Harvesting Techniques


Once you feel that you're ready to go out and forage for wild mushrooms, there are several things you'll want to prepare for. I'll skip the basics about long pants, long sleeves and bug repellent because I rarely do any of that. In fact, I can be found browsing my favourite bush in shorts and sandals if that's what I happen to be wearing and for some reason, mosquitoes just don't like me.

Anyhow, the essentials according to yours truly consist of the following:

harvesting tool: I use a retractable razor knife. Its super-sharp and will slide into my back pocket easily and safely, providing I remember to retract it. The blade will extend out almost three inches if need be. (For those mushrooms with thick trunks)

bristled brush: I seldom use it but its nice to have a brush of some sort available to clean any residual debris away from a mushroom before putting it in your collection of others. A small amount of grass, leaves or mud in your collection container can become a cleaning chore once you get home. I buy BBQ basting brushes from the dollar store. I couldn't find a local mushroom harvesting supply warehouse anywhere close by, and besides they only cost a dollar.

backpack: Yes, I use a backpack. My main reason at first is because every time I was walking with a sack, poke, bag or other visible collection vessel, basket included, I was almost always summoned to describe to someone what it was I "had in the bag". After awhile I became accustomed to this hands free method and I could carry lots of other "stuff" as well. A backpack is essential. Consider it my "shroomin' possibles bag".

paper sacks: Paper sacks seem to me to be the best medium for collecting as well as keeping different species separate. One thing we all must do is keep mushrooms separate, especially when bringing some home to identify. It wouldn't be wise to throw something we had no idea what was in with a good edible now would it? Paper tends to pull the moisture away from the mushroom and in my opinion helps to preserve it during the hike out of the woods and the trip home. I carry a wide variety of sizes also, from the standard lunch bag size down to tiny little sacks for small fungi. Remember, paper, not plastic. Plastic creates a circulation barrier and doesn't allow your precious collection to breathe. Plastic can and will cause your specimens to be less than desirable table fare, as well as for study later.

field guides: I take a field guide or two along just in case I want to take the time to really try and identify a mushroom while in the bush. Truthfully, I seldom do this, but as I mentioned, "just in case". I would like to take the time to do that but if I am edible hunting then I'm concentrating on filling my paper sacks, hopefully.

camera: I really enjoy taking photographs of fungi, although I'm no good at it. But I do take my Fuji finepix every time I go. Being without the camera is like forgetting my shoes, if I wore some that day. A digital camera works great and I do know of a few people that use slr's as well. Mushrooms and fungi are excellent photogenic objects.

first aid kit: Speaks for itself. Stuff happens and it's best to be prepared. I started carrying one late last Summer because my wife had some freebees from work. It fits well in the backpack, along with everything else I've mentioned.

water: You will get thirsty and those plastic bottles also fit well in the backpack.

That ought to be enough stuff don't you think? possibles

So, you've got your backpack full of all the necessities and are ready to hit the trail, but your wondering, where can I go find mushrooms. Well, there is an easy answer and a more difficult answer. The easy answer is just about anywhere. Mushrooms and fungi tend to relate to physical objects. Be it certain trees, bushes, ground types, or the substrate in which they are growing in. It may be a woods full of nothing but deciduous trees, or it could be a white pine thicket, like those reforested areas or a Christmas tree farm. It could be an open field or a creek bank. Essentially anywhere can produce fungi.

The best way is to just get out in the woods, take your time and explore. I am amazed at what I find each year in areas I think I'm very familiar with, and am always surprised at what I overlook in the process.

I prefer a wooded area with old growth and second growth forest with deciduous trees as well as pines. This type of environment in my opinion offers up the most varied number of species. The soil is usually a sandy mixture, consisting of thick organic matter and loam. You'll notice it by the spongy feel as you walk. That's not to say that you won't find mushrooms in hard packed areas also. I find many varieties along trails that I don't seem to find deeper in the woods.

Be sure to look around and on lay-down logs, stumps and deadfalls also. Dead trees that have fallen provide excellent mini-environments for fungi. Be sure to check both sides of a log. I can't count how many times the prize was on the backside of that old log.

Once you've found a mushroom that you're interested in, don't stoop down and pluck it right away. You may be sorry that you did. I usually admire it for a bit while noticing as many features as I can while standing. Then I drop down and give it a closer inspection. This is when the camera comes into play. Your knife is still in reserve at this point. Be sure to take notes of any features that you see. Then gently remove the entire mushroom from the ground being very careful that you don't destroy any features that will aid in identifying it later. For instance, Amanita species will have a sac or vulva that is mostly underground and can't be seen unless you dig around it a bit. Some Amanitae are deadly poison so it is imperative that you remove the entire mushroom.

Gently put the mushroom in question in one of your paper sacks, fold the top over a few times and put it back in the pack. Collect a few more specimen of the same mushroom in various stages of development if possible. Once you have them home, then you can contact someone that might be able to help you identify what you've found. Use your field guides, learn how to spore print a mushroom. Anyone you talk to will almost always ask you,"what colour are the spores", so be prepared.

As you encounter different mushrooms, place them in their own bags so they won't get mixed up with others.

If you do in fact find an edible mushroom and are 100% sure of your find, then instead of plucking the whole mushroom out of the ground, take your knife and slice it off above ground so as not to damage the underground structure or mycelium.

The most important thing is to use caution. Folks do get sick every year from mushrooms and a few die. There really isn't any need for that to happen, if you use common sense, and don't eat anything because you might think you know what it is.

I love mushrooms and enjoy learning about new edibles, but there are many that I'm pretty sure I have identified that I will not eat, because of the 100% rule.

Bottom line: Think, go slow, and have fun discovering a world you've walked over on many occasions without a second glance.

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