Moreldom is abuzz with talk of a super 2014 morel season. I’ve mentioned before that I usually don’t get involved pondering how good (or bad) an upcoming season may be. The reason is because I can’t do anything about it anyway. We are all at the mercy of Mother Nature and Father Time. Speaking of time, there’s also a lot of discussion about how soon the season will start. The first morel in the mid-continent was found in Georgia on March 9 of 2014. In 2013, it was found on March 1.
One might assume from this that the season will be a week later than last year. That might be true for Georgia. But, in Central Illinois, the 2013 season didn’t start until May 1. In my opinion, we can’t get much later than that. Our rule of thumb is that generally the season starts around April 15 (tax day to mid-May).
I also don’t usually get involved in pondering when the season will start. Mother Nature will get around to making conditions right when she is good and ready. I used to be out in the woods several weeks ahead of the season. I was actually the morel welcoming committee. And, as the season did approach, I probably trampled hundreds of baby morels that weren’t big enough to break through the leaves or moss yet. I guess that I’ve learned patience with age as I no longer feel the need to be there to greet them. And when I do find the first one, I generally leave it be to honor the memory of a departed mushroom hunting buddy.
So, for those who want to know when to start looking, check the soil temp maps. A good one is hosted by the Illinois Farm Bureau at: http://dtn.ilfb.org/index.cfm?show=1&mapID=20&showMenu=0 . It shows the daily ground temperature at 4” below the surface for the entire country. When the temperatures get to the 50 to 55 degree range, the morels are starting. But, they’re probably going to be less than a half-inch tall, and you may trample more than you find. Other indicators are when you see the first anthills in the yard or the first dandelions in the yard. The dandelions near a building don’t count because the ground there is super heated and will produce dandelions several days before those appearing in the middle of the yard. For the most part, my indicators are for the small gray morels (morchella exculenta and morchella delisciosa). The black and half-free morels may be ahead of that schedule.
If you’d rather wait until you don’t have to squint to see them, keep an eye on the lilac bushes. When they are just ready to bloom, some of the morels will be getting some size to them and it won’t take many to make a meal. You may also watch our Sightings page at: http://www.morelmania.com/6Sightings/2014sightings.html.
We sort the reports we get by state and date. And, once you know the season travels north at the rate of 100 miles per week, you can estimate your season’s timing by paying attention to what’s happening south of you. You must also remember that there are other variables – particularly moisture. If the area south of you got rain last week and you’re not getting any, or haven’t gotten any, you timing will be different.
Alex Babich of mushroomgear.com is predicting a late season. He’s not saying how late, but his logic is good. For those that don’t know Alex, he is a true morel maniac. A mushroom huntin’ fool best describes him. That title is a compliment, by the way. He regularly hunts at least eight states every year. His goal this year is to gather 1,000 pounds of morels in the Midwest. He’s also an angler, including ice fishing. So he keeps an eye on how long the ice remains on the lakes. He noticed it’s much later this year and based on criteria from years gone by, the morel season will arrive later than usual.
Back to the original topic of how many morels are going to make an appearance. All I’m hearing is snow, snow, snow. I guess it’s because we got so much of it that snow is all we can think about. The sumation of discussions is that all the snow will saturate the ground and give the morels an abundance of moisture to make them grow in massive herds.
Well, the snow will certainly help saturate the ground with moisture, provided it melts slowly. However, the Illinois River and others are already in flood stage in March because the snow is melting and it can’t soak in because the ground is still frozen.
Here’s my prediction. 2014 will be a tremendous year, provided we get an average amount of rainfall from the first week of April through the middle of May (earlier to the south and later for the North). We’re going to see bumper crops. Most people will say it’s because of the record amount of snow. I disagree.
Some of you may not be old enough to remember the winter and spring of 1979. But, I bet you’ve heard 1979 mentioned in conversations about the weather recently. It was the last time we had such extreme cold (and snow). Everyone is comparing the winter of 2014 to it. I heard one weather report say that in the first two months of 2014 we had 23 days when the temperature dropped below zero. Most of us really noticed it in our utility bills. I’m not sure I believe it, but one plumber I talked to said the frost was five feet deep.
I’m old enough to remember 1979 for the extreme weather. I also remember it for being one of the best morel seasons ever. Some of the dutch elm disease years of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s may have been better, but I hadn’t committed them to memory like I did 1979.
My logic is this, the extreme cold caused the ground to freeze extra deep and extra cold. One or two things resulted. The mycelium (organism the the morel fruits from) became stressed (physically threatened) and reacted by producing more morels for propagation of the species (survival). And/or, the freeze stressed the host (elm tree, ash tree, tulip poplar tree, etc.) the mycelium is co-existing with so that the mycelium sensed a change in the nutrition it receives from the host (nutritional stress). And again, the mycelium reacted by sending out the fruit (morel) so that it will produce spores, so the spores can float though the air until they land somewhere conducive to their growing into new mycelium and start the cycle all over again.
In conclusion, Mother Narture has the “perfect storm” prepared for the 2014 morel season. All we need now is for a storm or two to grace us with an inch or two of rain every two or three days and we’ll all be extremely happy. Good Luck!