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One of my master gardeners took me musseling at the public shellfish DNR site at Murrell’s Inlet a few weeks back. The only hard part was walking in that pluff mud in rubber knee boots as with each step it created a vacuum like seal around your foot requiring that you leaned forward until you almost tipped over trying to break the suction. My legs are pretty strong ‘cause they carry a relatively large person around but at one point I simply could not get free, had to pull my foot out of the boot, try to only lightly immerse my sock in the mud, while I leaned over and wrestled with that boot until it came free. Then came the delightful experience of sliding my mud-encased foot back into the boot and continuing onward until we reached dry land.
You’d think that might be enough to cure me of low-tide excursions, but the very next weekend I found myself at Awendaw and within walking distance of the tidal marsh. At low tide my daughter and I stepped off high ground into that slightly drained creek and began looking for more of those tasty shellfish. Once again, we found ourselves fighting to free our feet from that gook. I finally decided it was easier to crawl on hands and knees and maneuvered quite nicely while collecting four dozen mussels which we had for supper.
Pluff mud owes its distinctive smell to the presence of anaerobic bacteria. These organisms do not use oxygen when breaking down organic matter into its simpler components. In the maritime marshes which are flooded and then drained with each tidal cycle, there is no oxygen in the soil. A compost heap which gets too wet can also develop that peculiar odor. Some people think it just smells awful but to me it smells like you are getting close to the beach.Spartina grass can grow in that environment, thankfully, and the beards of the mussels are entwined with the grass roots. It is difficult for a raccoon, or a bird, or even a very determined woman to get them loose and into your stomach or basket.
You can see a picture of Lovable Lill and me and our basket of delicacies at Making It Grow!’s Facebook page. While you’re there, please take a moment to “like” our show. Stay tuned for a story of the cornbread dressing cooked in an athletic sock which later made an unexpected resurrection of sorts due to a Labrador retriever.