The Mushroom Farmer, Book 4, Chapter 6

Before the MF can transplant his precious seedlings, he must deal with the slugs.

The slugs are laughing at him. It is spitty, mucus-y laughter and if you listen closely, you can also hear their teeth click. They are slime-covered, tooth-clicking bullies each about a quarter inch long, but there are lots of them.

Theoretically, the best way to fight a bully is to say, “You’re a bully!” If only this actually worked. The MF doesn’t know where he got this piece of folk wisdom from, but even though it sounds elegant in its simplicity, it also sounds really stupid because all the bully has to do is say, “Thank you.”

What you really have to do is put out wooden boards between the garden rows, at dusk, before the nocturnal beasts emerge; then flip those boards over the next day and feed the congregated slugs to your chickens.

Also, get Sluggo or some other okay-for-organic farming slug bait, made of iron phosphate, not methiocarb or metaldehyde, because that stuff can make your little doggy sick.

How does the MF know all this? He doesn’t actually know. If he did, slugs would not be devouring his kale, collard green, and lettuce seedlings and then laughing their snotty, tooth-clicky laugh. He just now read all this on the internet and like everyone else turning to the internet to solve their problems, he wants it to be true.

You can be sure the MF has already put out two plastic take-out trays with a little puddle of beer for slug-drowning. These are over by the mushrooms, the chestnut mushrooms.

He is growing so many different mushrooms now. Did I forget to tell you? Ooopsie. Burying the lede again. Yes. Shitake mushrooms in oak logs; wine cap mushrooms in straw and sawdust. They have not fruited yet, but they will; oh, they will. The MF has quiet confidence. This is character development. The MF is mushroom farming. The dream is not only real, it’s normal.

The chestnut mushrooms come up intermittently and when they do, they are as lustrous golden brown as French toast in maple syrup. I really want to emphasize the luster. Chestnut mushrooms are gorgeous. The MF can imagine the ancient Greek hero Achilles taking a break from sword-fighting in glinty armor to admire the lustrous, gorgeous, you-can-find-beauty-anywhere nature of chestnut mushrooms.

Howevever, the MF did notice a bit of non-human nibbling in the chestnut mushroom patch, which galled him. It really gets right to the center of his American exceptionalism, as in, how dare anything interfere with what I want when I want it. The MF’s American exceptionalism itself has been more than nibbled since November 8, 2016; most recently, this acquittal of the teenager who shot up a Black Lives Matter protest being the outrage that really has the MF thinking about becoming a Toronto Blue Jays fan.

Yes. Move to Canada. They’re not as racist or violent there. For the first time in his life, the MF does not wonder how people who live in other countries can stand the disappointment of knowing they don’t live in the United States.

He probably won’t move to Canada, though, even though you could easily buy a goat farm there. He will stay here and increase the Love vibe by trying harder, like, by making fists and pressing them together knuckle against knuckle while squeezing his eyes shut until lightning bolts of Love zap out from his forehead and get all the violent racists to calm down.

Does that sound like a plan? No? OK well it was seeing actual slugs moving sluggishly in his own handful of chestnut mushrooms that made him realize they were mowing down his leafy greens. So how about spreading Sluggo with a light touch between rows in the garden? Maybe? OK, the MF will try that.


Meanwhile, what about all these beautiful and vulnerable seedlings? So many Mammoth sunflowers, Walla Walla onions, and Aztec corn. The MF knows late November is not corn season, but this is Southern California where you can grow whatever you want whenever you want. He started growing this corn in his classroom in trays, in rockwool growing medium, because at the beginning of the year the assistant principal said they had to get rid of all their soil-planted mini-community gardens immediately.

That was a blow.

Oh, it was a blow all right. Did you ever get to read the mini-essays students wrote about how they invested their hopes in their mini-community gardens of Day of the Dead marigolds and Japanese Swiss chard? They were heartwarming in their sincerity and also heartbreaking after the MF’s perhaps in retrospect huffy decision just to dump them all in a giant trashbag after the assistant principal sent him an email saying the mini-gardens would attract rodents.

Which, unfortunately, was true. The MF has seen mice in his classroom, has cleaned mouse turds off his desk. It was a situation where you just had to admit the administration was right and get on with your life.

And the MF did not want to lug 200 cardboard trays of this, that, and the other plant and scatter them in his backyard because he was tired — tired — of just planting random stuff whatever and then fretting about how random it all looked. So he gave his students until the end of the day to take their seed trays home.

A few did.

One girl periodically shows him pictures of how her California giant zinnias are doing:

And that cheers him up. Sometimes as a teacher you think, “If I make a difference to just one student…” and then you can’t finish the thought because making a difference to just one student is not nearly enough.

This is why the MF was temporarily happy when a little clique of students who sit near the window in homeroom took an interest in planting Aztec corn. They even gave them names, but then lost interest. The MF, never-say-never guy that he is, followed up by planting Mammoth sunflowers — all this in presumably rodent-neutral spun wool — but the death blow came when he lifted up the tray to show his homeroom students the prospering roots, and they didn’t even bother to shrug.

“The roots,” the MF repeated, and when not a single student showed the slightest interest, he auto-translated into not his usual Joy Spanish but the extremely rare Desperation Spanish, “Raices” — to which he thought he heard someone mutter, “He’s weird.”

Wow. Calling someone weird at an art school. That’s not nice. Fortunately, the MF knows how to act like a grown-up. He remembers that many of these kids invested real hope in mini-community gardens that he personally destroyed. He lives with this knowledge and it keeps him from arguing with teenagers that they should care and care deeply about a tray of sunflowers and their roots.

Still, he does have the one student who is studying Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs and modern-day Nahuas. In one of her essays she happened to comment that Corn is Life, so this made the MF feel better about the failure of second generation seed trays to make up for Gardenageddon. Now he wants to transplant the corn and the sunflowers, and many other fine veggies besides: lacinato or dinosaur kale, cosmic purple carrots, Florence fennel, Utah celery — but first he’s going to take care of the slugs.

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.

4 thoughts on “The Mushroom Farmer, Book 4, Chapter 6

  1. Do you feed the drowned slugs and beer to the chickens as well? What a treat!

    On a more somber note, Canada also has a dark side: The English – French peaceful coexistance is one aspect, the other is the Mounties last week arresting two journalists covering a First Nations pipeline protest. Let nothing stop the flow of oil and $, including Canadian $.

    1. Hah! Drunken chickens. Not on my watch. I did feed them the seeds’n’guts of my dear companion pumpkin, the one really big pumpkin and by big I mean medium-sized, but hefty, pumpkin that managed to grow after my unfortunate, and ill-advised by my own self spreading of Epsom salts in the soil last spring. Regrets, I’ve had a few, and that’s the main one.

      It was my dear companion pumpkin all through the sensitive transitional period between the end of the World Series and Halloween, but now it is Thanksgiving Week, time to eat it. Circle of life.

      As for Canadian culpability: yes. Sure. Humans are horrible. That is something we have to contend with. Press those love knuckles together harder, and then squeeeeeeeeeze your eyelids shut.

  2. “Calling someone weird at an art school. That’s not nice.”
    Agreed. Our “comment society” has run amok.
    I’m going to try this with my students…
    “make fists and pressing them together knuckle against knuckle while squeezing eyes shut until lightning bolts of Love zap out from the forehead and get all the violent racists to calm down.”
    I may have to simply give them the instructions, and ask them “What do you think you just accomplshed?”
    Slugs?…Try leaving out bowls of diet coke and separate bowls of mentos.

    1. That is really going to be a good experiment. If you can use a voltmeter I think that would be good, or maybe I just think that way because I’m about to start re-reading Frankenstein.

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