A few months back, around November at the time of the North East monsoon, this huge polypore mushroom showed near the base of a coconut tree. It was almost a feet and a half across. In today’s world where pseudo-scientific agro-pathology rules supreme, where undisturbed soil covered with leaves and organic matter, disturbs the mental stability of the machinery and pesticide pushers, where farmers cultivate right up to the edge of their farms, where living fences with live shrubs and trees are seen as repositories of insects and pathogens, mushrooms especially large ones are becoming rare. A huge mushroom is supposedly auspicious, likely to bring good rains. But it didn’t turn out that way. This is the third year of poor rains, some neighbors removed their pumps, as the wells dried up. With competition for who can drill deeper, and install more powerful pumps, things are getting worse. Distortions introduced by subsidies, ration card rice, and TASMAC liquor, prevents feedback loops that let people see world as it really is. Most of the problems remain hidden. Agriculture may be a “small” portion of the nation’s GDP, but it is the base on which fanciful financial schemes may be hatched.
Anyway the mushroom was big, possibly the biggest I’ve seen. The underside shows the pores.
I didn’t try cloning, atleast not yet. You just need to split them into small strips or pieces, and put them in a moist substrate. Growing mushrooms has become an “exact science”, but you can learn more by experimenting in your little corner of the world. Unfortunately today’s growers use formalin to sterilize the media and disinfect against flies, so that nice looking “all natural” mushroom with “n” number of benefits may have enough formalin to cause kidney damage. The same goes for fish, which is preserved in formalin. Some people have avoided eating fish, since formalin/formaldehyde are associated with mortuaries (http://ajitvadakayil.blogspot.in/2012/08/formalin-as-fish-preservative-and.html)
One way to detect the overuse of formalin is the presence of flies. Using insects and small animals to find out if food that is legally classified as “edible” is really safe in the long run, may be a good idea. If you give your dog chlorinated water, and chlorine-free water, it will obviously prefer the chlorine-free water. That definitely does tell you something. Today even in India the chlorine concentrations have been increased to take care of the lowest common denominator. Ants can indicate what food is good, if you care to notice their preferences.
In another place there was this small, but bright orange mushroom. A few months before, apparently the person looking after the farm, saw a cobra and rat snake, dancing together. So he burnt up that place of any dry leaves and twigs. He probably created the right conditions for that mushroom. But unfortunately the snakes and rain gods were none too happy. It is hard to tell people to avoid snakes and leave them alone. They go religious when you talk to them, but behind the scenes, they just adopt their crude mechanisms of keeping the place “clean”.
Ganoderma takes on many forms. This one preferred in Japan and China, is not a favorite here. It (the boiled water extract) tastes a little chocolatey and woody. The mushroom has fine pores, it is another polypore too. If you split it apart, you can see the long strands that make up the pores. In the lemon orchard, it is a sign that the lemon tree or major portions of it will die.
Termitomyces mushrooms are a favorite. The meat like texture and flavor is something people like. The name comes from the fact that this mushroom is cultivated by termites in their nests. During the rains, this mushroom shoots up through bare ground. I got a few from the farm, but when I took them out from the bag the next morning, they were all squishy. Maggots had got to them first.
We are all too used to going for the big solutions. People want to plant trees, and they expect them to behave nicely, be neat and trim. But trees like to shed leaves, keep the ground covered, and increase soil life, this provides nutrients and keeps the soil moist. Small plants and shrubs can provide solutions too, keep the air fresh, reduce dust, and remove pollutants. Small plants also lay the base by improving soil, and facilitating succession with trees. If we cultivate plants in soil rich in organic matter, then we provide an environment for fungi and bacteria that can also clean the air. So I get leaves, twigs, and coconut husks (easily available in our country), mix with soil, and establish a living ecology in the containers for plants. The soil becomes better with time. If you find wild mushrooms, just shred them and add to the mix. If they get established, the mushrooms can increase nutrient re-cycling. Pleurotus mushrooms (Oyster mushrooms) are known to digest petrochemical products like diesel, and can degrade pesticides. Some species with this genus are also known to degrade plastics. So as I said before, people should experiment in their own little corner of their world. And may be, what Paul Stamets, the famous mycologist, believes, may come true, mushrooms will save our world and life style.
There was an empty nest, possibly of a sunbird. That reminds me of a different type of sunbird, with hues of red and pink, like the hummingbirds seen in the Americas. There was this crack-shot with a sling. He could hit the narrow stem of a drumstick pod and bring it down. He had shot this colorful sunbird. He gave it to me, and I buried it with ceremony 🙂 This was a really long time back. Now we see just two types a full black type, and the purple rumped. They come for the hibiscus flowers in our house, and instead of drinking from the center, they poke through the side. Still they provide a rare liveliness in a world becoming more dirtier, and sterile. Speaking of liveliness, the Prinias, the tailor-birds, that used to frequently call out with their high-pitched “tchup”, they now come to our garden but stay very quiet. And ofcourse the most liveliest, the sparrows, are just disappearing. I have seen a few a kilometer away from our house, but none is yet to show up at our house, or nearby. So sad, the “cleanerers” who want to clean the last piece of shrub or grass around the houses, and people who build a big box of a house, leaving just a few inches of space with their neighbors, have made all life retreat away from human settlements.
The rooster (a white leghorn, the familiar broiler breed) did well in our house for a while. Then it became too big, there weren’t enough insects, spiders, and lizards in the garden. So it flew over to our neighbors’ houses to forage, and we ended up leaving it in a friend’s farm. It thrived there, inspite of the presence of a few cats and dogs. One fine day it disappeared, more likely hunted down
for meat. We learnt (or re-learned) an useful lesson, that insects are a good part of many birds diet. Sunbirds eat a good deal of insects too, the popular belief that it lives on pure nectar is just that, a popular myth. And here is a photo of a wasp drinking honey.