homestead happenings: socialized abundance, fungally speaking
Okay, quick quiz: What is the largest living organism?
tick, tock, tick, tock
Teeny tiny hint:
Boletus edulis AKA porcinis
Why yes, you’re right, it is the colony of honey mushrooms (Armillaria ostoyae) covering 3.5 miles in the Malheur National Forest in Eastern Oregon. Wow.
Rose, 2010, on very successful mushroom foray.
We’re studying fungus in our homeschool co-op and I’ve been bending my mind over these wacky creatures that are neither plant nor animal, and who, like the fungal incarnation of both the participants of Burning Man, and the Socialist Party, live with total faith in the abundance of the universe, and the belief in equal distribution of goods and services.
How fungal socialism works:
1) The mycelium (“roots” of mushrooms and other fungi) grow underground, lapping in and around the roots of vascular plants (trees, shrubs, grasses, wild geraniums…etc).
2) The mycelium digest nutrients in the soil (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, copper…etc) and deliver them to the plant roots, increasing the health, resiliency, and reach of the plant.
3) The plants move sugars (sucrose, glucose) from their leaves (result of photosynthesis) down through their roots for the fungus (unable to photosynthesize) to absorb through their mycelium.
It’s the barter system! It’s my new religion! It’s my new political party: the socialized abundance party! Let’s take care of each other and share our abundance. (In which dandelions, roadkill, apples, and unbounded love count as abundance, naturally).
Also, it has been discovered that fungi are able to divert nutrients away from thriving trees and direct them to suffering trees. I love this.
Thanks Deb and Jeff for the pins! We love them! (Even if we are also a little melancholy about them).
This symbiotic relationship is happening in your garden – if your soil is healthy it’s lousy with mycelium. Your tomatoes and cucumbers are benefitting from their own anonymous subterranean fungal hook ups, in which everyone wins. (This is one reason I don’t till my garden—I just keep adding organic matter—so as not to disturb the mycorrhiza).
This is also how our homeschool co-op works. Together (kids and parents), we decide on unit topics and we meet every Monday, each parent taking a turn teaching the children, with a monthly, all-family field trip.
Also, through a local program called “shared school,” Col and Rose (who just started kindergarten! My baby!) go to our local public school (the one I can see from my kitchen window) 2 days/week in a classroom with about 40 other homeschooled kids, kindergarten – 5th grade. This is also part of the socialized abundance program. Col and Rose love it, it allows me to work (and occasionally exercise), it gives Col and Rose a sense of belonging within our neighborbod school, and honestly, allows me to homeschool without becoming the kind of animal that eats her young.
Kids making their own mycelial web with yarn.
Incidentally, two of Col’s favorite people in the world, Mathew and Kiva, are part Giant. Actually, Col is very small, but as our friend Nasha said when he was 2: “he’s just concentrated.”
Common baking yeast (which are fungi) exhaling CO2 into a balloon! This is actually a really cool experiment: mix 2 TBSP dry baking yeast with 1 cup warm water and 1 TBSP sugar. Place in glass bottle with stretched balloon over the top. The balloon will gradually inflate. Also, we made fermented ginger ale with the kids.
We were lucky enough to get our local Mushroom Guy, Chris Ricci, to take our homeschool co-op plus sibs on a mountain mushroom walk.
Chris Ricci is available for hire. Website here.
This decomposing stump is colonized by saprophytic fungi, which digest dead matter (leaves, wood, cow patties), and return nutrients to the soil. If it weren’t for these fungi, forests would be a giant undecomposed compost heap. Also, those are Alina’s feet, which remained completely and amazingly barefoot on our entire hike.
Lewis squeezing spores out of a mature puffball mushroom.
False morels. “Pretty poisonous,” says Chris.
Cody, getting nibbly on a polypore.
Lichen, which incidentally, are part fungus part algae. The fungal part digests ROCK and shares minerals with the algae, which photosynthesize and share its carbohydrates. What’s your superpower?
Dried porcinis for the latest batch of rooster broth. Rooster broth? That doesn’t sound so good. But it is! And the dried mushrooms make it even richer. Col, bless his heart, has been taking weird mushroomy chicken soup to school in a thermos.
Since studying fungus, I am seeing mushrooms everywhere. Little buttons popped out on a tree, homely brown hats on a lawn, tiny grey parasols in my greenhouse.
And also, since thinking more fungally, opportunities to barter seem to be popping up. At the farmers market last weekend, I was looking for a ten dollar bill to pay for a lovely bag of potatoes. “Can I write you a check?” I asked the farmer, whose kids happen to be in the shared school program with Col and Rose. “Oh, you can wait and pay me at school next week, or, I love to barter…” So, kimchi for potatoes it was.
Next, I traded some editing work for a massage. Then, my friend Kristen offered up a slew of veggies from her community garden in exchange for an array of fermented goods.
Eggplant after broiling. Slightly homely, but so smoky and sweet. I made this recipe, and it is amazing. The only thing I did different was leave the eggplant skins on, which made lovely purple flecks.
And one more barter that I am so happy about. My friend Tara and I began trading childcare every Monday night so we can alternate going to the Durango Dharma Center for Monday night meditation and dharma talks, which is where I get my head screwed on straight again after 2 weeks of, well, normal life.
May you explore your own symbiotic relationships with this generous world,
ps: I have strawberry plants to trade, anyone interested? (hint: food processing work always needed)
pps: classes filling up!
pppps: Linking with Simple Lives Thursday