Dooley couldn’t understand why I was spending so much time planning next year’s garden. It was true that I had spent most of the morning at the kitchen table drawing plots and listing possible vegetable variety combinations for not only my main gardens but also for the decoy gardens. Planning in great detail has always been fun for me in everything I do. The execution of my plans, secondary. (They say Alfred Hitchcock visualized his films so thoroughly before shooting that he considered the actual making of the movie tedious.) Dooley is more of a “seat of the pants”, trial and error kind of guy. Both approaches are valid. We make a good team.
“Maybe it would help you understand if I told you about the fungus that saved America”, I said, hoping that telling him a story would give him the attention he was obviously wanting. Dooley doesn’t know much about human history or geography so I tell him stories every chance I get in hopes of making him a well-rounded dog.
“Far away, across the great ocean……” I started.
“The same ocean we are going to see?” Dooley asked. He’s very excited about seeing the ocean next week when we go to Florida.
“Far away, across the great ocean is a beautiful Emerald Island. The people who lived on this island 170 years ago loved potatoes. They loved them so much that they filled their gardens with potatoes. They ate them boiled, mashed, roasted, pan fried, deep fried, colcannon style, and au gratin.”
“French fried, too?”
“No doubt they did, Dooley. The odd thing was everyone grew the same kind of potato. They were strange looking potatoes with lumps so they called them Lumpers. The potatoes grew so well on the Emerald Isle that the well fed population of people grew in leaps and bounds.
One summer day, a great sea bird fished some food cast off by a pirate’s ship out of the ocean and carried it to the Emerald Island. A piece of the food dropped from the great bird’s grasp and fell into a potato garden. Riding on that small piece of food was a fungus called an Oomycete. Looking for a place to live, the Oomycete found its way into a nearby potato. It turns out that, just like the people on the island, the Oomycete loved Lumper potatoes, too. Soon, there were so many Oomycetes living in that potato that some of them moved to another potato. Again, just like the people on the island, the population of the Oomycetes grew and grew until they were living in almost all of the potatoes on the Emerald Isle. When the people dug up their potatoes that year, they found them black, rotting an inedible. Since potatoes were the main food of the people, they soon began to starve.”
“Didn’t they have fungicides?” asked Dooley.
“Since the fungus had never been a problem before, the island scientists had not invented fungicides yet”, I explained.
“So many people starved, that a lot of them decided it was time to move someplace else. They got into boats and sailed to America. Back then America was a much smaller place and at first there weren’t jobs for all the people from coming from the Emerald Isle. American business men, however, said to themselves “We have all these extra people who want to work, so let’s build something”. Many of the new immigrants were put to work on the railroads that were being built, and some worked in factories and foundries. As a result, American industry began to grow and expand out to the west. There were so many jobs now that the immigrants wrote to their families back on the Emerald Isle to join them in America for a better life. Eventually, over two million came. Before this time, some Americans had gotten extra help by kidnapping Africans and bringing them over to work for free. This went on mostly in the southern states. The Americans in the north, who now had plenty of English speaking workers, began to denounce the people in the south for the immoral practice of enslavement. As a result, the southern states decided they would make their own country. The north said,” No you won’t, we are the United States of America and will remain that way. A fight broke out. At first, the south was winning the fight. Then the north realized they had all these immigrants coming into the northern ports, so as soon as ships from the Emerald Isle landed they would give the new young men from the Emerald Isle a uniform and a gun and put them into the fight. Because they were such good fighters the north eventually won the war. Slavery was abolished and we remained the United States of America. If it hadn’t been for that fungus……..
“What has this got to do with you spending hours planning your garden?” Dooley interrupted.
“Well, we farmers learned a lesson from the people of the Emerald Isle. It is important of have a wide variety of crops, and if you like potatoes, you should plant different varieties of potatoes so if some fungus, insect or disease attacks your garden, you won’t lose your all of your potatoes. Every year I mix things up to confuse cooties that find my garden.”
“I don’t know about the cooties, but I am very confused”, Dooley said.
“On one hand, you tell me a terrible story of starvation because of a fungus. Then you tell me another story about how, because of the fungus, the United States of America was saved. Was the fungus good or bad?”
“Oh, Dooley, a fungus isn’t good or bad like people can be good or bad. It’s just a simple living thing doing what it has to for survival. By the same token, I do what I can to protect our food for our survival and sometimes that means not giving a particular fungus a comfortable place to live for very long. I suppose I told you the story of the United States and slavery to show you that a terrible thing can sometimes lead to a wonderful thing.”
“So, basically, you could have just said, don’t put all your eggs in one basket and every cloud has a silver………”