They may not be a usual part of your diet but truffles are a very famous fungus delicacy, especially in Europe. Well, you may ask yourself why have not you heard about them – it is because they are, unfortunately, usually reserved only for the more affluent members of the society. If you have ever watched videos on dining in more prestigious restaurants or even dined there yourself, towards the more expensive end of the menu you could have seen some meals which contain truffles.
Based on this and the fact that mushrooms usually are not that hard to come by, you may think about growing some truffles yourself – after all, it is said that black truffles, which are the more common kind, cost around 95 dollars per ounce, while the rarer white ones bring around 160 dollars per ounce. That is quite a bit of cash. Is growing your own truffles a viable plan then? This article will try to explain how to grow truffles and help you make the decision about this being right for you.
Conditions for growing truffles
Truffles are a kind of fungi that grows underground – and that is why they cannot be considered a mushroom. You may ask yourself where they come from – and it is a great question. Whereas mushrooms usually grow on decaying organic matter, truffles need roots of trees to grow. The fungus must be added to the seedlings of plants – so as the trees grow the truffle fungus will too and (relatively) soon you will have your delicacy. Seems simple enough.
Well, not really. This is just the start. What you will need for a successful truffle farm are not only inoculated seedlings but a lot more. So let’s get into it.
When growing truffles, the climate will play a big part. Truffles love having four seasons that are easily distinguishable – so a climate where you have nice, warm summers, rainy falls, and cold winters would be best. If this is an issue, be at peace as there are some truffle varieties that are reported to grow even in harsher climates.
Now, we mentioned that truffles grow from fungi spores injected into tree seedlings. This effectively means that you will have to plant a lot of trees to get a successful truffle farm going. The good news is that you will mostly not have to bother with choosing the kind of the tree as the store you buy them from is will be able to give you good information on which ones to plant depending on where you live – some of the choices are oak, beech, birch, pine or hazelnut trees. Be aware that these trees will have most of their nutrients given to truffles which “leech” off of them.
The soil should be a bit more on the acidic side, with its pH level being around 8. Be sure to confer with your local agricultural organizations which may help you with determining the pH of your soil. If your soil is not acidic enough, it is stated that adding lime to land in copious amounts (20 tons per acre) will help with this.
The number of trees planted should be considerable. If you want a decently large farm, plant at least 100 to 200 saplings. This is possible to do on a smaller one-acre farm. Also, do not plant too close – while at first, the truffles will grow sooner by spreading more easily, later on, when the trees grow larger, they will start competing for space and soil nutrients, possibly depriving both trees of growth. However, this is still a subject of debate as some people prefer plenty of space between the trees whereas others will do a “survival of the fittest” and simply cull the lesser tree later on. It is also possible to try to retain all of them by cutting the tree canopy to allow sunlight and rainfall. Whichever you choose, be aware that none is the clear right answer.
When planting anything, it is always important to provide your plants with a lot of water – an irrigation system would be best, but the hose is fine if you are a beginner. Just be mindful that you will have to work more should you choose to go with a hose.
Besides watering your plants, the most important piece of work is weeding them. This is especially true in the first years of growth, where trees are not strong enough and can lose valuable nutrients to other plants and weeds. Later on, you can be less meticulous with this, although it is still recommended you do not leave anything up to chance.
Lastly, arm yourself with a lot of patience. Why? Well, you will see.
Before you get your hoe out, perhaps hold out a bit. See, to harvest truffles, you will have to be patient. Really patient, since you will most likely see the products of your labor only after year 5 after planting. It is stated that not until year 10 and perhaps even, later on, will you have enough to reliably sell and make money out of. This is perhaps the biggest stumbling block for people who want to grow truffles as it is indeed a long term project.
However, let’s say that this does not deter you and you still want to have your own truffle farm – that’s great! It is best to wait until winter to harvest. Do not wait too long as you will have trouble digging if the ground is frozen.
There are a couple of ways of locating where the truffles might be hiding – as unlike regular mushrooms they are not detectable by the naked eye. You could watch for dead grass under the trees, as it means that something is draining a lot of nutrients from the ground – and hopefully, these are your truffles. If you want to be more precise, you can employ animals, such as pigs or nowadays more commonly dogs. Female pigs are going to find the truffles because they want to eat them, whereas dogs are more common since they can be trained relatively easily.
When you harvest the truffles, be sure to be prepared with who you are going to sell to – there will probably be no shortage of buyers but they have a relatively short shelf life of about two weeks if kept in the fridge. Experts do state that they are best if consumed soon after harvest.
Well, there you have it. Truffle growing and harvesting is nothing if not a lengthy and grueling process which will have you breaking your back with planting the trees and taking care of them in the early stages. The amount of time they need to grow means that you will not see the fruits (or the fungi!) of your labor for quite a while. Do not forget that the tree saplings, which need to be numerous, could also cost you quite a bit.
However, if these problems do not seem like too big of a hurdle to you, truffle harvesting can be not only fun but very profitable, especially if you find contacts who want to buy these exquisite fungi. If nothing else, you have plenty of time to meet potential customers while you are waiting for your first harvest.