So what exactly is premature decay? It's a term that the other contributors and I have coined to describe mushroom decay that happens before a mushroom hunter is able to preserve his or her find. Confused? Have you ever gotten home only to find that one or more of your mushrooms are browner, withered, or even a pile of dark goo at the bottom of your basket? That is premature decay.
But how did this happen? Well, as we know, mushrooms are only the fruiting bodies of their particular fungi. As far as fruiting bodies, mushrooms are often short lived - sometimes extremely short lived. With that in mind there may be several reasons why your finds look worse for wear - high temperatures, high humidity, lack of ventilation, and physical damage can all lead to premature decay to some extent. Each one of these factors can accelerate the decomposition of typical organic material . . . so it is even more likely that they would affect a mushroom. This is due to the mushroom's high water content and often delicate nature of it's features. Simply put, a mushroom just wan't meant to have a whole lot of staying power.
So how can you prevent premature decay from happening to you? Minimize the factors that cause it:
- Humidity is a factor that MHs can have little control over (at least not unless you keep a portable refrigerator on hand). I suggest you focus on the other three factors in order or reduce or prevent premature decay.
- The temperature is something MHs can have marginal control over with judicial use of a towel or basket top - anything to keep your 'caps out of the sun. Remeber, direct sunlight is a recepie for mushroom jello!
- A broken or bruised mushroom is much more likely to suffer from premature decay than a healthy one. You can prevent physical damage to specimens by using a material like wax paper or basket sections to minimize jostling.
- In my experience, the biggest cause of premature decay is a lack of ventilation or breathable material in what you are using to transport finds. Although it would seem like a good idea to take along Tupperware containers or ziplock bags to contain and organize your finds, this will actually increase the chances of premature decay. These can limit ventilation and, in turn, do nothing to help the humidity and temperature within these containers. Instead I suggest the use of wax paper and a wicker basket. Both of these materials allow your finds to be organized and transported while still allowing them to be well ventilated.
- Also, you should consider the "hardiness" (read as resistant to decay) of any species you are gathering. If you are collecting relatively hardy species then you shouldn't have to worry too much about the lenght of your hunt. However, if you are collecting short lived or quickly decaying species, no amount of hunting precautions will save your finds - it's best to get home as quick as possible to save your them!