The Mushroom Farmer, Book Three, Chapter 1

The mf confronts his seedlings. They have arisen in one-inch peat pots, arrayed in a black tray by the sliding glass door, facing southeast. Betalux tomatoes, little two-cotyledon or starter-leaf affairs at the moment, pale green precursors to dense-fragranced nightshade jungles. The mf doesn’t like raw tomatoes but he can foresee sauces y salsas tambien. The Jarrdandale pumpkins are surging like defensive tackles after the snap. These guys are going to be bruisers and not only that but also blue on the outside, orange on the inside. What? Yes. Orange-and-blue pumpkins. Life is worth living; does have meaning.

The Kang Kob pumpkins show the certainty of Olympic divers, reverse plummeting from their peat pods up into the light. They are seedlings with thought bubbles that read, “Oh heck yeah.”

The only seedlings to worry about really are the Hopi Black Dye sunflowers. They are spindly, low to the ground, groveling.

“Get these Hopi Black Dye sunflower seedlings into direct sunlight, stat!” So commands the command center of the mf’s brainpan.

“But what if it’s too cold out?” but-but-buts the mf’s worry center, in a seemingly effortless but actually rare moment of free speech. Typically the mf’s worry center is suppressed like democracy.

“If it’s too cold out, they’ll die and then you’ll plant more if you feel like it,” replies the command center. Yet again, the worry center must decide if it wants to make a big deal out of five spindly sunflower seedlings or else keep its powder dry. The worry center is plotting one of its periodic insurrections, storing up apprehensions until the day they become overwhelming. Then the worry center will happily place its boot on the command center’s throat.

A potentially worrisome scenario. To avert it, the mf has whipped up a sunflower transplant plan: apply a dose of root stimulator, give that a couple of days to kick in, and then plant all the sunflowers that have sprouted three or more leaves. He feels confident, optimistic, and joyous about this plan because he has consulted a Manitoba, Canada government website that says it has to be below freezing, or 25 degrees colder than it is right now in slightly chilly Los Angeles, in order to do any real damage to a sunflower. Sure, this refers to mature plants, not seedlings, but the real real is what the command center says. If these seedlings die, so what, the mf has umpteen packets of many outlandish varieties of sunflowers, thanks to a late-night seed ordering spree of several weeks ago.

Soon the mf will not have the pandemic to blame for such willy-nilly behavior. He has stated on numerous occasions that he is not interested in blame, even though he fully recognizes “not” in any such proclamation as a not red but crimson flag. Blame is saving its pennies along with worry, so don’t worry about the mf not blaming himself enough. He will, someday.

Meanwhile, the mf keeps chugging along, a choo-choo train of first-this, then-that, then-improvise plans running on tracks of suppressed anxiety. It’s a wonder he can even feed himself, and yet he does, heartily. Lately the mf’s diet consists increasingly of greens foraged from his very own back, front, and side gardens. Is the mf fortunate to have so many gardens? Oh yes, oh yes, indeed.

Parsnip greens flourish with particular panache in the side garden, alongside everything else he has planted everywhere else. The side garden is his “It’s a Small World After All” garden. It’s a world of parsnip, a world of kale. The side garden is a raised bed of corrugated aluminum, originally planted to spell out the word “Howdy” at the very start of the pandemic one year ago. The “Howdy” actually did grow in. Then, over time it translated itself into Ukrainian and then into Hindi and finally into bramble.

At that point the mf tore out and composted all the straggly remaining plants, added a layer of compost and worm castings, and started all over again with the aforementioned parsnips as well as lettuce, shallots, spinach, rutabaga, buckwheat, salsify (which is said to promote growth of parsnips), carrots (the very first time in the mf’s gardening life he has grown anything other than invisible or theoretical carrots) and the omnipresent kale. Also green zinnias, which I’m pleased to report are on the verge of blossoming in the nick o’ time for Saint Patty’s day: green flower, green leaf, what could be more green?

You could look at the side garden as a cornucopia; you could also look at it as a mess. The mf thinks of this as versatility while also worrying if he will ever be a serious farmer. I personally think it is good for him to do a bit of worrying as a sort of vaccine. I am also pro- his eating more homegrown veggies, typically grilling them in a cast iron skillet in a drizzle of peanut oil with a sprinkling of salt and sesame seeds, or else in a pond of peanut oil with a hailstorm of salt and sesame seeds. More versatility! A favorite saying of the mf’s is that “greens grill down to almost nothing.” What remains of a big ol’ bunch of mixed dark greens is a salty, oily, crispy, sesame ounce of got2be healthy-ish green-black single-serving hay for humans.

Look out for crispy carrot-greens! That must be ranked among the mf’s top thought bubbles. Carrot greens are eminently edible — “just as edible as carrots themselves” — according to a blog named Love and Lemons. This both encourages the mf to include carrot tops in his cast iron skillet mix and also to regret every time he ever said yes to supermarket cashiers cheerfully asking, “Do you want me to cut off and dispose of these carrot tops for you?” — although the mf realizes they were under the thumb of Big Lettuce and therefore not to blame.

Published by MarkGozonsky

Mark Gozonsky has been writing stories and essays since he was a music snob prodigy in early-1970's San Antonio, Texas. Since then he has written about not only music but also baseball, gardening, teaching, parenting, cycling and the... glory of love. Lit Hub and The Sun have published his work, and so has the Austin Chronicle. He lives with his wife in Los Angeles, where he teaches English to some of the nicest kids in the world at an arts-themed public high school downtown.

One thought on “The Mushroom Farmer, Book Three, Chapter 1

  1. Deep appreciation for cryptically embedded BD quotes..it’s like smoke pouring out of boxcar door.
    East coast garden hack…plant the sunnies direct, cover with a one quart mason jar.
    French market gardeners loved the cloche.

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