If we are still not comfortable to go outside at this hard time, instead go inside. Reset, refresh, and keep peace of mind with exercising yoga and meditation. Yoga is part of meditation. According to researchers, meditation is very difficult to define because of the different ways, there are elements of tradition and involve the power of the mind. To put it simply, meditation is an individual practice of mindfulness training to achieve a clear mental state and stable emotion. All religions and faiths involve meditation.

In general, what is meant by yoga is the practice of movement (asana), energy circulation (mudra), and breathing (pranayama). Meanwhile, the basic method of meditation uses a technique of focusing the mind on a certain invisible object. This means we can also practice concentrating on the coronavirus and trying to control it, much like a vaccine.

When it comes to this new normal, extracurricular activities like yoga and meditation are suitable for all ages at home. Practical because it can be done in a limited space, without complicated equipment, supports distance movement, and is said to improve the fitness and immune system. Unlike before the pandemic, yoga activities were carried out in large groups, wearing trendy, sexy and expensive clothes. How can we concentrate when there are too many temptations?

There are countless positions for practicing yoga. One that is most important and is always mentioned in the literature is the shirshasana or the headstand position. Both babies who are born normally and who are not normal (breech, cesarean) must have experienced this position while in their mother’s womb before birth. This natural position is proven to be the healthiest and safest way to start a new life. Breathe air for the first time in nature.

Sigmund Freud in one of his psychoanalytic theories relates this position to the fetus floating in the amniotic fluid of the mother’s womb to launch the baby’s birth process. Even Freud once wrote that if someone dreams of swimming or playing water, it is a sign that the person, in his or her unconscious mind, remembers his or her mother who was pregnant with him or her. The scientific explanation of this dream, there is a difference in body temperature, a sign that the body is not in healthy conditions and the immune system is weak.

If we practice shirshasana or upside-down position properly, relax without weight, breathe regularly, like floating in water, it will have a positive effect on rejuvenation, body health, and calm the mind. For young children who see adults in this position it is sure to make them happy and amazed. It was as if there was a fresh memory that they had been doing this not that long ago, while in their mother’s womb. It is interesting to observe how the children imitate this position.

For those who like yoga and meditation, feel free to try this shirshasana position with upside-down padmasana (lotus posture). Practicing step by step starts from shirshasana; beginners can do shirshasana against the wall for safety. Normal or not upside down padmasana can be done separately; either full lotus or half lotus with alternate left and/or right palm of feet or foot facing up. Concentrate on taking care of the body, the earth and everything in it. It is also hoped that it can comfort, calm the mind, and give awareness that the current pandemic and hot wave recently are due to natural imbalances, one of the causes is because of human activities. Please consult your physician before doing shirshasana.

Our life can be upside-down due to this pandemic, environmental degradation, and global warming. By practicing the real upside-down posture, I hope that our body and mind can be healthy and stay positive during this new normal.

Meditation activities, among others, through yoga, whatever their religion or belief, even for non-believers (agnostics, atheists) will reduce stress, boredom, depression, and pain. Many have reported in scientific research that meditation can control the production of “joy” hormones: the dopamine hormone associated with pleasure due to motor exercise. Serotonin, the pleasure hormone, because someone can sleep and taste the food well, is also associated with memory. The hormone oxytocin is associated with sensuality. Hormonal endorphins to reduce pain. In a healthy body and mind, it is proven that the immune system will increase and be useful in dealing with a pandemic.

Namaste, “I bow to the divine in you”.

-Bintoro Gunadi

I have compared the different small-scale worm containers or wormeries around the world when I worked at the Soil Ecology Laboratory at the Ohio State University (OSU), Columbus in this early millennium (1998 – 2002). Most of them have rather different aesthetic models and performances, but basically their systems are the same with some holes for aeration and leachate water collection, without agitation and aeration to collect the finished worm castings at the bottom of the container regularly.

After some time, the condition of the unfinished organic waste and worm castings are getting too wet, anaerobic, smelly, will invite flies. The compost worms are not happy, and they will not multiply, but they will try to escape by climbing the sides of the container. In this wet and anaerobic (less oxygen) conditions it will be difficult to harvest the excess of worms and worm castings separately. Most of the squeamish people will give up at this point with their vermiculture-vermicomposting activities.

The healthy worms will move up to the new feedstock and will be easy to collect on the surface. The finished worm castings or vermicompost will move down and be easy to collect from the bottom of the container. Some wormeries are designed in stalks expecting that the compost worms will move from the first container to the second container. This idea can happen if there is no problem as mentioned above and the bedding inside the container is in optimum conditions.

Any container can be used for culturing worms (vermiculture) and worm composting (vermicomposting) such as unused bathtub, broken refrigerator, and directly using compost pile outdoors. Handy people can make themselves even better and cool with wooden containers. It is like a master chef, the wok is not the utmost important, but the feeling doing with your heart, the content of the mixture of the ingredients, recipes, and the optimum conditions for cooking are more important than the wok itself. In vermiculture-vermicomposting, the right species and density of the compost worms or red wigglers are the utmost important together with the mixture of the feedstock and optimum conditions.

After becoming familiar with the biology and life cycle of the red wigglers, the development of the wormery is getting urgent to save the time, labor, and cost using the right designed wormery. One of the wormeries in the market with innovation is called Worm Wigwam with the input of organic waste 10 – 15 pounds per day. This wormery or worm container is equipped with a crank to operate a continuous-flow system for harvesting the worm castings, enough ventilation in a spacious space at the bottom of the container for summer, and heater for winter operations.

It was a great pleasure to visit Bruce Elliot of Sustainable Agricultural Technologies, Cottage Grove, Oregon a few years ago. He makes the Worm Wigwam based on the continuous-flow system found at the Rothamsted Experimental Station (RES), United Kingdom. My former supervisor, prof. Clive Edwards was the director of the RES before he moved to the OSU, Columbus to develop the Soil Ecology Laboratory and implement the large-scale automated continuous-flow worm composter together with our team and Dan Holcombe of Oregon Soil Corporation at Philomath, Oregon that I also visited several times before the pandemic.

Any progress and problem with the continuous-flow worm composters around the globe to be shared is appreciated. Thank you.

We provide the red wigglers or compost worms inoculum as a starter package (2 X 1 X 1 feet) to start the medium- and large-scale vermiculture vermicomposting. Compost worms inoculum is the whole system of beneficial soil microbes, worm castings, and adults, juveniles, baby worms also worm cocoons (compound eggs) in one package. We used to provide the worm composting workshop of creating a living soil before the pandemic. In the new normal, we still provide consultations and offer the green business opportunities. Please visit our website http://www.burnabyredwigglers.com to see our products and services.

-Bintoro Gunadi

Living soil is growing method centered on the biodiversity of the beneficial soil microorganisms (bacteria, fungi, archaea, algae) and soil animals (mostly compost worms, earthworms, rove beetles, springtails, mites, nematodes, protozoans) as the soil biota that help the plants to be healthy and productive for human purposes.

Soil is alive, so soil can also die. Basically, we should feed the soil first before the plant. Living soil can support the growth of the plants and a reasonable life-support system together with water and climate in our planet, the only one living earth in our galaxy so far. The first idea of feeding the mother earth has been developed by James Lovelock through the Gaia hypothesis since the late 1970s.

The Gaia hypothesis or principle (pronounced gai-uh, mother nature deity in Greek mythology) suggests that earth is alive. It is similar to the other living organisms and interacts with the surrounding inorganic environment to form a synergetic and self-regulating system that created, and now maintains, the climate and biochemical conditions that make life on earth possible. It is because earth or soil is alive, we should feed them to keep alive.

According to The Ecologist (February 2012), the journal for the post-industrial age, the ancient Egyptians valued mother nature. Cleopatra VII in the first century established laws protecting the earthworm for its useful toil of the fertile Nile Valley. A death penalty to the people who break the laws by killing earthworms during that time. It was reported by the National Geographic magazine (November 2009) that earthworm is the most influential species of all evolution on earth.

Creating living soil in the small scale for example in the pots, garden beds, greenhouses to support the growth of cultivated plants can be started by introducing the compost worms and fresh worm castings or vermicompost in situ or on site in the closed system. Vermicompost is rich in beneficial soil microbes, including plant growth regulators, plant hormones, fulvic and humic acids, and available slow-release nutrients.

The basic mix of creating living soil: One part fertile, friable or crumble soil, peat moss, coco coir, leaf-mold, etc. One part of aeration: lava rock, pumice, perlite, rice hulls, etc. One part of the high quality of compost or fresh worm castings or vermicompost. In addition, the application of the vermicompost tea on the aboveground plants for a special treatment regularly will speed up the plant growth and productivity and will reduce the plant diseases. 

The feeding to the system regularly is necessary to keep the soil and compost worms alive. Selected organic resources and vermicompost can be used to support the natural way of farming or organic farming. Organic mulching with minimum tilling may support the growth of the beneficial soil organisms and the healthy plants with less weeds and pests. Moreover, the application of the vermicompost will invite the native earthworms and other beneficial organisms to support the natural way of farming.

A living soil is a loving soil for the sake of the young generation. It is more than just dirt. The drawings are courtesy of Elise of the 3rd grade and Sophie of the kindergarten. The drawings can be zoomed to see details.

-Bintoro Gunadi

During the fight against the pandemic coronavirus, almost all of the public sauna places around the world are closed. Learning to do sauna in nature from the squirrel.

The photo was taken in early Spring 2021. A squirrel having “sauna” in the morning at the temperature slightly below zero Celsius. The steam comes from the heat produced by the composting process of the dead trunk; it gets warmer under the direct sunshine.

The early decomposition of the plant debris (mostly carbon, nitrogen, and lignin) can produce heat which is used by squirrels as well as other living creatures in the forest. In the past processes, the fossil fuels formed from the fossilized remains of dead plants by exposure to heat and pressure in the earth’s crust over millions of years are then used by humans and increase global warming.

That squirrel, when it is a sauna while sunbathing, can straighten its hair in the cool weather. This is so that the heat and steam become easier to penetrate the body. The squirrel can do it, but the human cannot.

The inventors of the sauna are the Nordic or Scandinavian people, especially the Finns who are famous for their Finnish saunas. The temperature of the sauna can be up to 100 degrees Celsius. In this condition, it can even make them addicted and healthy.

It is recorded in World War 2 the Nordic army made a place for a sauna. During the war, they continued to do a sauna to be more energized and relaxed.

In the native or origin of the sauna country, a sauna without even clothes, often mixed between the opposite sex, several times in and out of the sauna room to swim in the freezing lake, while occasionally drinking some soft alcoholic drinks, so as not to freeze.

My most memorable experience of having a sauna indoor and outdoor was at the northern of Jyvaskyla in Finland near the Lapland areas about a quarter of a century ago. This practice continued until the coronavirus hit the world.

Humans should still have a speck of the squirrel gene, if they are afraid, then the hair on their nape of neck will stand up. Human’s sixth sense is still very sensitive to microscopic creatures such as the coronavirus. Sauna and sunbathing are good for health during this pandemic.

Nothing to lose, natural decomposition of the plant debris or “natural sauna” can make the forest warmer and keep the planet cooler.

We hope this year the Covid-19 will be under control soon after we change our bad habits in disturbing nature, applying the basic coronavirus response program (using masks, washing hands, wearing gloves, social distancing), and having the vaccination.

Expecting the public sauna to open normally during the new normal. Although in the new normal it is difficult for people to do sauna together again in the public recreation areas.  

-Bintoro Gunadi

Earthworms including compost worms or red wigglers are soil or compost dwelling detritivores. Detritivores obtain nutrients by consuming detritus or decomposing plant and animal parts. Detritivores and decomposers such as bacteria, microscopic fungi, and mushrooms are often used interchangeably because in the food web or food cycle detritivores generally play the roles of decomposers.

Decomposers mostly saprotroph are organisms that breakdown dead or decaying organisms. Basically, earthworms eat microscopic decomposers and the mechanism to obtain the nutrients and energy are different with the saprotrophs, herbivores, and carnivores.

The process of decomposition of the organic matter is one of the most common senses and important processes in the planet to support the new generation of life. As organic matter decomposes within a medium or substrate in which saprotroph organisms is residing, the saprotroph breaks such matter down into its composites and gives more spaces to all living creatures to thrive.

Proteins are broken down into amino acids by enzyme proteases. Lipids are broken down into fatty acids and glycerol by enzyme lipases. Starch is broken down into pieces of simple sugar by enzyme amylases. Cellulose, a major portion of plant cells, and therefore a major constituent of decaying matter is broken down into sugar by enzyme cellulases produced by bacteria, fungi, and protozoans. Earthworms eat the bacteria (bacterivores), fungi (fungivores), and protozoans that growth on the decomposing materials not directly the proteins, fatty acids, and sugars from the waste.

There is a symbiotic mutualism between the earthworm as decomposer and saprotrophic organism. In order saprotrophic organisms and decomposers to facilitate optimal growth and repair, favorable conditions and nutrients must be present. Optimal conditions are the utmost important, refer to several conditions which optimize the growth of bacteria, fungi and earthworms including compost worms.

The presence of water (75 – 80%), presence of oxygen (aerobic), neutral-acidic pH (6 – 6.5), low-medium temperature (0 – 25 degrees Celsius), and majority of nutrients are also important for the growth of the saprotroph and decomposer organisms. Dead and organic matter provide rich source of carbon, nitrogen, protein, carbohydrate, minerals, and vitamins. Waste selection and smaller particle size of the waste are important to give more surface areas of the microorganisms to grow and will support the growth and reproduction of the earthworms especially the compost worms.

Naturally, several macroscopic saprotroph organisms or soil critters are involved during the decomposition processes of the organic waste. In the closed or self-contained vermiculture-vermicomposting in small systems, people are trying to avoid those organisms including flies, ants and other bugs for the aesthetic purposes and sanitation or cleanliness of the household habitat. In most of cases, the right species and high density of the compost worms will be dominance and the bugs cannot compete with the worms.

During the decomposition of the garden waste, farm waste, and kitchen waste in the semi natural compost pile, the presence of the bugs can be neglected but then the new problem will arise because some of worm predators such as amphibians, reptiles, birds, mice even racoons will dig the piles and eat the worms before the freezing Winter coming. Tarps and chicken wires are good protectors for the red wigglers or compost worms against the worm predators and the harsh weathers in the compost pile.

The illustration above is the food web of the compost pile courtesy from the book: Ecology of Compost by Daniel L. Dindal (1971), Sunny CESF, Syracuse NY. The bottom levels are the organic residues or renewable feedstocks of the compost worms. The first levels are the actinomycetes, molds, bacteria, rotifers, protozoans, and microscopic nematodes. According to the recent findings in soil biology, they are regularly ingested by the compost worms.

The second levels of the illustration on compost food web are the others decomposers as close friends of the compost worms such as pot worms, springtails, mold mites, woodlice or sowbugs, millipedes, some beetles, and slugs. The third levels are the most common predators of the compost worms. They are predatory mites, ground beetles, pseudoscorpions, centipedes, rove beetles, ants, and soil flatworms. The highest level of the larger predators of the red wigglers in the compost piles such as mice and birds, are not presented in this illustration.

-Bintoro Gunadi      

Burgess Shale is a limestone quarry full of fossils of the very early primitive animals formed about 530 million years ago. The location is at Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies, eastern part of British Columbia near the borderline with Alberta, Banff National Park. It is about 8-9 hours driving from the Vancouver area.

This short article is about the amazing fossils from the “Cambrian explosion” that were printed and well preserved on the over 12,000 stone specimens. The early Burgess Shale fossils were recorded and collected by Charles Doolittle Walcott, head of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C. in 1909.

The anatomical description and taxonomic placement of the fossils were developed and reinterpreted by Harry Blackmore Whittington of Cambridge University in the 1970s after over forty years in analyzing and working with the lab drawing. Some scholars like Derek Ernest Gilmor Briggs, Simon Conway Morris, who both are the former students of Whittington, and the late Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University published their books on the Burgess Shale fossils mystery and reality. They have different perspectives and arguments.

The Burgess Shale during the Period of Cambrian was an ancient sea with very strange living creatures never seen before or since such as:

Anomalocaris, the largest predator with a circular jaw and a pair of feeding organs. 

Canadaspis, a crustacean with two large valves, five head segments, and two pairs of antennae. 

Hallucigenia, the unusual creature supported by seven pairs of struts on the seafloor.

Marrella, an abundant creature with two pairs of head shields that belong nowhere in the classification of animals.

Opabinia, a soft-bodied arthropod with frontal nozzle, five eyes, and fan shaped tail.

Ottoia, a soft-bodied burrower sedentary worm-like animal with hundred hooks.

Pikaia, a primitive fish-like animal, resembled the lancelet the first known primitive chordate.

Yohoia, a primitive trilobite-like animal with great and flexible appendages.

Wiwaxia, a bilaterally symmetrical amour slug-like animal with plates and spines. And much more.

Most of the Cambrian explosion living creatures above and many other bizarre creatures can be seen in the books of Derek Briggs et al.: The Fossils of the Burgess Shale, Conway Morris: The Crucible of Creation, and the book of Jay Gould: Wonderful Life. They also can be found at the Royal Ontario Museum’s website here: https://burgess-shale.rom.on.ca/

According to Morris, the creation of the living creatures in the past during the Cambrian explosion has a relationship with the nowadays or modern living creatures. Although most of those primitive animals are different in body shapes and rules in the animal classification. Gould argues that some of the Burgess Shale prehistoric animals do not have any relationship with the modern animals, so cannot be placed in the present classification of the animal kingdom.

Most scientists agree that the main reason for the high diversity and disparity of the Burgess Shale ancient living creatures due to the limited oxygen during the Cambrian explosion.

The creation of the Burgess Shale animal fossils can be without special purposes or randomly blind and then followed by the evolution of the arthropods and other living creatures. Or there was a revolution of the primitive animals that only happened in the past during the Cambrian explosion and then they suddenly disappeared or perished.

At least we can enjoy the fossils and learn more about the living creatures in the past. Who knows that there will be modern animals similar to those fossils found in the future?   

The photo above was taken above the Canadian Rocky Mountains on the first day of the last Winter. From Air Canada, Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner before Covid-19 hits North America.

-Bintoro Gunadi    

This migratory bird is called Turdus migratorius or American robin. The birds rush to eat berries early this winter due to the imminent migration from British Columbia, Canada to warmer California and Mexico. After they mate, lay eggs, and raise their young.

American robin feeds on caterpillars, mosquitoes, earthworms (40%) and berries (60%). One of their favorite berries is the invasive “berry” firethorn or Pyracantha, which is closely related to roses and apples from the family of Rosaceae. The fruit is winter hardy and ferments on the tree. The seed is poisonous to humans because it contain cyanide.

I have ever tried the firethorn berry. It has the varies taste from bold of tannins, a bit sour, and bitter when it fermented is like a medicine such quinine as antimalaria. Actually firethorn fruit is not berry but pome with some hard seeds usually with a pair of seed inside the fleshy tissue in the small fruit.

It is interesting watching the American robins eat their favorite alcoholic berries because if the robins eat too many fruits, they become drunk; walk and fly unsteadily but remain alert and excited. Give them the last provision of high nutritious food and alcohol doping before migrating thousands of kilometers to warmer areas.

In warm areas, this bird is a host or asymptomatic carrier of the West Nile virus, as well as Zika virus, dengue virus, and yellow fever virus. It has been proven that other larger birds such as the crow as well as the beautiful blue jay bird will die if they are infected by those viruses.

These viruses have also claimed many human fatalities, although not as many as coronavirus victims. It can be imagined that if these birds were hunted down and then extinct, the viruses would be more vicious to attack humans. After all, a flock of American robins can still fly free and far during this pandemic.

The photo is courtesy of Macaulay Library, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the photographer is Joshua Covill.

-Bintoro Gunadi

The classical social insects such as ants, termites, and bees have been mentioned and researched in the long history of life science or biology and agriculture. Their crucial roles in the ecosystem are as bioindicators in between pests and beneficial insects as pollinators have been proven influencing of the sustainability of human population.

The insect ancestor fossils back some 400 million years to the Devonian era. There is a limited fossil of the ancestor of earthworms due to their soft and fragile body. According to the scientists, the first worm has been evolving for about 700 million years during the Cryogenian era. And the first living creatures, Annelida, segmented earthworms moved onto land from water by tunneling through underground and eating nutrients from the soil organic matter about 5 million years ago.

Recently, scientists have discovered earthworms form herds and make “group decisions”. The research started 10 years ago by Lara Zirbes at the University of Liege, Belgium. The research with the hypothesis that a social cue influences the earthworm behavior has been published in the Journal of Ethology.

An earthworm uses touch to communicate and influence each other’s behavior. By doing so the worms collectively decide to travel in the same direction as a part of a single herd. The researchers consider the earthworm behavior as the equivalent of a herd or swarm.

The striking behavior found in the compost worm Eisenia fetida, is the first time that any type of worm or annelid member has been shown to form active herds. This interaction is part of the important ecological role of that earthworm. However, the researchers started to notice that the earthworm specially compost worms seemed also to interact with each other by touching.

This behavior will save the compost worm population during the freezing winter just below zero degree Celsius. They can survive by keeping warmer temperature in the herd rather than as an individual. Moreover, the compost worms produce lumbrokinase as an anti-blood clot enzyme to prevent their blood from being frozen.

Individual compost worms or red wigglers Eisenia fetida and Eisenia andrei secrete antibacterial protein called fetidin, potentially deterring soil pathogens through yellow fluid called fetid from its posterior body to deter predators. But the fish like very much these compost worms as a bait. According to the researchers, gathering into groups or herds may increase the amount of fetid covering the compost worms and hence better protect them against predators.

The photo above is a handful of red wigglers which will be much easier to be harvested during the Winter as they are forming herds during the freezing weather. One handful of compost worms can be used for processing organic waste per one square foot surface area.

Basically, compost worms or red wigglers are hermaphrodites. The female and male reproductive organs are present in the same animals. Each compost worm has both the male part that produces sperms and the female part that produces eggs. It has been reported that the self-fertilization occurs in compost worms from about 10% of its reproduction activities and mostly at the unfavorable conditions for example in harsh environments, too cold or too wet conditions.

The fact that compost worms always try to find their partners first to exchange the sperms and eggs (mating), can be another indication to support that they are a social animal. Instinctively they try to avoid self-fertilization. Self-fertilization will reduce the quality of the genetic materials within their population.

Please visit our website at http://www.burnabyredwigglers.com if you are interested in involving compost worms to create a living soil.

-Bintoro Gunadi

World Soil Day will be held on December 5, 2020 with the theme: “Keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity”. The aim of this event is to raise awareness of the importance of maintaining healthy ecosystems and human well-being by addressing the growing challenges in soil management, fighting soil biodiversity loss, increasing soil awareness and encouraging governments, organizations, communities and individuals around the world to commit to proactively improving soil health.

For the first time this program was endorsed unanimously in the conference organized by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations in June 2013. In December 2013, the United Nations General Assembly responded by designating 5 December 2014 as the first official World Soil Day.

After 7 years digging, we know that the soil quality and quantity around the world are decreasing to support the healthy ecosystem. Deforestation, intensive agricultural practices, pollutions, climate changes, and lack of soil management are the main causes of the problem that make the soil becoming unfertile and less in soil biodiversity.

According to the study conducted by the scientists from the different countries (Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, China, Singapore, UK, USA) with the title Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Biodiversity Conservation, which was published in Biological Conservation journal (Corlett et al., 2020), it is too early to evaluate the overall impacts of the coronavirus pandemic on biodiversity.

COVID-19 is reducing the human activities. Biodiversity in general including soil biodiversity is benefiting by reducing human activities. On the other hand, reducing the biodiversity can increase the human risk to get contact with zoonosis, diseases that can be passed from animals to humans.

What is soil biodiversity? According to the Global Soil Biodiversity Initiative, millions of microbial and animal species live and make up soils, from bacteria and fungi to mites, beetles, and earthworms. Soil biodiversity is the total community from genes to species and varies depending on the environment. The immense diversity in soil allows for a great variety of ecosystem services that benefit the species that inhabit it, the species (including us) that use it, and its surrounding environment.

Charles Darwin in his last book The Formation of Vegetable Mould, through the Action of Worms, with Observations on Their Habits (1881) estimated that arable land or land used  or suitable for growing crops contains up to 53,000 earthworms per acre or about 13 earthworms per square meter. Recent research has produced figures suggesting that even poor soil may support 250,000 earthworms per acre or 62 earthworms per square meter with the addition of the organic matter, while rich fertile farmland may have up to 1,750,000 earthworms per acre or about 432 earthworms per square meter.

After the observation on earthworms in relation to soil fertility and health for over 40 years, Darwin called earthworms “friends of farmers and unheralded soldiers of mankind working day and night under the soil”. Farmers understand the soil without living creatures such as earthworms will be unfertile, unhealthy, and not productive enough to support the growth of the plants.

Creating the living soil by introducing earthworms in situ or directly on site is in accordance with the theme of the World Soil Day 2020: “Keep soil alive, protect soil biodiversity”. The simple way to participate the world soil biodiversity movement is by doing composting and vermicomposting using compost worm or red wigglers to increase the soil biodiversity.

Please contact us at www.burnabyredwigglers.com if you need compost worms and worm castings. Let us know how we can help you to feed the soil using the resource organic waste from your kitchen, office, garden, farm, and food waste or introducing directly the red wigglers to your garden bed soil indoors and outdoors to create a living soil.

-Bintoro Gunadi

Amanita muscaria or Fly Agaric mushroom is one of the most beautiful and eye-catching mushrooms found anywhere, especially in the Northern hemisphere. Most undergraduate students in biology, forestry, chemistry, pharmacy, medicine, or young naturalists have been taught that the elegant shape and bright colorful of genus Amanita can be red, white, orange, yellow, green, or regular brown as a warming color. So, starting from the beginning they learned that Amanita mushrooms are toxic or poisonous.

Fly Agaric mushroom contains Ibotenic acid (C5H6N2O4), its decarboxylation by-product muscimol (C4H6N2O2) and muscarine (C9H20NO2). Although Ibotenic acid can bind the glutamate and aspartate that may create the umami or savory taste, the compound is a powerful neurotoxin that directly influences the central nervous system. Muscimol is a psychoactive compound that displays sedative-hypnotic, depressant, and hallucinogenic psycho-activity. Muscarine is a natural product found in certain mushrooms specially in Amanita. The medical uses of muscarine are as a neurotransmitter that influences the peripheral parasympathetic nervous system in treating glaucoma, gastrointestinal, and urinary tract diseases.

In nature, some animals such dogs, cats, foxes, squirrels, and reindeers eat Amanita mushrooms, and it was reported some of them died because of overdoses. According to the Vancouver Mycological Society, it is rarely people consumed accidentally the Fly Agaric with a red bright cap and white spots on it. It is intentionally ingested by some people seeking the inebriating effects, so these people rarely come to medical attention. This is probably because Amanita muscaria contains lower and more consistent quantities of the neurotoxins, resulting in milder and more predictable effects than its close relative one of the most poisonous mushrooms Dead Cap (Amanita phalloides) and Destroying Angel (Amanita virosa). It is also reported that very few people choose to use Amanita mushroom repeatedly.

The fiction stories about Amanita muscaria starts with the “Fairy Tale Toadstool”. There is a less discussed myth in which it is believed that the Fly Agaric was the forbidden fruit that God forbade Adam and Eve to take in the garden of Eden rather than a red shiny apple. According to some scholars the forbidden fruit was the red shiny mushroom Amanita muscaria. It is well illustrated that the hallucinations from the recognizable red mushroom on the planet could be responsible for Alice’s trip into the Wonderland. Our beloved images of a red-suit Santa Claus and his flying reindeers may be caused by eating Fly Agaric that make Santa always “fly-high” happy and the reindeers also enjoy the Amanita mushroom.

There are two meanings of Amanita muscaria as a Fly Agaric mushroom. First, it is because some species of small flies use Amanita muscaria as their host to lay hundreds of eggs and their larvae (maggots) that can destroy this mushroom overnight by causing them to decompose. On the other hand, Amanita muscaria powder diluting in the milk is traditionally used for catching house fly Musca domestica. Second meaning, as it has been discussing before that the compounds of the Fly Agaric can really make people fly-high, hallucination, drunk, and even death of the overdoses. Amanita muscaria is a conundrum because it is poisonous and edible at the same time. As the Amanita’s toxins are water soluble, special preparation required to remove the toxins. This mushroom is not good for the dinner although it produces umami or savory yummy taste.

This late Autumn I walked in the woods and found several colonies of Amanita muscaria. I found that Fly Agaric growth in pine forest had dark red shiny color rather than lighter red color in the birch forest, and the young unopened cap was darker red than the opened cap. The right photo is Amanita muscaria at the pine habitat and the left photo at the birch habitat. Fly Agaric belongs to Basidiomycete fungus that forms symbiotic relationship with various coniferous trees (such as pine and spruce) and deciduous trees (birch, oak, hickory). It is normally found growing in sandy and acidic soils (pH 6 – 6.5).

At least there are five varieties or Amanita muscaria i.e. A. muscaria var. muscaria (bright red cap with white warts), A. muscaria var. guessowii or formosa (yellow-orange cap with yellowish warts), A. muscaria var. flavivolvata (orange-red cap with yellowish warts), A. muscaria var. regalis (brown cap with white warts), A. muscaria var. inzengae (orange-yellow cap with yellowish warts). Unfortunately, the molecular analysis does not support this neat classification by color or habitat characteristics. Someday all the Amanita muscaria varieties may become new species.

People want to try muscaria as an edible mushroom undoubtedly because as an entheogen to get high with hallucination experiences, and the cost for this can be fatal. This human habit may seriously influence the conservation of this species. Fortunately, nature gives an enigma as the dosage of the neurotoxins and psychoactive compounds, as they change not only from one mushroom to another stage and habitat, and even within the same mushroom with different parts of it, but also from person to person with different effects at different times.

Traditional uses and benefits of Fly Agaric in medicine are as a treatment for sore throats, arthritis, and as an analgesic, a sedative or depressant. Mushroom tincture helps to relieve sciatica (back pain) and other pains, including joint pain and swollen lymph node. It is also applied to external infections for example nail fungus and skin conditions found in Lyme disease. However, these uses and benefits are not supported yet by the scientific research.

The legal status of psychoactive Amanita muscaria mushrooms in relation to the muscimol content is different in each country. Fly Agaric is illegal for example in Australia, Netherlands, Thailand, but are considered legal in Sweden, North America (Canada and United States), and Russia. In the Netherlands, A. muscaria and A. pantherina are illegal since 2008. Possession of any amount larger than 0.5 g dried or 5 g fresh leads to a criminal charge.

-Bintoro Gunadi