A new season begins for Czech mushroom-pickers

Twenty-six million kilograms of mushrooms - that's how much Czechs picked in the forests across the country in 2006. According to a survey carried out by the University of Agriculture, an average Czech family collected about eight kilograms of mushrooms last year. It seems that mushroom-picking remains one of the most popular Czech pastimes.

Photo: Štěpánka Budková
Just like every summer and autumn, Czechs have set off in the forests across the whole country equipped with baskets and knives in their annual hunt for mushrooms. They start as early as six or seven o'clock in the morning in order to be first and beat out other eager mushroom pickers. I talked to Jan Borovicka from the Czech Mycological Association about this year's mushroom season and asked him how difficult it was to estimate the amount of the mushrooms picked in the Czech Republic each season.

"It's a big problem to estimate the consumption of mushrooms because they are picked in the wild; it is not easy to do. But judging just for myself, I know many people who pick mushrooms every year and I think that the numbers provided by the university are in good agreement with my own experience."

As Mr Borovicka explained to me, for a true mycologist, the mushroom season has no beginning or end, since mushrooms grow all year long. For common mushroom-pickers, though, the season starts in May or June and lasts usually up until late October:

"The mushroom season depends on the weather. I think we have an average season this year but in some areas of our country the season was very good because there was enough water in the country and that is the main factor influencing the occurrence of mushrooms. It might seem like a bad joke but one of the best seasons I remember was I think in 2002. This year was the year of flooding in the CR. But such kind of weather caused very good conditions for mushrooms in the whole of the Czech Republic and that was one of the best years in the last decade."

One proof of the continuing popularity of mushroom-picking is the number of mushroom-devoted web-pages providing detailed information about the current situation in different areas of the Czech Republic. You can even download a so-called "myco-map" - a map indicating the occurrence of individual mushrooms species in different regions. I wondered, though, if mushroom-picking may not be losing its appeal for younger generations, but Jan Borovicka is confident people enjoy it as much as they always did, regardless of age:

"I think that in general Czechs have among the best common knowledge of mushrooms in the world and fortunately I think people are still interested in mushrooms and this interest does not depend on the age. Also young people pick mushrooms and I believe that this trend will continue."