Once you decide to gather wild mushrooms, you will need to rely on a reference guide or an experienced mushroom hunter to ensure your safety. Numerous varieties of mushrooms are poisonous, making gathering dangerous for the novice. The puffball is one species that is good for the beginner because the mature mushrooms don't have poisonous lookalikes. Puffballs resemble large eggs lying on the forest floor. They enjoy rich soil, so you can also find them on your compost pile if it is in a shady location. Once you find a patch of mature puffballs, you can harvest some so that you can grow a new patch next year.
Keep an eye on your compost heap throughout the last half of summer. Watch for mushrooms that balloon several inches in diameter. Puffballs look like large eggs lying on the ground in clusters.
Watch the puffball mushrooms throughout the summer and into the fall as they grow large. They turn dark in the fall just before they are ready to pop. Get ready to gather the puffballs after they turn colours but before they pop.
Gather the aged puffballs carefully. Place a bag over each one and twist it gently to break it from its stem. Turn the bag over and roll the mouth of the bag closed to hold the spores inside.
Store the bags of mushrooms in a cool, dark and dry place. Keep them safe throughout the winter in a place where they will not be disturbed.
Bury each bag 3 inches deep in your compost pile in midspring. Cover the bags with loose compost after you press on each one to pop the puffball inside and release the spores.
Watch your puffball mushrooms grow from midspring and into the summer. The mushrooms are ready to pick anytime after they reach golf-ball size. Twice that large and they are tender, flavourful and fragrant. The puffballs are unusable once they begin to change colour and split open in the fall.
Work gloves, safety glasses and a respirator are recommended when gathering puffball mushrooms. Go mushroom hunting with an experienced gatherer on your first trip. Learn as much about mushrooms as possible from them. It is better to be safe than sorry.