says I grow tomatoes and someone think – oh do you now? With a hint hint nudge nudge kind of look on their face.

A few people will actually ask the question “can you grow morels” someone near by will respond “I thought you couldn’t grow morels?”.

My question back is – have you ever tried?

All along the ridges of the morel cap are the ‘sacs’ loaded with spores ready to be dispersed.

To cultivate mushrooms alone you need a pretty involved setup.  Hence why you don’t hear about this profession very often it does take a lot of dedication, mess ups, and assets.  I’ve been doing this now for over a year and a half and am still continually perfecting this all – and still not making any money from it.  Donations are welcome!

In my last blog I went over techniques we as cultivators use depending on the species on mushrooms and even if you want to talk basics we’re going to get into some serious home science courses and quite of a bit of intuitiveness.

I’ve never blogged about my morel experiments for a few reasons.   It’s a multi-billion industry for a few reasons so discretion and strict trade secret methods don’t come out.  But we can talk about some of the basics and some of my findings.

The real question would be have morels ever been grown indoors?  And yes, they have.  MSU was accredited with this feet of biological discovery but to this day the methods they used are not in place today for many reasons all of which I won’t state because those reasons I have not personally tested and no one backed educational outfit supports those theories.  But yes – morels have been cultivated indoors.  Oh by the way they patented their process so although you can read over their techniques – don’t copy.  Google Patent – Morel Mushrooms.

Even if morels were to be cultivated indoors it would still take people, like me, around the world starting up small farms to grow mushrooms of all sorts to bring you fresh mushrooms and better yet – fresh morels.  Mushrooms shelf life is quick – like 3-4 days quick.  There’s a technique I employ that allow my mushrooms to stay fresh for 2 weeks.  Maybe if I get a backer I can explore this technique(hint hint).

I have a consistent spot I they pot up and was lucky enough to find my smallest ever.

Back to morels so yes it’s been done but is not currently being done to my knowledge.  You can’t walk into any market in my hometown and find fresh morels and in fact Michigan my home state just made it illegal to even forage for morels to sell without a proper foragers license.

Morels in general.  Morels are part of a bigger family under the fungi family called Ascomycota.  Otherwise known as ‘sac fungi’ because their spores are contained in a sac-like structure.  Unlike shiitake spores which are designed to be released into the wind ‘sac fungi’ like morels eject their spores onto things using ‘turgor’ pressure which is a pressure built up inside the cellular walls.  Without getting really involved we’ll stop there.

Cross cut section of a morel mushroom. You can see just along the edging of the ridges the tiny black spores loaded.

Everyone has a story, a myth, and a way of finding morels.  It’s quite funny.  The morel is the tomato of mushrooms because everyone has a good way of growing a tomato and everyone has a good way of finding a morel.  Mostly people rely on their ‘spots’ which isn’t nearly as competitive as truffles but it’s right up there | Fun Fact?  Morels and Truffles are both in the Ascomycota family.  And they are both delicious so you probably knew that!

This is open knowledge so it’s safe to share but most people do not realize that since morels are in this category we are unfamiliar and a mushroom is a mushroom is a mushroom right? Wrong.  Very wrong.  Another trait of this family is they can produce spores, offspring, on their mycelium.  Why is this important?  Because the fruiting body, the morel, does not have to happen for morels to continue on their genome.  Hence why some years you get good or bad harvests because it does not have to happen. They are not bound by their fruiting body like other mushrooms such as Oysters, Shiitakes, Portobellas you name it – morels are structurally and sexually very different.  Remember in high school when you found out frogs could change sex?  The term asexual sounded weird, but it’s true morels can produce sexually(mushroom body) or asexual(spore on mycelium).

So I’ve been testing hundreds of theories and substrates against scientific findings, myths, known phenomena, and so forth and last June we struck the tiniest bit of gold.  To my knowledge the first ever – indoor sterilized, non-trasfered, morel mushroom.  It was tiny and I shoot myself for not having the proper camera to take it’s photo.  Still donations welcome to continue this expensive research.

This picture does not do it justice and do to the photo pixels on the web but if you can see the pale stalk/cap in the direct center and that is likely the worlds tiniest morel mushroom ever documented from a sterilized medium without transferring.   I say without transferring because part of MSU’s process involved a transfer and mine does not.  It is a sterilized medium, inoculated(seeded) with liquid culture, and allowed to grow and stay in the same jar unopened/sterile.  

Morel fruiting in a sterilized media – Copyright Midnight Harvest

 

I’ve been testing and testing and testing and I’ve learned so much about it’s mycelium structure and actually how to manipulate it to being a non-spore producing structure most recently. Tom Volk is a great mycologist and from his diagrams from the University of Wisconsin we see the actual life cycle as proposed by him.  Did you see the 3 areas of which morels don’t have to turn into a mushroom?  Me too.

Sclerotia, funny term, are a solid mass of mycelium according to the experts are made primary of calcium and if you take them out of a medium they are really hard and do have a crunch.  I’ve crushed them before.  If you go and see Tom Volk’s picture again you’ll notice there is no path to the morel without first going through the sclerotia.  Which is interesting to me because I would think this could be false – But I can’t prove that I have witnessed and cultured sclerotia – they are quite common to cultures.

The biggest hurdle is to how to essentially get mycelium out of those sclerotia and into fruiting a morel.  Well – we did that too.

Sclerotia are not hard to come by but there are some things that can induce their presence.  Sclerotia can grow in size and as well combine growths as I’ve personally seen in my own trials.  If you’ve still got Tom Volk’s diagram of the mushroom life cycle then up then you might be wondering why what after the sclerotia?  As I understand MSU success was based on sclerotia but they would culture them, remove them from the medium, and then transfer them to a new media.  Hence it being a ‘process patent’ because it was a process.  I’ve designed my own process that which does not require any removal and sparks mycelium to grow from the sclerotia.  Those brown nugget like objects are the sclerotia.

Now the biggest thing is what type of mycelium may come out?  Our trials generated 2 types of mycelium and we know this because we actually saw a difference.

Meet type 1 and type 2.

Asexual mycelium directly coming from sclerotia formations. Copyright Midnight Harvest
Sexual mycelium(non-spore producing) directly coming from sclerotia formations. Copyright Midnight Harvest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Side Note:  Not all morels produce sclerotia – I’ve worked with 4 different species, some produce a lot, some produce a little, and some don’t produce at all.  To some mycologists(a person who studies fungi) there are many species of morels but truly according to one of my books there are truly only 8 and even that can be broken down into sclerotia producing or not which is a big factor.)

We currently have 12 trials on going at this moment.  1 is keeping me on my toes because it is actually super white, slow moving, and does not look like anything I’ve seen.  But the morel I am testing is my own – I cloned it from the wild myself.  I’ve never tested it before in all my trials but it could be the same species that worked before back in June.  We have trials going indoors and trials outdoors both controlled and semi-controlled.

At the end of the day we have to ask are morel mushrooms environmentally triggered or nutritional or both?

I am continually doing the research and always running new trials at the start of next month.  For now – question everything my friends.

  • Matt Hall | Amateur Mycologist

 

 

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