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The Last Windrow: Planting shiitake mushrooms

Does a live oak log weigh more at my age of 71 than it did at my age of 30? Yes, it does.

My dear wife attended a sustainable living vendor show a couple of weeks ago and brought home a package of shiitake mushroom cores. I had no idea these things existed, but they were lying in their package next to the coffee maker one morning a couple of weeks ago making me wonder what she was up to. They were a subtle hint of things to come.

One of our family's delectable treats is homemade chop suey. My Bohemian born grandmother made up this concoction as far back as I can remember. The rice soup was one of her trademarks. And in this brew she always tossed a handful of shiitake mushrooms. Hence, this dish became a favorite of ours, and the mushroom cores lying on our kitchen counter evidently were in my wife's plan to secure a supply of the delectable mushrooms from our woods instead of from a grocery shelf.

So in order to stay involved in our household, I volunteered to help "plant" these eraser sized cores into a living oak log. I ventured into our near woods and selected a live white oak approximately six inches in diameter. Knowing that we already had a multitude of oaks in our woodlot, I proceeded to fire up the chain saw and got to work. Those who have worked in the woods know that falling a tree is the easy part and can, at times, become lethal to the uneducated. But the tree fell where I planned and avoided crashing into the snowmobile.

I limbed the tree and cut it into four foot sections. As I dragged my selected logs out of the woods to the waiting snowmobile, I discovered that some years had passed since I last played logger. Each step through the six inch deep snow pulling the log became a labor, and by the time I reached my waiting snowmobile, I was spent. I don't remember that happening thirty years ago.

I got to thinking that if a car was 71 years old it would be in the junk pile. A dog would be on its last legs. You would be into your second septic drain field, and you would likely not be investing for the long term. The log I cut was probably around fifty years old and looked in a lot better shape than me, as I stood beside it, puffing and feeling a slight twinge in my lower back.

But nonetheless, I dragged the logs back to our basement. My wife was standing at the ready with a hammer, power drill and a pot of melted wax. I drilled the holes, pounded the mushroom cores into the holes, and she dripped the melted wax over each planting. Supposedly, sometime in the fall or next year we will have an ample supply of mushrooms for our tasty chop suey dinner or whatever else we choose to decorate.

I hope I outlast the production possibilities of the two mushroom logs. At my age of 71, the logs and mushrooms may outlast me. At least the heavy work is done and chop suey is on the menu.

See you next time. Okay?

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