Truffle Enterprise

dwheeler at dwheeler at
Tue Jan 13 00:02:03 EST 1998

The following article is about truffles. If these fungi don't interest
you, please don't read further.

The article below ran in the Salem, Or. Capitol Press Feb. 28, 1997

Truffle Enterprise, By Sue Swartzendruber, For the Capital Press

	OREGON CITY, Ore. - Paul Bishop started out with a Christmas tree
plantation in 1980, but through a twist of fate and an interest in
mycology, he ended up with a truffle farm.	   He planted his farm to
Douglas fir but as the trees grew, and the labor of pruning began, Bishop
found he was not physically up to the task. With the repetitive pruning
motion, he developed tennis elbow.     Then each member of the family
involved with the task also developed tennis elbow. The trees continued
to grow but without proper management, they weren't suitable for the
Christmas tree market. He decided to just let them go, planning to thin
them and create a forest instead.   Meanwhile, as a member of the North
American Truffling Society, in 1986 Bishop invited his fellow members for
a truffle forage among his overgrown Christmas trees.	  At this truffle
dig was Dan Wheeler of Portland. Wheeler had long had an interest in
mycology. Under the tutelage of Helen Gilkey, botany professor at Oregon
State University, he recalls being urged to become involved in the study
of truffles.	 His response was, "But Dr. Gilkey, there are no truffles
in North America". Later he discovered her master's thesis at University
of California-Berkeley in 1919 was "The Tuberales of North America."  As
it was with him, he says "There is a lot of learning and unlearning to do
about truffles." Many species of truffles are to be found growing
underground in the forests from British Columbia to Northern California. 
       Different trees spawn different varieties of truffles.
Identification is difficult for many species, but the effort can be very
rewarding. The Oregon white truffle is most in demand because it is most
comparable to the Italian white truffle.       "The Italian white truffle
is harvested commercially in Europe, commanding $100 per ounce. The
larger truffles over a quarter inch in diameter command an even higher
price," says Wheeler. "The demand for truffles is far outgrowing the
availability." No Italian whites are grown in America.	     The Oregon
white truffle is a small, brownish, nearly round or convoluted fungus,
marbled within and with a very distinct odor. Oregon white truffles grow
under the soil around Douglas fir trees.     It was at the Bishop farm
truffle forage in 1986 that Wheeler found his first Oregon white truffle.
Bishop and Wheeler formed a friendship that developed into a partnership
for commercial propagation of fungi, concentrating on the Oregon white
truffle.    Initially, they found Oregon whites under about one in every
20 to 25 trees at the Bishop plantation. They then devised a method of
inoculating the forest. Two years later they were finding truffles under
every tree and in considerable numbers.    In addition, the trees in the
plantation began growing 6 to 6 1/2 feet in height per year, with one
tree growing as much as 9 feet.     Wheeler explains the rapid tree
growth: Research has found truffles and other mycorrhizal fungi are
essential to all plant life on earth. Truffles become the major food
supply for red-back(sic) voles.        The voles eat the fungi and
excrete the spores some distance away. Voles are a main food source for
the spotted owl, which eats the vole, further scattering the spores. The
scattering increases the mycorrhizal fungi in the soil, which is the key
to bringing nutrients and moisture to the roots of the trees.	 
Continued experimentation with inoculation and cultivation has paid off
for Bishop and Wheeler. Initial projections had the plantation producing
50 pounds of truffles per acre with approximately 20 percent being Oregon
whites.      Today, overall truffle production has greatly increased and
Oregon whites are the predominant species. Harvest from some trees is up
to 3 to 3 1/2 pounds of Oregon whites, which can be sold for $100 per
pound. Harvest extends from November into July.      Bishop and Wheeler
are in the process of obtaining a patent on their method of inoculation. 
   The trees in the plantation have become quite crowded and they have
begun some thinning. Dead branches are pruned regularly and recycled in a
variety of ways to enhance the soil, with rapid decay always encouraged. 
Besides Oregon whites, Bishop and Wheeler also collect a great variety of
underground fungi from the plantation. Unknown species of truffles found
on their forages are shipped to Jim Trappe at the OSU Forest Sciences Lab
for identification.	   Not all underground fungi are truffles but
there are many species of truffles, not all recommended for eating. 
Bishop highly recommends joining the NATS to anyone interested in truffle
harvesting. Harvesting alongside experienced foragers can be very
educational.	    "Also, as a note of caution," Wheeler says, "edible
truffles must always be inspected for insects." A millipede, with a very
distinctive odor and known to contain potassium cyanide, sometimes enters
the truffle. Eating this millipede can be deadly.	 Bishop and
Wheeler have made great strides in the production of truffles during the
last 10 years. With their knowledge it could become the commercial crop
of the woods, Wheeler says.	    "A tree that can produce $300 to
$350, year after year, is much more valuable left standing than cut for
lumber. Not only is the truffle an edible crop, its production greatly
enhances its environment, causing more rapid growth of the trees.      
"It also denies the Douglas fir root rot a hold on the root by production
microtoxins, (sic) which are poisonous to the root rot fungus."

Entered by Daniel B. Wheeler

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