The best way to pick morels is to cut the mushroom an inch from the ground using a knife. This is preferred over pulling because it will prevent damages to the mycelium network and promote a more sustainable harvest.
In this article, we will be going over two different morel harvesting techniques: pulling and cutting. You will learn more about the pros and the cons of each technique, which is the most recommended in North America, and why.
Why are Morels so Rare?
Morel farming has been attempted many times, with very little success. Their growth is dependent on their symbiotic relationship with trees, which is complex and difficult to replicate artificially.
The best way to forage morels is often discussed because mushrooms pickers want to ensure the sustainability of their practice. Since morels are rare and hard to come by, it makes sense to limit the ecological impact of their harvest.
Why You Need to Understand the Morel’s Life Cycle
There is a strong debate in the mushroom picking community concerning the best way to harvest mushrooms. Most of the arguments revolve around the morel’s life cycle, the way it reproduces, and the way it can be damaged.
Understanding how this cycle works will then help you better understand the pros and cons of each technique.
How Do Morels Grow?
Morels are the fruit produced by an underground network of mycelium, the mushroom’s reproductive organ. Mycelial nets will usually grow after a soil disturbance, such as fire, excavation, or beetle kill.
Once a net is established, it needs to undergo stress to grow a mushroom. As reported by Public Health Ontario, spring is the best time for morels to grow. This is because the sap movements experienced in the spring will provide the necessary stress for the mycelium to produce a mushroom.
How Long Does It Take for Morels to Grow?
It can take three to five years before the soil becomes seeded with a mycelial net. This long timeline is one of the reasons why morels are rare and can be difficult to find.
Once a mycelial network has been established, however, it can take as little as six days for a full-size mushroom to grow and be ready to harvest.
What Happens After You Pick a Morel?
A lot of people have compared morel harvest to apple picking. If you only pick the apples and leave the tree untouched, apples will continue to grow from one season to another.
The same principle applies to morels. As long as you only pick the mushroom itself, you will leave the mycelium intact and once you pick the mushroom, the mycelium will simply grow another one in its place.
How Can You Damage the Mycelium?
This can happen when you disturb the soil on which the morel grows. If you trample the mushroom and its surrounding area, you could damage the mycelial network and prevent future growth.
This is something you should be mindful of when foraging morels because as you now know, it can take years before an area gets seeded with morels again.
What Is the Difference Between Pulling and Cutting?
Now that you have a better understanding of the morel’s life cycle and reproduction, let’s discuss the differences between the two most common harvest techniques: pulling and cutting.
Pulling a morel simply means you rip it off from the ground. It is quick and allows you to collect more mushrooms in a shorter amount of time.
When you cut a mushroom, you use a knife to severe the stem of the mushroom, usually about one inch above the ground.
Which Harvesting Technique Is Currently Recommended?
This is still a great debate in the world of mushroom picking. As of now, the consensus in North America is that cutting is the preferred technique. You can refer to your governmental agency to see which technique they recommend, but chances are they will ask you to cut mushrooms.
In Canada for example, both the government of British Columbia and Ontario recommend cutting in their mushroom picking guide.
Why Is Cutting Recommended Over Pulling?
The main argument is that cutting leaves the stem and the root system intact, limiting the damages to the mycelium. However, this is up for debate as some others believe that as long as you are careful not to disturb the soil, the mycelial network will not be affected.
Is It Really Bad to Pull Mushrooms?
The pulling technique might not be all that bad and it is gaining popularity. A thirty-year study found that there were no differences in mushroom growth in the areas where they were pulled compared with the areas where they were cut.
Proponents of the pulling technique also say that the stem left after cutting is more prone to getting infected by bacteria or fungi, resulting in the death of the mushroom.
Will I Get in Legal Trouble If I Decide to Pull Morels?
The short answer is no. Although most governmental agencies recommend that you cut instead of pull, you will not be running into legal trouble if you decided to pull your mushrooms.
Harvesting morels however often requires a special permit, especially if you harvest with the intention of selling them. Always check which paperwork is needed before going mushroom picking. If you do not have the right documents with you, it will not matter whether you pull or cut, and you will most likely get a fine.
What Is the Final Verdict?
You might want to consider cutting your mushrooms instead of pulling them. Although pulling might not cause as much damages as initially thought, cutting the stem is still the most recommended technique by government conservation groups worldwide.
You should focus on cutting bigger mushrooms only. This will leave the base to grow other mushrooms shortly after. You also want to leave more time for smaller ones to reach full size as bigger mushrooms are more likely to release spores, which will help jump-start new growth.