Mushroom Foray Equipment Checklist: The Basket

oyster pleurotus ostratus boletus edulis porcini cep king bolete

[ED. NOTE – 4/27/14: There is now a follow-up post describing everything besides the basket that you need for foraging, located at Mushroom Foray Equipment Checklist: Beyond the Basket.]

A sturdy basket, plus a knife, a brush, and a couple of good guidebooks, are all you really need to get started in the hobby of mushroom collecting.  But what sort of basket to use?

The most important thing to keep in mind is that airflow is paramount.  Plastic shopping bags will really put the “mush” in your mushrooms in just a few hours, especially on a hot day. Don’t use them!  Good ventilation also helps spores disperse throughout the forest and renew the resource for the future.

When I first began to forage for mushrooms, I used a paper department-store shopping bag with handles.  That worked fine for a day or so, until it began to rain.  Oops.  Nothing like hiking  a mile back to the car for another container to carry your pile of porcini. For a time, I collected fungi in an old Orvis canvas knapsack, which works well enough, but it’s a hassle to take it off and put it back on each time you want to collect a mushroom. Moreover, it is closed with a zipper, and does not allow good circulation of air to keep your prized mushrooms cool and fresh, nor the spreading of spores in the forest.  It’s not as bad as a plastic bag, but definitely less than desirable. Nowadays my pack holds books, tools, maps and water, and is only used to carry mushrooms if I stumble upon a honey hole and overflow my basket.

BACKPACKS

IZaino-funghif you do like having your hands free and being able to carry a heavy load, there is another option.  Nylon packs with mesh bottoms made especially for fungi foragers can be purchased from shops in Italy or Spain. These seem to be quite popular among mushroom-crazed Europeans, as you can see if you Google “zaino di funghi“.   Wicker mushroom picker's backpack basket Professional pickers will often use even larger ventilated backpacks to carry a heavy load of mushrooms.  This may be an artisan-made wicker “canoe basket” from the Adirondacks, or merely a stack of plastic crates on a pack frame.  I have not seen very many of these large packs in use in Arizona, but if you’re dead set on walking long distances and collecting large quantities of mushrooms, this may be the solution for you. A discreet, enclosed knapsack is also convenient if you are contemplating mushroom poaching in places like California, where their ridiculous state park rules forbid mushroom picking in the name of conservation, even though nothing is being conserved.

Bags

bag-of-mushroomsSome people, especially morel hunters, advocate the use of mesh bags.  These keep your mushrooms cool and well ventilated, and they are certainly handy to keep in your car or pack for impromptu mushroom collection forays when the opportunity suddenly arises.  However, much of the advocacy behind mesh bags concerns their superiority for spreading the spores around the forest.  This is controversial, and there is little proof that these bags are superior to the old fashioned basket for spore dispersal.  It is also a lot easier to squash your treasures inadvertently when they are in a bag rather than a hard-sided basket.

BUCKETS

Home depot 5 gallon pailI have also used a 5-gallon plastic pail.  This has the advantage of high capacity and bulletproof sturdiness.  And just last weekend, we used our spare pail as a handy seat for the noontime lunch break. However, this type of bucket has a solid bottom and high sidewalls that limit air circulation, collect rainfall, and don’t allow the spores to fall out as you travel.  It’s a good idea to drill numerous 1/2″ holes in the bottom and sides to allow the rainwater and spores to escape and cool air to come into the bucket. Also, some very nasty chemicals come in 5 gallon plastic pails.  If you decide to use one, buy it new at a place like Home Depot, or make sure that your re-used pail originally contained foodstuffs or other non-toxic material.

BASKETS

french wire mushroom basketMost foragers end up using an open basket of wicker or other natural materials, as shown at the top of this post.  I went to Cost Plus World Market and bought a couple of them some time ago.  One of them was quite cheap and has stood up reasonably well to usage, but is definitely showing some wear and tear.  The other one was an expensive, glued-together piece of junk that began falling apart almost immediately and has now been retired to wastebasket duty.  Pier 1 and Amazon will have the same variety of products available. You may also want to consider a French-style wire basket, as shown, or a folding aluminum and nylon basket. Whatever the material, choose one with relatively tall, vertical sides so your precious finds don’t fall out. An elongated oval or rectangular configuration may allow it to swing more easily by your side than one of rounded shape.

Ghana baskets from Fungi Perfecti

(Fungi Perfecti)

However, mass-produced baskets are typically made by factory workers of modest skill, using materials that are chosen for decorative purposes and low cost rather than durability.  It may be better to buy an artisan-made product from a culture that depends on well-made baskets for food transport and storage.  Many mushroom foragers are now using elephant-grass market baskets from Ghana that are hand-woven by village women to supplement their household income.  These durable, flexible baskets last for years and have been very well received by the foraging community.  They can be purchased on Paul Stamets’ site, Fungi Perfecti, for much less than an expensive and shoddy Cost Plus basket made on a Shenzhen assembly line.  They are Fair Trade certified, so you can be sure the artisan is receiving a reasonable return on their labor. You can see a wider selection, also Fair Trade certified, on Ananse Village or Baskets of Africa.

CREELS

Berkeley rattan fishing creelOne other basket to consider is a wicker or rattan trout fishing creel.  These tend not to be as large as a regular basket, but may be perfect for a quick foray when not much quantity is expected. These baskets conform to the shape of the body and are held in place by a belt, combining the easy carrying of a knapsack with the easy filling of a hand basket. They are well ventilated and allow spore dispersal.  If you like to hike with trekking poles in both hands for stability, but don’t want to be constantly removing a knapsack, a creel may be just the thing for you.  Modestly priced creels can be bought from Cabela’s, and more expensive ones from Orvis or L.L. Bean. A similar belt basket handcrafted by Amish artisans for berry picking can be had from Lehman’s.

Amish berry picker's basket - Lehman's

Whatever your preference for collecting mushrooms– basket, backpack, bucket, or bag– let’s get out there and fill them up!

[ED. NOTE – 4/27/14: There is now a follow-up post describing everything besides the basket that you need for foraging, located at Mushroom Foray Equipment Checklist: Beyond the Basket.]

 

About Christopher May

Chris is a radiologist in private practice in Scottsdale. He is married to Barbara May, with two grown children, Megan and Nick.
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