Four O'Clocks in China!
Creative Plant Staking

Potting Mix Grew Mushrooms

The path to fine arugula may not be smooth

The tiny seedling arched its stem to push through the potting mix. It was still white, having not yet seen the sun, but I moved it to the bright windowsill in anticipation. But alas, it didn't turn green. Instead, the white nub emerged, revealing itself to be a tiny white mushroom. Soon there were more of them. The arugula and collard seedlings emerged, but remained stunted and with poor color. The mushrooms opened into tiny striped gray parasols and then collapsed. A new flush emerged. My seedlings languished.

Thus did I fail at my first attempt to grow the superior Cook's Garden arugula strain.

When I returned the half-used potting mix to the nursery, I brought along a flat of arugula sporting a mushroom or two for them to observe. The clerk opined that perhaps I had kept it too wet. I replied that there should not be live mushroom spores in bagged potting mix, period. He exchanged it for a (hopefully) mushroom-free bag, and wrote on the exchange form "grows mushrooms."

Now I know that there are seeding mixes made to start seedlings, and I use one at the college, in a large greenhouse, because I know it is less susceptible to problems caused by the inevitablely less attentive care than seeded flats would get in my window at home, 8 feet from my computer.

Seeding mix has smaller particles, and more air and water holding capacity than potting mix, and lacks fertilizer, which can encourage water molds and decay bacteria that can take hold in overwatered containers. I have always succeeded with potting mix at home, since I can pay careful attention to water here. I gave some thought to whether I had introduced mushrooms, but decided if I had introduced spores somehow, it wouldn't have been in all 6 flats, which had different histories before reuse.

So now I have some really nice 3-inch seedlings of the arugula in the ground outdoors and some tiny new ones in fresh, mushroom-free potting mix in the windowsill. One of these days I will get to harvest some of that arugula. Gardening is all about patience, right?

When I do, I plan to make my pasta and arugula special. I like the tang of raw arugula, but I also like the milder flavor it has when cooked, as in this dish. For each diner, I mix a cubic inch of soft goat cheese or feta cheese with water to make a smooth, creamy sauce. Then I boil some pasta and, at the same time, saute some onion in a little olive oil. When the onion is done, I add a bit of minced garlic and saute it for about 30 seconds. Then in goes a big bunch of arugula leaves, cut up coarsely. When the arugula is cooked, I add the cheese mixture, the pasta, salt, pepper, and a bit of grated Parmesan, toss it all and serve it hot.

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