The Dangers of False Morels

You can take a sample to an expert for identification but be careful to wash your hands after handling poisonous or unknown mushrooms. It really is best to be safe than sorry.





Today I decided to go for a walk on my property a little ways north of the house and have a look for black morels in my favorite spot. This time last year we found many pounds of the famous land fish on our land and I am hoping to harvest a bounty again this year. Being that a friend wants the heads up this time to guide an elderly couple in their late 80’s into a nice easy pick I am being a little more vigilant in finding them as they first emerge. So far no luck. This year is a lot later spring than last, being more like the common years. Perhaps wetter too and the morels have yet to pop.

What I did find is a bit concerning though, right in my favorite morel spot was a nice fresh batch of false morels. Now the variety I found looks to be snowbank false morels and can be considered choice as well but it has very close relatives that are deadly poison. They are so close in appearance that I cannot tell them apart and most pickers will tell you it is not worth the risk.

False morels are a type of helvella, they are chambered internally rather than being just a hollow cap and stalk like a true morel. There are five false morels in North America that are similar to true morels; the poisonous conifer false morel, the choice snowbank false morel, the poisonous gabled false morel and the thick-stocked false morel. The fact that these are all so similar makes it not worth seeking the snowbank false morel but if you are familiar with what true morels look like there will be little doubt when you are in the field picking.

Both the true and false morels have a brainy look but you will find that the true morels grow taller in a cone-like shape, have a large hollow void in the cap as well as a hollow stem instead of the smaller, randomly chambered caps of the false morel. The false ones also tend to have a squatter, flatter shape than the true morels. Another difference I see where I am is that the true morels will be a blackish dark or yellow/tan colour while the false morels I see are a reddish brown or almost orange colour. To me there is no mistaking the one for the other, the true black morel is pictured here below.

A most important note that should be heard by all whom wish to hunt those wonderfully allusive morels is if you are not sure about what you are doing or looking at don’t eat them. You can take a sample to an expert for identification or to look through your own field guides but be careful to wash your hands after handling poisonous or unknown mushrooms in case you have a reaction or touch your mouth and food. It really is best to be safe than sorry. ~Scott




A Berry Good Bear Hunt

I go back to my half warm victory beer and wait for my heart rate to slow down again.




This ol’ chap decided to join me while I was filling my cap with wild raspberries one fine spring day in June. I follow him and another male, a brown, for a couple hours till they are uphill from where I know my truck is parked.. Since I have my 30-06 with me and a bear tag for the season I decide to flank them for a clear downhill shot.

Never before had I seen two males travel together. They are talking to each other from time to time as it began to drizzle rain. Neat noises, like moaning grunts. I always wonder what animals are saying to each other. Are these two boars chatting about the weather? Or maybe regaling stories of all the juicy apples they had eaten the fall before in the orchards just down the hill.

Noticing their steady direction of travel I move a long ways ahead of them, finding a comfortable spot to calm down after my hike. A ten minute or so breather they walk into view… 240 yards down hill and about 10% grade, not a bad spot. I take the black since the brown was skinny and a little rough looking, I want nice healthy meat. He goes down clean, with a grunt, taking a single 180 grain soft point to the heart.

It is raining hard now. I used every rope and chain I have to hook him up after dragging his mass the 200 yards or so downhill by myself to the trail leading to my parking spot. Over logs and around rocks I stumble as I continue to yard and shift his weight. I sure hope he doesn’t wake up! Using a heavy ratchet strap for a winch, it arrives at my truck. It’s all I can do to tug it aboard using my tail gate as a ramp!

Meanwhile the other male has been shadowing at 40 yards and I feel the need to keep my rifle loaded and ready every inch of my journey. He doesn’t sound happy. I yell and toss small stones nearby as I cannot keep an eye on him while I’m dressing the beast out. He finally leaves and I can finish loading my harvest without threat of retaliation from his buddy. It is sad to see their attachment broken but I need meat for the Summer and these guys had been tearing up the local orchards steady for a couple years.

 

I’m totally soaked now from sweat and rain. Stripping to only a t-shirt, I try to cool off in the June 15th shower. After a good cleaning and rest I leave the entrails for the scavengers. Nothing gets wasted in the bush! And wouldn’t you know?.. As I start into my packed lunch I hear a noise and look over my right shoulder, startling a female coyote coming over to claim her prize. Incredible how quickly they can move in on a fresh kill. Being the third day hunting alone in a row I’m too tired to make much noise. I go back to my half warm victory beer and wait for my heart rate to slow down again. ~Scott





They’re Berry, Berry Good!

When it comes to a delightful trail side morsel of flavour you can’t beat a handful of wild strawberries in my neck of the woods. My favourites anyways, I wouldn’t change them if I could!





Today I’d like to write about one of my favorite wild edibles that grows in my area. Wild strawberries! These tiny bundles of flavour have been a target of mine since I was a small child. It is incredible to me how much sweetness can be packed into a single little berry.

In my yard we have an area devoted to Saskatoon berries and in amongst the grasses around these are thousands of wild strawberry plants. They can form as wee little round berries or as long thimble sized and any size in between. This one patch that I keep my eye on in front of a big spruce tree has an incredible flavour. Sweeter and stronger than the rest, they taste like lipton raspberry juice crystals. I swear!

I find that the Saskatoons and the strawberries are ripening at nearly the same time so as we go to check how far along our Saskatoons are we get to nibble on fresh wild strawberries too. And I’m not kidding when I say nibble. They are small, so small I have yet to try wild strawberry jam since it takes so many to fill a cup. Another issue is they don’t keep well to be able to stock up on a whole lot and they squish so terribly easily. I’m not sure if I will ever get enough past my children and in to the house to have them end up in jars. Our Jake is a berry fiend! Not the fellow to have come on a berry gathering trip… Unless you are fine with them being gathered in his belly of course. And of course I am thrilled he likes them too.

The two plants featured in my photos here were actually taken about 10 km south of my place at around a 1000 meters elevation. A bit higher than here at the homestead. They produce so heavily and have such sweet fruit I dug up a bunch to add to our special spot. Hopefully they will add to the genetics of our strawberries and improve yields. I only take a few when transplanting and since they grow everywhere in this valley I am not ruining the wild bounty for my neighbours at all.

They happily grow in the local minerals and I tend to find them in well drained soil. My area has a large amount of glacial till and often little topsoil. Regardless the wild strawberries still cover many areas and I would say they don’t need much to grow in way of organics, most of ours are only watered by natural rain fall growing in normally dry areas. Preferring to mix in with grassy patches and roadside ditches they make a perfect trail side snack for a burst of sugars, I am constantly picking/eating fruit as I go.

These little treasures will never take the place of our domestic strawberries in their garden. They unfortunately won’t be found in my freezer ever either to fill my steady need of frozen berries for our smoothie addictions. But when it comes to a delightful trail side morsel of flavour you can’t beat a handful of wild strawberries in my neck of the woods. My favourites anyways, I wouldn’t change them if I could!




Getting a Jump on Spring

That way I can enjoy my pak choy and cos that much sooner.




Living where we do gardening can be a challenge. As I write this it is March 25 and we have 10″+ of snow in many spots still. Our growing season normally starts May long weekend but with greenhouses and cold frames we get things started earlier. Late October is usually a safe bet on harvesting your root veggies although I just pulled an arm load of onions we missed out of the tiny bare patch of my raised bed today (Even though my kids said they got them all I thought their haul looked a bit on the light side). So that being said we mainly get June-Sept as our best growth months. Anything later than that will be Russian kale, chard, radishes, certain salad greens like mesculin and root veggies but growth rates are near nil.

While doing my silviculture work I was taught that the tree planters will often try to find a raised planting location as the higher parts of the terrain will melt off sooner than the lower spots (This is why I got some onions today, my raised beds are starting to show in the snow). The result is a 25% longer grow season for the trees. Another trick is to plant the seedlings near a heat sink such as a rock, log or stump. This gives them extra warmth nearby to help them through the cold nights after being planted. We also look for ideal soils to put them into but in your home garden this should be already taken care of, I try to remember all these techniques when doing my own home gardening.

When planting out my spaghetti squash seedlings I will put them beside a hunk of firewood. I start them early indoors in a window mounted cold frame. I can leave the window open a crack to keep them warm and they love it. I did an experiment a few years ago and put some out with and without a heat sink and only the ones that had the heat sink survived the cold nights. This practice adds a couple weeks to my season.

Even in my greenhouse I will grow my first batch indoors and plant out when the soil just gets warm enough. Being that seeds often need 22C/70F or warmer soil temperatures for germination, I like to get a jump on it. That way I can enjoy my pak choy and cos that much sooner.

Looking inside my greenhouse today I see that some of the seeds of my red orach plant have already volunteered to germinate. I guess I should have collected my seed last fall haha. ~Scott

 




Morals & Morels

One thing we do need to be aware of is over harvesting.





When spring takes its turn and transforms our snowy wonderland from the clean, white landscape to a slippery, muddy mess opportunity strikes for the various flora and fauna. As the new years growth takes a hold of the Earth we get to see the once cold, white world change to a sweet smelling, beautiful Eden full of life and sound.

One of my favorite things to look for come April and May is the wild morel mushroom. I live in an area heavy with black morels and they are incredible! The texture and patterns that make up the body of this most interesting of fungi can steal away ones imagination.

When picking these choice edible mushrooms I like to use a mesh bag or colander for gathering them into. This allows any bugs that may be upon the prize to wiggle out and drop off as the mushroom dries and helps with the airflow to facilitate drying. Some people will use them fresh, some like to dry them out for later and some like to soak them in a salty brine to drive out any remaining critters that could be still inside. If they are there, you will see them in the bottom of your brine bowl.

Morels prefer disturbed areas in pine and poplar forests where I am. Mostly higher than 500 meters above sea level. I find mine in the 700-1000m range but I do see them much higher too at work. As I do my work in silviculture, rehabilitating the forest after the loggers finish, I especially find the spring morel in the burned off areas. These are prime locations to pick mushrooms and the higher you go in elevation the later in the season you will find the fresh morels.

One thing we do need to be aware of is over harvesting. If you leave some of the older, less fresh and desirable caps you will ensure that there will be more to come in following years. The one thing we don’t want to do is destroy the value of future harvests by being greedy today. I added an Amazon affiliate link below to the exact field guide I use to identify mushrooms when I go out picking. It’s a good one!

I filmed a YouTube video of us finding morels a couple years ago. I picked 15 lbs that year and decided it would be fun to show everybody what to look for when out picking. Yum! ~Scott