I remember in my early days as a sportswriter at The Daily Record, in the late 1970s, every spring someone would arrive at the newspaper’s front desk with a handful of morels, hoping to be the first of the year to find them. delicacy. We would send photographer Mike Schenk to the main office to take a picture of the man and his mushroom and get his picture published in the newspaper.
The mushroom hunter wanted to be recognized for his skill and determination, but other than “out there,” or “in Holmes County” or “under an apple tree,” there wasn’t much else he was willing to divulge.
And in the last four decades, times haven’t changed much.
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The true mushroom hunter takes his passion seriously and, like any good hunter, spends hours finding his honey holes, training his eyes to spot the tiniest morels that appear between the grass and leaves, and knowing if it is a week in a circle the calendar, or a signal given by Mother Nature, of when it is time to look for mushrooms.
I can’t say I’m as crazy about hunting morels as those folks back in the 1970s, but since retiring from a full-time job at the newspaper in November 2019, I’ve spent considerable time in the spring woods in look for molted antlers and morel mushrooms. And so far this spring, without much luck.
We were teased this past weekend (April 23-24) with 80-degree temperatures, the kind of weather that makes the morels pop in Northeast Ohio. In fact, one of the keys to mushroom growth is consecutive nights of temperatures above 50 degrees.
Unfortunately, Mother Nature decided to run the air conditioner and furnace for another week in her spring gift to Ohioans, throwing a curveball at all plants and animals looking to come to life.
Silver Creek Fishing:Battling the weather for a line pull at Silver Creek, Lake Milton
On the Monday after our weekend warmup, I was sure I’d find morels big enough to pick on the hill behind my house. And if not, maybe I’d find the molted deer antlers I have on my trail camera. Well, I still missed my antlers, but I did find some mushrooms. Unfortunately, they barely traversed the land, and I considered myself lucky to have seen them.
The attached photo shows what I mean, as the mushroom was dwarfed by the lip balm roll I sat next to it for size reference. I put some sticks around the mushrooms to help me find them again, and came back two days later after temperatures dropped to 40 degrees during the day and 30 degrees at night, and they had barely grown.
The best find may have been a nest of baby pigeons
Probably my best find in the woods, though, was my first pigeon nest, as I annoyed mom when I moved a thick vine and freaked out when it flew out of the nest, just a foot above my head. I reached up and took a photo of the chicks, and then I left the nest alone and the mother pigeon quickly returned.
However, I didn’t have as much luck in my search for mushrooms, and that’s frustrating, because it’s late April and the morels in my neck of the woods are having a tough time. I don’t have enough mushroom hunting experience or history to know all the signs of how and when to find mushrooms, so I did some research and came up with a list of signs from nature that mushrooms are exploding. I use these types of clues when fishing, to know when the crappies bite (Redbuds blooming) or the white bass run (Mother’s Day).
With that being said, the number 1 sign in my neck of the woods is Mayapples is up and opening. With the calendar changing this week (they’re Mayapples for a reason), both Mayapples and Morels should be bursting at the seams.
Some mushroom pickers rely on the sign of the dandelion’s first bloom, a week after that, you’ll start finding morels. I’ve heard of fungus appearing after the third time you mow, when wild turkeys start gobbling, or when robins start playing in your yard.
When the flowers and trees bloom, it seems to be one of the best tips to start looking for mushrooms. For example, when Redbuds or Dogwoods are blooming it is the start of mushroom season for some, while flowers like Trillium and Bloodroot are in bloom for others. Other signs of trees are when elm leaves are the size of a squirrel’s ear, or oak leaves are the size of a mouse’s ear, or when aspens begin to green up.
Along with Mayapples, I like to judge my mushroom hunting season by the green patches on ramps, or when asparagus peeks out of the ground. Of course, no fisherman (who also hunts for mushrooms) is worth it if he doesn’t know that when the bass move little by little, the mushrooms start to appear.
Of course, the No. 1 mushroom sign showing up (I must admit this was on the Ohio Mushroom Facebook group page) is “my boot prints in your mushroom patch.”
The Science Behind Germination: Food, Water, Temperature
Truth be told, there is a science to when mushrooms sprout and it has to do with the food source (decaying wood), water, and temperature. Extended air temperatures in the 60s during the day and 50s at night are key, but so is soil temperature, with a sweet spot between 45 and 50 degrees 5-8 inches down.
Look for fungus around dead oak, elm, and ash trees, even old fruit trees, and they won’t specifically sprout after a rain, but a couple days to two weeks after a good soak.
The real magic is what happens underground, and that’s why if you find some morels, chances are there are more nearby.
Good luck in your quest for the tasty morsels, and as for me, I’ll keep checking to see if my patch grows to maturity before the deer or squirrels get to them. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for those antlers and keep checking to see if those bass turn on.
And I’ll make a little turkey call, in case Mr. Gobbler wants to play.
Outdoors correspondent Art Holden can be reached at email@example.com.