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

Remembering my childhood, I used to have many crickets and their best diet was purslane. I was curious and once I have tried, the taste was not bad, crunchy, and juicy. Purslane as vegetable has a unique taste; it is slightly sour, salty, and has an herb smell. My personal experience with the taste of purslane from childhood until now, brings me to the taste of my own tears and sweats; it seems familiar and healthy for us.

Once William Cobbett, a farmer and journalist in his book The English Gardener mentioned about purslane that it was “eaten by Frenchmen and pigs when they can get nothing else”. The scientific name of Purslane or pursley is Portulaca oleracea. It belongs to the family annual succulent flowering plant Portulacaceae. The meaning of oleracea is real vegetable or herbal. The leaves, stems, yellow flower buds and seed of purslane are all edible. Purslane is used in culinary and medicine.

Purslane is widely used as salad in some countries in Mediterranean (Spanish verdolaga salad), Northern Africa (in Egypt as cooked vegetable), Southern Europe (Greek andrakla salad), South East Asia (Indonesian krokot salad). Scientists suggested that the plant was already eaten by native Americans, who spread its seeds. Aboriginal Australians use the purslane seeds to make seedcakes.

The nutritional facts of raw purslane vegetable are about 3% carbohydrate, 2% protein, and 0.5% fat. It is good for diet. In a 100gram reference amount, raw purslane supplies 20 calories. Purslane is rich amount of the daily value (DV) of vitamin A 1320 IU, vitamin B complex up to 25%, vitamin C 25%, vitamin E 81% and moderate content of several dietary minerals calcium 7%, iron 15%, magnesium 19%, manganese 14%, phosphorus 6%, potassium 11%, zinc 2% DV respectively.

The water content of purslane is about 93%. Recently, it is reported that purslane is the richest vegetable source of alpha-linolenic acids, an essential omega-3 fatty acid. Purslane is also a natural source of melatonin as an insomnia or sleeping disorder treatment. It is found to have seven times higher the beta-carotene or orange-red pigment of carrots.

Purslane can also be used as purgative or laxative, cardiac tonic, emollient, muscle relaxant, anti-inflammatory, and diuretic treatment that makes it important in herbal medicine. Purslane has also been used in the treatment of osteoporosis and psoriasis. Please consult with your medical doctor if you would like to use purslane in salad plate and natural medication because it contains oxalates. Oxalates is natural compound also found in spinach, chard, beet greens and rhubarb may cause problem for people susceptible to kidney stones

Potulaca oleracea or purslane is one of very few plants able to utilize both CAM and C4 photosynthesis pathways. CAM (crassulacean acid metabolism) is a carbon fixation pathway that evolved in some plants as an adaptation to arid conditions. Basically, stomata or pores in the leaves remain shut during the day to reduce evapotranspiration, but open at night to collect carbon dioxide during photosynthesis. Usually most plant require the stomata to be open during daytime and shut at night on C4 (four-carbon molecule) carbon fixation photosynthesis pathway.

As purslane has 2 pathways in photosynthesis, the plant can be used as a companion plant. Companion planting in gardening and agriculture is the planting of different crops in proximity for any of a number of different reasons for example pest control, pollination, providing habitat for beneficial insects, maximizing use of space, and to otherwise increase crop productivity. Companion planting is used by farmers and gardeners in both industrialized and developing countries since many centuries ago.

As a companion plant, purslane provides ground cover to create a humid microclimate for nearby plants and stabilizing ground moisture. Purslane deep roots bring up moisture and nutrients that those plants can use, and some including corn, will follow purslane roots down through harder soil that they cannot penetrate on their own. The role of purslane in this case as a companion plant is similar as pioneer species plant.

Purslane seed needs light to germinate so they must stay on the surface of the soil. If you are using purslane cuttings, lay the stems on the ground where you plan on growing purslane. Water it and they should produce roots in the soil within a few days.

The photo above was taken in Autumn. Purslane can be matched with aloe plants. Please contact us at www.burnabyredwigglers.com if you need purslane and aloe plants that grow well with the application of worm castings.

-Bintoro Gunadi

Most people enjoy many fruits that are considered edible either raw or cooked. According to some reports, about 25% of mammalian herbivores eat fruits and most mammalian omnivores include fruits as a primary item in their diets. Animals that eat entirely or predominantly fruits or fruit-like vegetables which are called frugivores. Bats, orangutans, gorillas, and humans are among the members of the most common frugivorous mammals that are regularly mentioned as fruit lovers.

Evolutionary scientists believe that frugivory evolved through mutualism or relationship that is beneficial to both organisms involved, to facilitate seed dispersal in plants. They have studied flowering plants diversity through fossils record since the Cretaceous period about 146 to 66 million years ago. Basically, in a natural way, the plants which produce fruits will attract mammals including humans to eat more and more the fruits in order to help their seeds dispersal and make sure that their new generation will survive everywhere, any time according to their grand strategy.

Most of the edible fruits have very attractive shape, color, smell, taste, texture (crunchy and juicy), and very high sugar, so they are nutritious and have a lot of vitamin content. Moreover, some plants which bear yummy fruits also develop tough and poisonous seeds like in wild apples to make sure that their seeds will be successful, not destroyed by frugivores. So, the seeds will thrive well as far as possible. 

In nature, like plants, the frugivore animals have also undergone some adaptations over time to be successful, for example facilitating seed dispersal in their fruit-eating activity. In some birds, their digestive system is adapted such that they can consume large numbers of fruits without any negative side effects. For instance, some birds have a shorter intestine, which allows them to pass the seeds out from the fruits they eat and keep moving, be hyperactive to burn fast the high caloric of the nutritious fruits.

Some fruiting plants have also evolved mechanisms to decrease consumption of fruits when unripe by physical deterrents (e.g. green fruits are unpalatable) and chemical deterrents (e.g. toxins, starch that is slowly converted to fructose as the fruit ripens). In general, stir fried green tomatoes contain more minerals, yellow tomatoes contain more vitamins, while red ripe tomatoes contain more sugar and lycopene. Eating colorful tomatoes is the best with the full benefits for our body and mind.

In humans, coevolution or the influence of closely associated species on each other (frugivores – fruit plants) can be a warning for fruit believers or fruit lovers. Eating too much nutritious high vitamins fruits can be superfluous. The excess of nutrients and vitamins cannot be saved in our body, it will be a waste, and the excess of the sugar can trigger obesity or even diabetes.

There is a story in the scriptures about the forbidden fruit growing in the garden of Eden which God commands mankind not to eat otherwise they will die. Forbidden fruit is a metaphor that describes any object of desire whose appeal results from the knowledge that it should not be obtained. Remember the hungers, the poor, and the unlucky ones to control our appetite on attractive fruits. Share the excess of edible fruits with others, so we can help all generations to be stronger and live longer.

Be aware and be prepared not to fall in the trap of the grand strategy of the plants that bear amazing fruit, especially in this new millennium with the very tight fruits business competition. It seems that the dependence of addition of chemicals, hormones, pesticides, and production of genetically modified fruit in order to supply the fruits market are unavoidable.

Furthermore, global warming creates more pests, so many treatments are hiding behind the attractive fruits on the farms and before reaching the supermarkets. Never eat too much fruit and try to eat reasonably seasonal fruits. If there are contaminants on the fruit, it will not accumulate in our body.

Are you ready to challenge the grand strategy of the fruiting plants and to face the temptation of the attractive fruit by sharing the excess seasonal fruits production with neighbors and friends?

Photo is courtesy of Getty Images by Carsten Schanter

-Bintoro Gunadi

The natural way of eating cannot be separated from the natural way of farming or organic farming. Organic farming has been defined as crop or animal husbandry with natural materials and does not permit the use of manufactured materials such as fertilizers and chemicals. The natural way of eating mostly is safer for us because it is less contaminants.

Healthy eating and healthy gardening can be supported by being locavores because we know more what we eat and where it comes from. Locavore is a person who only eats food that grows or produced nearby or in their local area or region within a 100-mile (about 160 kilometers) distance from their home. This movement also will minimize the effect of global warming, and costs (for example production and transportation).

Beyond the sources of the foods we eat through the natural foods and being locavores, other food factors are important to support our healthy life. Try to avoid processed foods. Eat seasonal foods particularly with the rotation of eating the vegetables, fruits, seeds, and animal husbandry, also fish. Get a good quality and quantity of the foods you eat, enjoy your own food cultures or habits, and sample others if you like. Last but not least, exercise and reflection are important as a result of meditation to develop well-being, and the state of happiness, health, and prosperity.

Seasonal foods and human feeding habits have been mentioned formerly in this publication in my blog https://burnabyredwigglers.wordpress.com/2016/05/01/seasonal-foods-and-human-feeding-habits/. Many more people may be suffering from getting too much protein, than suffering from getting too little protein https://burnabyredwigglers.wordpress.com/2019/01/01/earthworm-based-protein/. And this is the benefits of the unusual reverse exercise for the body and peace of mind https://burnabyredwigglers.wordpress.com/2019/11/01/walking-backwards/.

In this pandemic year with unwelcomed coronavirus COVID-19, building our autoimmune system through healthy foods and habits is of the utmost important. “Which is more important seed or soil? It is the soil, not the seed”.

If we compare eating healthy foods with planting seeds in good soil, of course having good soil is more important than the seeds.  Louis Pasteur’s parable reminds us that “the microbe is nothing” and that “the soil is everything.” In other words, if germs were seeds, in order for them to germinate and grow into viable diseases, they would need fertile soil. The question we need to ask ourselves is, “What is the condition of my body?” Is your body a “Disease Gardener’s Paradise”, or are you actively doing things to make your body an inhospitable residence for germs?”

One of the oldest animals is the turtle. The land tortoise on the Seychelles Islands has a life expectancy of over 100 years in the wild; even in captivity it can live longer for about 250 years. Some sea turtles have been researched to live to an average age of 150 years.

There was a publication in Scientific American magazine about the secret of why sea turtles can live longer. It is because they switch feeding habits from carnivores, eating meat when they were young to becoming mostly herbivores, eating plants as adult until the rest of their life. And most of them do exercise, keep moving by swimming regularly during the long migration.

The long-life theory of turtles that switch from carnivore snacks to herbivore diets was debated by the scientists recently. Some studies have revealed that the diet of green turtles is more complex than previously thought. Adult sea turtles are omnivores, they eat anything. They were recorded eating over 30 different food items seagrass, red algae, brown algae, green algae, small animals, and other items incidentally ingested.

The legend Li Ching-Yuen, herbalist and Qigong practitioner known for his supposed extreme longevity, was reported in Time magazine edition of 15 May 1933, one week after he died naturally outdoors at the age of 197 years. Li’s secret of a long life: Keep a quiet heart. Sit like a tortoise. Walk sprightly like a pigeon. Sleep like a dog. And eat less.

The natural way of eating supported by organic farming, being locavore, and learning from nature by doing exercises should be our way of life to be healthy and happy.

-Bintoro Gunadi

The photo above is courtesy of Brad Ashdown of RLC Park Services Canada. The vermicomposting toilets are located just inland from the sea at Sombrio Beach on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island of Port Renfrew, British Columbia, Canada. The system has 2 pit toilets sitting over the outside chamber. There are 6 chambers, 3 for each of the 2 toilet buildings that sit atop of the constructed pit as shown in the photo. Once the first chamber is full, the toilet is slid over to the second chamber, and so on.

Essentially the wooden constructed area below the pit toilet building is lined with a fine mesh screen, so that urine can escape and insects together with the small animals can’t enter the system. All the human excrement deposits in this area and wood shavings are added periodically to the pile. Each chamber is approximately 12 square feet in size and with initial compost worms or red wigglers density of 4 handfuls or about 2 pounds of worms including bedding per chamber. When the area below the pit toilet is filled with excrement and shavings, the toilet is moved to the adjacent chamber.

As shown in the photo that along the wooden wall there are cross walls creating separate square chambers, each the size of the toilet building. Essentially there becomes the pile of excrement and wood shavings that has plenty of air flow. With the help of the compost worms and beneficial soil microbes, the pile is decomposed to a smaller pile of soil that can be excavated as humus from the chamber; so that the vermicomposting toilet building can eventually be moved back over it again for use.

The effectiveness of vermiculture and vermicomposting in human pathogen reduction for USEPA (United States Environmental Protection Agency) biosolids stabilization has been studied in Orange County, Orlando, Florida by Eastman et al (2001). A field experiment tested the feasibility of vermicomposting as a method for eliminating for four human pathogens indicator (fecal coliform, Salmonella spp., enteric viruses, and helminth ova) obtain USEPA Class A stabilization in domestic wastewater residuals (biosolids). It is an honor for me to be one of the co-authors of the article above.

The conclusion is that compost worms Eisenia fetida have a consumption rate of 1.5 times their biomass every 24 hours proportionally with the percentage of compost worm biomass to biosolids at a 1.7 ratio weekly. Additional biosolids should not be incorporated for a minimum 6 days to maximize pathogens reduction. Compost worms should not be harvested before this time.

Vermiculture – vermicomposting is safe for the environment, however due to compost worm population, sustainability and fluctuation, the stabilization time will need to be proportionally adjusted until a stabilization equilibrium is obtained and maintained as confirmed by sampling analysis.

According to the applied finding above, the baseline guide for quantity of compost worms and amount of biosolids to be stabilized and safe for the human can be described: Kilogram of biosolids divided by 7 = Biosolids per day divided by 1.5 (consumptive rate of compost worms) = Kilogram of earthworms required for stabilization.

-Bintoro Gunadi

There is no good or bad living creature in nature, all are the same and each has its own role in the natural environment. In a man-made environment living creatures are always sorted, beneficial creatures are cultivated or domesticated, while those which harm are eradicated. Domestication of plants and animals plays an important role in human history.

Domestication is totally different from natural selection. This artificial selection activity if not well controlled, will disrupt the natural balance (homeostasis) and slowly but surely turn out to be chaotic, or even fatal. The coronavirus pandemic this year is an example of the environment out of control by humans after the virus went beyond its carrying capacity in its natural host, presumably bats and then attacking humans.

Just remember that together with some scientists in North America once I conducted sanitation applied research in the early millennium regarding enteric (gastrointestinal tract) viruses along with other abdominal diseases namely fecal coliform bacteria, Salmonella spp. bacteria, and helminth ova (parasite of stomach worms). The four diseases are common in dirty areas and can naturally be controlled by earthworms. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download;jsessionid=8B25DCC845A1D907E7AD47D24AF1A405?doi=10.1.1.506.662&rep=rep1&type=pdf

In this research decomposer or saprovore, a detritus or dead particulate organic material-eating animal, the earthworm is symbiotic with beneficial soil microbes during the formation of soil, which can control the enteric virus naturally. Virus is a dead object containing debris in the genetic material of DNA or RNA, an infectious agent that can only breed in the body of living creatures ranging from bacteria to humans. Because it is not a living creature then viruses cannot be killed.

Amazingly the oldest animal in the earth that has nearly the same age during the cooling down of earth, an earthworm can control the population of the enteric virus by decomposing them.

One of the group of earthworms is the compost worm. This living creature is already on earth, evolved since millions of years ago. This compost worm produces antimicrobial which is called Fetidin to adapt in the “dirty” place that many living creatures cannot survive. Until now there has been no scientific report that earthworms become sick. They are disease resistant, they die by being killed, drought, or eaten by predators.

The cleansing or sterilization of COVID-19 outside the human body is one way that controlled distribution stops infecting and killing humans. Keep in mind this action also kills many other microbes that are beneficial for humans. This needs to be observed and anticipated, as well as how the food security and human immune system can be decreasing or less resistant to the disinfectant trials.

I was dreaming that the virus particularly coronavirus is like the virus in tulip flowers or tobacco plants, which can make the plant stronger and the color of the flower more vibrant. In fiction you may remember the young Batman received “power” after experiencing with a colony of bats in bad condition. Sure, someday the coronavirus can make us stronger (in immunity and economy) and reset our peace of mind to be more efficient in taking care of our community, environment, and living soil in the one and only world we have.

The photo above is courtesy of Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters. Coronavirus carnival in Dusseldorf at the end of February 2020, just before COVID-19 outbreak in Germany.

-Bintoro Gunadi

Over a year ago Bill Gates held up a beaker of human feces at the reinvented toilet expo in Beijing on November 6, 2018 to bring a message: unsanitary conditions are dangerous for our health as it was reported by Business Insider. From the outside, the toilet looks like any other pit latrine. The toilets involve no traditional flushing and aren’t hooked to a sewer system. Instead red wigglers or tiger worms or compost earthworms are introduced in a container below the toilet, and they feast on feces.

This idea is brilliant because clean water is getting to be too much a luxury to flush human feces in many countries. Giving the rest to the compost worms and the beneficial soil microbes to do their job as decomposers is a great innovation. The amazing creatures’ activity leaves behind a mix of water, carbon dioxide, and a small amount of worms’ poo or worm castings or vermicompost, Even it’s much less toxic and more nutrient-rich than ours.

Since 2015, a creative new type of toilet called the Tiger Worm has been introduced for testing in India. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation awarded $4.8 million in grant money to the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine for research to improve the technology and USAID supported $170 thousand for initial testing in India, Myanmar, and Uganda. “We estimated that by 2030, the opportunity here is over $6 billion a year,” Gates said.

Most of us don’t really care about Bill Gates business for other reasons, but we like this idea. Now, after years of development and field testing around the world, the technology is finally reaching people who need it most.

The facts about worm toilets or vermicomposting toilets:
– Worm toilets require no traditional flushing and aren’t hooked up to a sewer system; instead, worms compost human waste.
– More than 4,000 such Tiger Worm Toilets have been installed to date across India, in homes of people who were previously defecating in the open area.
– The worm toilets smell a lot better than a pit latrine, and don’t breed mosquitoes and germs either.
– Here’s how a $350 prototype toilet powered by worms could change the world and saves lives.
– The worms and soil microbes produce a water, carbon dioxide, and worms’ poo or worm castings, that’s much less toxic and more nutrient-rich than ours for the fertility of this planet.

Vermicomposting toilet is safe for the environment, however due to compost worm population, sustainability and fluctuation, the stabilization time will need to be proportionally adjusted until a stabilization equilibrium is obtained and maintained as confirmed by sampling analysis.

Oxford Committee for Famine Relief (Oxfam) and International Institute for Hydraulic and Environmental Engineering (IHE) Delft have been developing the Tiger Worm Toilet in Rakhine State, Myanmar since last year. This type of toilet operates at a communal level to serve up to 20 people in refugee camps. One of the biggest challenges in refugee camps is sanitation and the management of human feces. The compost worms convert the human waste into a dry and easier to handle dry worm castings or vermicompost. The photo is courtesy of IHE Delft, The Netherlands.

-Bintoro Gunadi

Nomadic vermiculture – vermicomposting is organic waste management in situ (on-site), mostly outdoor or in the greenhouse using the compost worms or red wigglers. Compost worm is epigeic or surface-litter dwelling earthworm that can help to process the organic waste from the plantation (fruits, leaves, succulent stems, and processing wastes), farm (manure, bedding), and food waste from the village nearby become high quality worm castings or vermicomposts to create the living soil.

The process of vermiculture – vermicomposting is in the trench or garden bed nearby the plant canopy. The worm castings produced during the vermicomposting will not be harvested but will be used directly by plants, so it will save the energy and time for the worm castings application. The excessive compost worm population will be harvested and transferred to the next new trench around the plantation with different mature trees.

Unlike nomadic vermiculture- vermicomposting in the trench or garden bed, worm tower is a permaculture (permanent agriculture) innovation designed to allow compost worms or red wigglers to compost food waste, garden waste, farm waste etc. in a closed container with holes at surrounding. This allows worms to come, stay, and go as they wish in the garden. The basic idea is that the compost worms will be safe, not eaten by the predators (e.g. birds, rats, raccoons etc.). They will do their job to decompose the food waste become worm castings or vermicompost for plants, and the container with holes will aerate the soil; so that it has a healthy and less foul smell soil.

Although the red wigglers are not real deep burrower earthworms, they can thrive in the environment with rich in organic matters inside the worm tower. Moreover, worm tower can create a better soil environment and invite the native earthworms (anecic or deep-burrowing earthworms and endogeic or upper-soil earthworms) that can be used as a bioindicator of the healthy and productive living soil toward the natural way of farming.

The concern with the size of the worm tower, it should not be too small at least in 1 foot diameter and 2 feet depth so it will not lack the surface area as the red wigglers like most to thrive. The density of the red wigglers at least 2 handfuls or about a pound of worms including original bedding from the vermiculture activity. This bedding is important because it contains beneficial soil microbes that will act as a probiotic starter for the worms.

Moreover, the bedding is creating a suitable environment for the worms to thrive through their cocoons (compound eggs) production. Enough organic waste in the worm tower will warm-up the temperature during the harsh winter and cool-down the temperature during the hot summer. And pouring rain will not disturb the worms inside as there are enough holes around the worm tower and the water content of the earthworm is over 90%. The soggy waste will be okay for them, as far as in aerobic condition and the water can escape well through the soil. Watering may needed during the dry summer.

The photo above is courtesy of Paul Lam of Richmond, British Columbia, Canada.

-Bintoro Gunadi

Composting has a long history since Marcus Porcius Cato mentioned it in his manual on running farm “De Agri Cultura” (On Agriculture) in the early Roman Empire in 160 BC. Traditionally people at that time piled organic materials until the next planting season. The term and concept of organic farming originally was introduced in 1920s by Sir Albert Howard in the United Kingdom based on his work with organic gardening at Indore, India. Basically, he was promoting the concept of management of a farm as a living unit or whole system. Before the development of synthesized fertilizers and pesticides, practices of crop rotation and fertilization with animal manures and legumes were the options available to most farmers to maintain crop productivity.

Indore ninety-day process of composting was found by Sir Albert Howard. He offered genuine help to his neighbors by demonstrating composting methods they could easily afford and use through layer by layer carbonaceous and nitrogenous materials with regularly turning to keep thermophile microorganisms thriving. What was truly revolutionary was Sir Howard’s finding the amount of nitrate nitrogen in the finished compost was higher than the total amount of nitrogen contained the materials that formed the heap. Composting in North America was developed by Jerome Rodale and his friends at the Rodale Organic Gardening Experimental Farm in 1940s.

For the beginning composting lovers, Cornell composting is the most comprehensive and simple guide for doing basic and up to date composting around the globe. Start from the science and engineering of composting (casual composters, background information, getting the right mix, composting experiments, compost engineering fundamentals), composting in schools (teacher’s page, compost quiz, composting indoors and outdoors, weird and unusual composting, frequently asked questions, glossary), and hundreds composting fact sheets. Their mission is: “Everything you ever wanted to know about composting, but were afraid to ask? Not quite, but we do hope we’ve assembled some useful information.”

The progress of composting around the globe is amazing but still cannot process all organic waste produced by human activities. The Cornell’s Composting can be used as a model of the large-scale composting. Each year Cornell University at Ithaca through the Farm Services composts about 4000 tons of organic waste annually into a quality compost originally from: 2700 tons of animal bedding and manure from research and teaching facilities. 300 tons of plants debris from campus greenhouses, orchards, and farms. 850 tons of food scraps and other organic waste from their All You Care to Eat dining rooms and their retail dining eateries. The rest is from other waste streams, such as building-specific compost collection programs and special events.

It was reported by Schwarz and Bonhotal (2018), in 2013 Cornell University Farm Services diverted about 6714 tons of organic waste to the compost facility. It was calculated the Cornell’s compost facility emitted 104.6 metric tons carbon equivalent (MTCE) and saved 201.4 MTCE through compost use for a total carbon footprint saving of 96.7 MTCE per year (carbon negative). This equates to 0.0154 MTCE per ton feedstock emitted 0.03 MCTE saved through compost use for a total carbon footprint saving of 0.0146 MTCE per ton fresh organic waste. These values are specific to this facility, but the calculations can be used by other compost facilities to calculate the carbon footprint of composting.

It’s a great pleasure to visit the compost facility of the Cornell University in Ithaca, New York this Winter and they always keep a warm welcome. The main goals of the visit is to do networking and forecasting that at least 10% of the compost facility and capacity should try to use vermiculture – vermicomposting to speed up the process and increase the quality of the finished product vermicompost or worm castings, also to produce protein from the worms biomass.

The photo above was taken at the compost facility nearby the Cornell University campus in Ithaca, New York last December 2019. Nothing to lose, composting – vermicomposting cooling the earth and warming the universe.

-Bintoro Gunadi

There is a misunderstanding about earthworm in the old scriptures. Many people believe worms as an expression of lust, covetousness, greed, selfishness, destruction, putrefaction, weakness, and humiliation. Most of them referred to the larva of beetles (grubs) or larva of moths (caterpillars) as pests and larva of flies (maggots) which eat directly the fresh flesh. Everything is considered disgusting because it is related to death.

In fact, all earthworms are saprovores or decomposers and they love dirt! The nutrition they eat comes from things in soil and compost, such as decaying roots, leaves and other organic wastes. In symbiotic mutualism or friendly relationship way, they eat living microorganisms such as protozoans, bacteria, and fungi in soil to be able the beneficial soil microorganisms to thrive and the plants to grow better with the additional humus layer produced by earthworms.

In the book: Opening the Door of Your Heart: And Other Buddhist Tales of Happiness (2005), Ajahn Brahm mentioned that worms are in a dirty, low-level place so they need to be saved. On the other hand, saving the worms can be considered waste time and full of risk because they think worms can bring contamination and they are dirty. Actually, salvation that is forced often shows arbitrariness and useless. Especially if the worms are happy in their habitat. Salvation is full of mystery and can be fierce.

One fictional story about earthworm started from here. There are two monks who have lived together in a monastery for years; they are good friends. Then they are getting older and died almost at the same time. One of them is reborn in the heavenly realm, the other one is reborn as a worm in a pile of dung.

The monk in heaven who is very happy and enjoying all the pleasures of heaven begins to think of his friend. “I want to know where my old friend is.” He observes all the heavenly realms and does not find any trace of his friend. Then he observes the human realm, but he does not find any trace of his friend there either. So, he looks in the animal kingdom and then lowest-level creatures on the ground.

Finally, he finds his fellow monk while in the world, reborn as a worm in a pile of dung … Wow! He thinks: “I can help my friend, sure, I will go there to that pile and bring him to the heavenly realm so that he can also enjoy the heavenly pleasures and happiness of living in this beautiful realm.”

Then he goes to the pile of poop and calls his fellow. And the little worm stretches and says, “Who are you?”. “I am your friend.” But the worm says, “Go away, you are lost!” “I am your old friend, I live in the heavenly world”, and he describes the beautiful heavenly world to him. The worm says, “No thanks, I’m quite happy here in my pile of poop. Please just go.”

Then because of the influence of the heavenly mind, the ex-monk thinks: “Well, I’ll just grab him and take him to heaven, so he can immediately see by himself.” So, he grabs the worm and begins to pull it towards him; and the harder he pulls, the harder the worm sticks to the pile of excrement.

One hundred eight times the deva (in Zoroastrianism deva means evil) tries to lead the “poor worm” out from his miserable dung pile, but the worm is so attached to his lovely pile of dung that he always wriggles back! Eventually, the deva has to go back up to heaven and leaves the “foolish worm” to his lovely pile of dung as infinite and renewable resource.

Worms are a metaphor of guilt. The guilt that departed souls experience when they leave this world. The worms indicate the pain that the deaths go through, leading to suffering after death. Moreover, historical religious events have been told in the Abrahamic (descendants of Abraham) religions using worms as the main cause behind them.

In the real world, earthworms are friends of the human race, amicus humani generis that most people, farmers, breeders, and scientists understand. It has been proven the role of earthworm in soil fertility, as a bioindicator of soil productivity, and in resource waste management. Moreover, earthworm protein can be used for animal feed, pharmaceutical purposes, and cosmetics. Once it was reported by the National Geographic magazine that earthworm is the most influential species of all evolution on earth. They may save us, and save this planet through the healthy soil.

Amicus humani generis, friend of the human race. Photo by the author. Permission is needed for the publication.

-Bintoro Gunadi