You’ve probably thought of truffles as something you’ll only get a taste of in a restaurant or in some expensive olive oil from some fancy store. We know we did… until we discovered the truth. Like so many other things, what is expensive to buy is much less expensive to grow. Truffles are simply a (delicious) fungus growing on a tree root, and yes you can grow them yourself. Read on to know how to grow truffles at home!
First, a little background about beautiful, bumpy truffles.
They are a group of species in the Ascomycota group of fungi (the group which contains the majority of known species) that grow completely underground. The part we eat — the part you picture when thinking of a truffle — is the fruiting body of the organism. This is the same with other mushrooms we eat. The fruiting body is responsible for releasing spores into the environment, which is equivalent to the seed of a plant.
Truffles are a part of a further grouping of species, called mycorrhizal fungi. These amazing organisms form symbiotic (mutually beneficial) associations with trees. The trees provide them with energy in the form of sugars, and the fungi provides the trees with nutrients and water that its far-reaching hyphae (the part of the fungus we don’t usually see or think about) are able to obtain. Because of this relationship, truffles require trees in order to be able to grow.
Truffles are considered a delicacy around the world, with the most renowned species selling for upwards of $3,600 per pound (€2,984). Historically, most truffles have been grown in Europe, especially France, Spain, and Italy. However, they will and do grow well in many countries. From the northwest of the United States, to Australia, to Germany, to you name it, truffles are either being found growing naturally in the forest, and/or are being cultivated. And while hunting for truffles that are growing in the wild does require living in the right place and probably having a truffle sniffing dog (next Christmas present?), cultivating truffles in your own backyard requires very little.
Anyone can cultivate truffles, all you need is a tree, some spores, and some patience. Let’s get into the process of how to grow truffles.
Step 1. Evaluate your space and soil
There is no getting around the “needing a tree” part of the process. However, it does not need to be a huge tree, and it is possible to grow one in a pot. The easiest way to grow a truffle tree is to buy a tree that has already been inoculated with spores. There are companies that do this now, it may just take a little research to find the one nearest to you. You will most likely have to get it shipped, as they aren’t so common as to be in every city or region.
Truffles grow best in alkaline soil (pH around 8) that is well draining and somewhat nutrient-poor. You can test your soil with a pH strip. If pH is lower, try adding periodically some lime to the soil until you notice the pH going up. Or try growing your tree in a pot to be able to create your alkaline soil. If planting in a pot, use a very large terra-cotta pot and mix soil with sand or fine gravel for good drainage.
Step 2. Choose your tree
There are a few tree species that are known for truffle production. Three of the most common are Hazels, Oaks, and Beeches.
Hazels may be the best option if you are growing in a pot because it can remain shrub-like and be coppiced every seven years or so. Again, do a little research here to see what will work for your space, what truffles you’d like to grow, and what will grow best in the environment you live in.
Step 3. Plant your tree with care, take good care, and then wait.
Getting a tree established takes a little focus. It will need a lot of water while it is getting established in its new home, so write down an everyday watering routine and stick to it.
It is also important to not use any fertilizer at any point in the growing process. Fertilizer could either get into the truffles, affecting their taste, or it could negatively impact their growth.
If you use a pot, you can control the conditions better by bringing it inside when it is too hot or cold. For optimal truffle conditions, try to keep your tree in temperatures around the low 70’s fahrenheit (low 20’s celsius), if possible, . If your tree is outside, don’t fret too much about being unable to control the temperature. Experiments are fun!
Pot or potless, after about a year, your tree should be fully established and be able to do just fine with rainwater. You have reached the point where you can sit back, relax, and picture your truffles taking form beneath the soil. This is where the patience part of the process comes in. It usually takes four to seven years for truffles to be ready to harvest. But in the meantime, you get to watch your tree grow, which is such a beautiful process in itself.
Step 4. Find your truffles
Spoiler alert: you do not need a truffle sniffing dog or hog to figure out where to look for your truffles.
So it has been four years, and you’re wondering if you should start digging for your gold. The question is, how do you even know the truffles are ready to be harvested? And how the heck do you know where to dig without digging up the whole tree?
As previously mentioned, truffle hunters will use dogs that have been trained to detect the smell of individual truffles. Hogs are also great truffle finders. But luckily, neither animal is necessary. There are simple signs to look for to know when and where to dig.
- Cracked ground: Many truffles will grow right below the surface of the soil. So keep an eye to the ground looking for cracks and bumps that indicate a nearby truffle.
- Dead grass: Compounds in truffles that taste great to humans and smell strongly to dogs are also natural herbicides. If your tree has grown grass around it over the waiting period, a truffle will create a dead ring of grass above it.
- Animals digging up a storm: many animals are attracted to the smell of the truffles, and will try to get to them. While you may not have pigs around, smaller animals like squirrels are also fans of the truffle scent. If you see furry friends digging around your tree, it may be time to dig yourself!
When you see any of these signs, try using a rake over that area. Raking is less intrusive than digging, but if your ground is too hard or you’re not finding anything, gently dig around that area. And if you don’t find anything right away, don’t worry! Cracked ground may just be from dry conditions, and animals may just be digging for nuts. Give your truffles a little more time, and learn to enjoy the waiting game.
Growing truffles requires a little more waiting around than vegetable gardening, but the reward is so unique and delicious! After the initial care of your sapling, you get to sit back, watch your tree grow, and imagine your mouth-watering fungus (sounds wrong, we know) taking form underground.
And then a few years down the road, what a day it will be when you dig up those lumpy, brown, beautiful truffles, and cook up something delicious for family and friends. Or decide to save it all for yourself… no judgement here.