By Kathleen Hale - Unit Chair, Western Reserve Herb Society
Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer.”
― E.M. Forster, Howards End
It will surprise absolutely no one, that I am starting a new gardening passion in the New Year. I’m growing mushrooms! Well, I have a batch of Blue Oyster (Pleurotus ostreatus var, columbinus) mushrooms starting down in my basement laboratory. The Case Western Reserve University Farm, also known as Squire Valleevue Farm, offers classes in growing mushrooms. Having taken precisely only one of those classes, and visited the Cave of Wonders that is the Farm’s Mushroom Cellar, I now consider myself an expert.
Well, maybe not an expert. But it does have me thinking a lot about mushrooms. Spreading the mushroom spawn evenly through a bunch of newly pasteurized, wet, shredded straw, ready to stuff the mess into a clear plastic film cylinder, I remembered the packet of “Mike” or mycorrhizae, purchased from some overpriced plant catalog, that I carried around in my jacket pocket last spring, having been assured that roses and other plants absolutely love to be planted with a fungal assist around their roots. Who knows?
The thing is, the fungus world is complicated and fascinating. As any gardener paying attention can tell you, plants communicate with each other. And fungi facilitate that communication. A mycorrhiza is a symbiotic association between a fungus and a plant. The fungus inhabits the plant’s root system. This colonization benefits the plant’s nutrition, soil biology and soil chemistry. We don’t yet have a clue about all the services provided by mycorrhizae. This is new and exciting stuff. But one fascinating area of study is how the mycorrhizae act as “bankers”, saving up nitrogen to distribute to the plant roots in times of nitrogen shortage. Mycorrhizal networks don’t just help out individual plants. They appear to facilitate communication and cooperation between plants.
Nerdy enough for you yet? Well, I do have a point, and it has to do with good gardeners in a New Year. We need to connect with each other. More important, we need to connect in ways that are “mutualistic”, a word used to describe the relationship between plants and mycorrhizae. This sometimes can be difficult. We are perhaps more complicated than those fungal tendrils, and less likely to explore new territory. We can be resistant to putting ourselves out there. Gardening can seem to be a solitary activity, until you realize the teeming world of organisms working around us.
Our human gardening companions are worth exploring.
In the New Year, I challenge you to put yourself out there. Only connect.