Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Early Missouri Reports

I was going to post this one later but after seeing a recent comment on the last post saying it is just too cold, I figured I should get this out sooner than later.
Sightings of young black morels and even a few small grays are trickling in from southern MO on a lot of the morel reports boards all last week. Then on Monday, I get this from Tim down in Laclede County. He found a nice looking youngen coming up in the grass on Sunday. Thanks Tim for sharing your find. Also kudos on taking the paper like a good Show-Me hunter.
Laclede is only a few counties south of my own, Boone, along what I would call the southern edge of Mid-MO. I know it won't be long now for Columbia. A little warmer weather is all we need to get things a popping. By next weekend if you look hard enough or in the right spots, you should be able to find a few of these yourself.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Glory, Glory, Hallelujah - Fresh Morels in My Fridge

God blessed the Georgian woods (or at least parts of them from what I hear) and God bless camoshroomer for hunting them out and being kind enough to share a little bit of his glorious bounty with me. Very few hunters I know share their bounty like Camo does. A top-notch and very responsible hunter and that doesn't just apply to mushrooms. But enough accolades, Camo knows what a great guy he is.

Which is what had me hanging out at the thriving Columbia airport Sunday night after 9:00 pm waiting for Camo who had caught the last flight out of Memphis in his attempt to make it home (he almost didn't make it out of Hotlanta).

He arrived with one medium sized carry-on wheeled suit-case and an equally large duffle bag. Morel hunters who travel by air take note.
Being a true mushroom hunter, he didn't have any clothes, toiletries or anything like that. Both bags were full of more bags, each and every one full of morels . That other stuff can be got next year or mailed back. We all know what is the most precious cargo this time of year.

On the drive back home I couldn't help but to keep leaning over to grab the bag and open it up and take in a deep breath of that intoxicating aroma. There are very few things better than that first smell. To me that is the first smell of spring.

When I got home I quickly trimmed the largest three I could find and prepped them for the pan.

The aroma of them cooking in the butter for the first time is another first great smell of spring.

But smell them all you want, the real joy is in the eating. This was the first batch. I'll let you guess how many more I made.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow

Well, despite the forecast for only an inch to dusting of snow, the national weather service, in its infinite wisdom, is now saying some parts of Mid-MO could get as much as 5 inches of the white stuff before the night is over. Why didn't they just read the Farmer's Almanac which predicted one more significant snow sometime during the last week of March.

I have gotten a few questions about whether or not this snow will affect the morels, especially in light of the warm weather we had last week. But do not worry. Snow, in my opinion, right now is only a good thing. Actually, snow really isn't the problem. What would hurt morels is the cold that usually accompanies snow, like the hard freeze warning from 4 to 8 am on Sunday. If there were morels up, that would take them out for sure.

However, it is still very early in the season and the morels around here, if any have started forming primordia, are protected by leaf cover and now an insulating layer of snow. So snow is beneficial because it will keep the ground warmer than if it were directly exposed to the cold winds later tonight.

Also snow traps in the moisture. OK not the snow, but the cold holds this moisture and releases it at the same time as the ground is warming up and the mycelium and sclerotia need it most.

Over the past 15 years, since I really started paying attention to the winter weather in relation to morel seasons to come, I have noticed one pattern, some of the best seasons have been when we have had a lot of snow that winter. Normally a lot of snow would be about 25 to 30 inches during the season (Dec.-March). This year, at least in Columbia, we have had the second snowiest winter on record with just over 50 inches. If we get a full five inches of snow today, it would make it the snowiest winter on record since the late 1880's. If the past trend holds, we could be looking at a very good season.

This is a test of the morel blogging system

For those of you who subscribe and get these posts via email or other methods please ignore this one. I finally got one of them fancy smart phones. So I am testing out the blogging app to see if it works.

If this works, you can expect some live posts directly from the woods this year.

But so that is not a total waste of your time, here is a photo from a few years ago that I really like. I'm not sure why, perhaps it is something about the angle or the fact that these morels were connected at the stem but one was yellow and the other gray.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Money Shot

1 flight to GA + 2 hour drive to brothers + about 12 hours of hunting = 1250 morels and

3 Weeks Until We Hit Gold

Here are just a few photos from Camoshroomer. He has been out picking all day in the middle of Georgia and there is no telling when he will stop. This should be what we should be finding around here in 3 to 4 weeks - mainly nice sized yellows.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

2011 Georgia Morels! BEWARE feverish video (watch at your own risk)

If this doesn't get you in the mood to get out there or set your morel fever soaring, I don't know what will. This is how Camoshroomer's brother tortures him from the great southern state of Georgia.

Camoshroomer's torture will not last long, as I hear he has booked a flight for Friday. So more videos to follow this weekend. I only wish I could join him, but soon enough they will be here. Things are setting up nice for a perfect season.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More signs of morels to come

Camoshroomer sent me the first report of a local mid-MO false morel with this photo of a gyromitra caroliniana. This is what many people are referring to when they say they found "red" morels. Although many people do eat these, I do not recommend it. As I have said before, all false morels contain a toxic substance that is found in rocket fuel. Although most false morels, or the ones around here, seem to contain very little toxin, there is no way of knowing for sure. Also the toxin cannot be processed by your body so it stays in the liver and builds up over years. If someone were to die from this sort of toxic build up it would be recorded as liver failure and not mushroom poisoning. So people could be dying from eating false morels every year but it would not be recorded as such.

Some may argue that you can cook the toinxs out, but once again I follow the rule of 100% certainty. If there is ANY DOUBT, THROW IT OUT. And how can I be 100% certain that I boiled out all of the toxins in a mushroom? I can't so I'll just wait for the real thing. Alright I'll get off my soapbox.

There are a lot of other signs of spring that send people out looking for morels. Some use the size of leaves, such as it is time to go looking when the oak leaves are the size of a squirrels ear. These are often easy to remember but not necessarily good to rely on for tried and true harbingers. For example, in 2007 we had a late freeze that came through and killed all of the leaf growth on the trees. The next year in 2008, the trees were very slow to leaf out and I was finding nice sized yellows while the oaks were still only budding. Those who waited on the size of leaves missed out on some nice harvests. Luckily 2008 was a really good year for morels in Mid-MO, so even those that got out late could find a nice mess.

I tend to use signs that I can see in my yard. I live in a neighborhood but it is out in the country so those of you in larger towns and cities will see these signs sooner than I. The first is my forsythia bushes. They have already started to blossom, but I usually don't start finding morels until all the branches are showing.

Also, the age old reliance on dandelions has served me well the past 5 years. Every time I see that first dandelion in my yard, I can find my first morels in the woods.

Now please take all of this with a grain of salt. These are my rules and there is something to be said about what they call self-fulfilling prophecies. Maybe I just look a lot harder once I see that dandelion blooming in my yard. No matter what the truth is, this is what works for me and my areas. And that is the trick to these elusive morels. You must learn the rules for your area. They vary from region to region and sometimes even from year to year, that is the game. You must puzzle out what rules are in effect this year and then get to picking while the picking is good.

If you do research online, you can come up with hundreds of signs that people use to mark the time to hunt. If you have time, I would love to hear some of your signs.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

An Early Sign of Morels and Hot Spotting

I was over in Lawrence on Thursday visiting with fellow hunters KawRyan and Morelin from morelhunters.com. The southern winds were blowing and if felt like it was nearly 80 degrees, so itching for a walk in the woods we decided to take a stroll through some old willows in hopes of finding some oysters.

The only oysters I saw was a small, ancient, dried-up cluster; however, we were pleasantly surprised when Morelin pointed out this young gyromitra brunnea or more commonly called, saddled false morel. It was pretty small (you can find a photo of it next to my phone for scale here) but a very good sign of things beginning to get going. I usually start findiing young yellows and grays about two weeks after these first emerge. Now before you get your hopes up, remember this was near Lawrence, Kansas not in Missouri, but that's a little more north than I am in Columbia, so I bet if I looked hard enough I could find a small false morel or two here.

Also keep in mind there are many micro climates out there. This was down in a low flat valley which just radiated heat from the hills, which I believe explains why you could not find a single other mushroom anywhere else except in this spot. When you are hunting early, try to look for these spots. With all this moisture and the recent warming spells, it wouldn't surprise me if a few true morels show up in Mid-MO before the end of March.

I know some will scoff at this notion, and five years ago I would have been right there with them. I used to see reports of finding nice messes of pretty decent sized morels in Mid-MO on April 1. This was because I could never seem to find any before the second week of April and being a good Show-Me resident, I had to see it to believe it.

Back in 2005, things started out pretty dry. Around the middle of the second week of we got a good rain one night with more promised for in the morning. I headed out early and set out to see what the rains may have brought forth. I searched one of my favorite areas for about 2 hours. It had been a steady rain all night but not too stormy and everything looked very primed. However, I did not see a thing. A long line of thunderstorms with lots of lightning and high winds rolled in forcing me home.

After the storms left, I went back out to start where I left off, but as I was walking down the trail I had just walked both in and out the morning before I started seeing nice 2 inch grays. At first, I thought these had just popped up due to the rain, but as I looked much closer, I soon found several that were completely covered by leaves. I think they were there the whole time but the storm with its heavy pounding rain and wind had uncovered many of them so I could easily see them.

I picked a good couple pounds and then got back to where I had stopped. There were singles and nice little clusters of twos and threes.

I kept picking small to medium grays when I hit a more open patch of woods that was exposed to a lot more sun. There in the middle was a patch of beer can sized yellows. Many of which were so large they had already toppled over. Notice how the burn weed in the photo is pretty tall. In this spot it was from 6 inches to a foot. Everywhere else the nettles were only 2-3 inches, another sign of a hot micro climate. Look for these "hot spots" when you are out scouting and check them early in the season and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Now I know that morels grow and that it can take weeks for them to get that big. I figure these must have been up at least since the first of April. Below is the picture of the final harvest for that day, you can see a clear distinction between the grays and whites in the middle and on the right compared to the monster darker yellows on the left.

The lesson I learned from all of this was to get out there earlier. So the next year I began looking on the last weekend in March and in since then I have always found my first within 2 days of April 1 and that is no fooling.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Before Springing into Spring, One Last Trip Back to Fall

I was reading a recent article in the latest issue of the Missouri Conservationist recently and it of course got me thinking about mushrooms.

In the story The Mosaic of a Ozark Forest they discuss the composition and history of trees that they are researching are part of a life long study on the impacts of different logging practices. As they discuss the make-up of Missouri hardwoods, they mention the fact the the older groups of trees are dominated by faster growing red oaks and that the younger trees are now dominated by slower growing white oaks that can tolerate shade. It also mentioned that many of the mature red oaks that settled in after Missouri had logged all of its virgin wood were now between 80 -100 years old.

This made me realize that most red oaks have been around longer than most white oaks. That means they have had more years to get infected by the grifola fungus compared to their younger white oak counterparts. Perhaps that could explain why I tend to find many more hens around red oaks compared to white. Who really knows for sure, but it is an interesting correlation that I think is worth noting.

Waiting for the Morels to Arrive

This time of year most mushroom hunters whether driven by cabin fever or morel fever begin looking for signs of morels to come. One of the best gauges this time of year to watch from the conforts of your computer are soil or ground temperatures. There are several places to look some of which are better than others.

The first type of resource provides estimates of soil temperatures. The most common one of these is the soil temperature map by Green Cast. Although it is based on forecasted estimates instead of actual live measurements, it does provide a general sense of when things are or will be warming up in your area. It provides estimates for today's soil temps and 5 days out so you can plan ahead.

Second there are usually more local resources that take actual measurements and will give you a more precise indicator. These are usually operated by state university and can be accessed through agriculture extension websites. The main one that I use for Mid-MO is one out at MU's Bradford Farm Research and Extension Center south of Columbia. On their weather page, they provide three specific measurements for soil temps.
  1. 2 inches deep in bare soil (no ground cover)
  2. 4 inches deep in bare soil (no ground cover)
  3. 6 inches deep with soybean residue (ground cover)
Between the three, you can get a good sense of how things are warming up. There is also a link showing daily soil temperatures for the last 7 days to give you some idea of how temperatures are heading or trending. If you can find a local ag extension office that provides this sort of online reporting, then this is by far the best way to go.

Keep watching them temps, with all this snow and moisture, I think things are setting up quite nicely, much like they did back in 2008 when we had a banner year for morels.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Spring Already? I Guess It's Time to Get Back to Blogging

Would you believe if I told you that the first morel was found a few short days ago? Not in Missouri mind you, but the first in the US for 2011. Some of you who impatiently await the news of any morels in the US may be surprised by this. It is actually quite late for the first one to be reported. They usually show up in southern and northern California in January.

So the lateness of the report may be surprising, but actually it is early. According to the morel report map, currently being maintained by Chris Mattherly at the Morel Mushroom Hunting Club the first reported find of 2011 was in Knoxville TN. (Photo above from the hunting club report board, submitted by Ed). Yes, you heard me right. Just one state away. That means the morels are soon on their way and that I had better get all my work done around the house and at the office so I can sneak out when the picking is good.

It is also time for me to turn my attention back to the blog. I have been meaning to do a lot of updates and posts but winter was a busy one. Expect more posts and easier ways for you to follow them in the coming weeks.

For now just do you best to keep that morel fever at bay. It has only just begun and won't really start boiling until that first week of April.