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Saprophites and mycorrhizites thrive in the Promised Land

Mike Drummond, Columnist
ALL | GrassValleyArchive

I had a headache the other day so I took an aspirin. My wife gave me a look that registered disappointment, disgust and everything in between. It’s not like I was mainlining heroin or tearing the wings off butterflies; it was a plain vanilla aspirin. By the time she reminded me of all the alternative therapies I could have used instead, my headache was gone. The original one, anyway.

Aspirin doesn’t cure anything, it just redirects your body’s attention to a new emergency: minor internal bleeding. Crude, but effective, like a “friend” who stomps on your foot to take your mind off your toothache.

I have friends like that. When we moved out to Clear Creek Ranch and became vegetarians, they shipped their sick houseplants to us. I dropped them a note to say, “Thanks, but just because we are vegetarians, don’t assume everything with roots and leaves is fair game. We rarely dine on potted philodendron, mostly due to the dearth of interesting recipes.”



Of course the friends replied in shock. I wasn’t supposed to eat their plants, merely give them a few weeks of country sunshine before shipping them back to their true home in the city, like inner-city youth and rural summer camp, only for vegetables.

Unfortunately, neither my wife nor I possess a single green thumb among us. Container gardening is best performed in a sarcophagus. If any plant thrives, it is due to its own ingenuity and drive, or random chance – certainly we can claim no credit. Many are the times an urban orchid arrived via UPS, carefully packed in styrofoam pellets, only to be shipped home a few weeks later, pushing up daisies in a tiny pine coffin.




Molds and fungus are a different matter. There is news of a commercial “fungus” burger hitting the market. I will have the homeopathic antidote on hand when I try my first one, but I have no problem with fungus’ fruit, aka the mushroom.

Dozens of mushroom types pop up around the ranch this time of year. None of them look much like grocery store button mushrooms. More like refugees from some science fiction movie or an undersea coral reef: wavy, multi-colored, slimy.

My favorite resembles curly orange pancakes. A mycologist friend identified it as “Chicken-of-the-Woods.” It does taste like white chicken meat, from what I remember of my pre-vegetarian daze. Of course, my wife isn’t too happy with the name – now she’ll have to find a new nickname for me.

We’ve tried intentionally growing mushrooms here at the ranch. Some varieties like shiitake retail for as much per pound as a Toyota Prius. The brochures claim it doesn’t take much: some rotting oak logs and some inoculating plugs. If I’d just drilled a few holes in the logs, filled them with $20 bills, and waited for the bills to disintegrate, I’d have saved a bundle on postage and handling.

The newest mushroom deal is called “Spored Oils.” You add mushroom spores to the lubricant in your chain saw and the spores latch on to the cut faces of the wood, germinate, and accelerate the “natural” decomposition of stumps. Which is great if you are clear-cutting, but not so great if you are just pruning a few branches in the orchard.

Since we do a bit of both here at the ranch, I’m going to have to get a second chain saw and then try to remember which one has which oils in it.

You know, I haven’t even ordered anything yet and I feel another headache coming on. Time to sneak another aspirin.

Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at miked@theunion.com.


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