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F OR centuries, mushrooms have been esteemed as articles of human food in various countries. Many references are available in literature to show that, through the ages, mushrooms have been used as garnish and as a delicacy to lend titillating flavours to insipid dishes. The earliest known edible mushrooms were gathered from meadows and forests, where they grew naturally on the droppings of animals, decaying pieces of wood, etc. Later, attempts were made to grow the mushrooms artificially on manure and other media. These attempts were successful and goaded scientists to evolve techniques of growing mushrooms in the laboratory. Perfection of scientific techniques led to the growth of the mushroom industry which is now an important industry in France, the United States of America, Great Britain, and other countries. Mushrooms have also been successfully canned, and the United States of America exports large quantities of canned mushrooms to other countries. PADDY STRAW MUSHROOM Mushrooms (popularly called naaikodai in Tamil and khumbi in Hindi) look like parasols or umbrellas and have caps with stems. The small "seeds" of the mushroom are produced on the lower side of the cap. The "roots" of the mushroom are called "spawn" and are composed of whitish or faints ly coloured threads. Actually the mushroom grows GROW MORE MUSHROOMS V. Balu out from the spawn; therefore spawn prepared un der controlled conditions is bought by farmers for the cultivation of mushrooms. The Madras Agricultural Department has per fected a technique for the cultivation of Volvaria diplasia, a delicious tropical mushroom. This mush room is popularly known as the paddy straw mush room, as it grows exclusively on paddy straw. It has been successfully cultivated in Burma and Bengal, and comes up readily in most of the districts of the Madras State. The cap of the paddy straw mushroom is-one to five inches in diameter, dark grey on the top and slightly raised in the centre. Its stalk is two to four inches long, and at the base is a prominent, dark grey, cup-like structure called Volva from which the mushroom receives the botanical name of Volvaria. It can be grown easily in places where the tempera ture is above 75 °F. METHOD OF CULTIVATION The paddy straw mushroom spawn is prepared under controlled conditions by the Government My- cologist at the Agricultural College and Research In stitute, Lawley Road P.O., Coimbatore, and sup plied in bottles at nominal cost to those who ask for it. The method of growing the paddy straw mush room from the spawn is simple; first, a platform of bricks or planks is made under a thatched shed or IfcK UOUA or Obum, MAY 1961
"Sowing" of the mushroom spawn over the bed of specially laid paddy straw sheaves. any other protected shady place. About one hundred pounds of hand-threshed paddy straw is the amount required for making one bed; this is tied up into sheaves or bundles, each weighing about three pounds. The sheaves are soaked in clean water for about fourteen hours; the first four sheaves are arranged on the plat form in rows with the base all pointing in one direction. Next, an equal number of sheaves are placed over them with the base in the opposite direction. The two sets together form one layer of the bed for the cultivation of the mush room. Two bottles of the mushroom spawn are needed for every bed of paddy straw. The bottles, ob tained from the Mycologist, are broken, and the spawn divided into bits about an inch in thickness. The bits arc "sown" on the bee' THE HERALD OF HEALTH, MAY 1961 four inches apart, and over them a small quantity of powdered red gram dhal is sprinkled. A second layer of the bed is prepared over the first and the process of sowing the spawn repeated. The process is completed when four such layers are laid, after which the heap is compacted by pressing. The bed is watered once a day to keep it just moist. The mushroom crop begins to appear within a fortnight after sowing the spawn, and continues for about five days. A second crop may develop after a week. The yield varies from six to twelve pounds of mushrooms per bed de pending on the climatic conditions. The mushrooms which are gath ered may be used in the same way as vegetables. The paddy straw mushroom is rapidly gaining in popularity and there is steady de mand for the spawn from the Agricultural College and Research Institute in Coimbatorc. Work on the cultivation of other mush rooms and on more rapid ways for their production is in progress at the Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore. Growing mushrooms can be a fascinating hobby as well as an in teresting occupation. The work, contrary to general belief, is clean, healthful and rewarding. Mush room culture has become a vast business in many parts of the world. A mushroom manual is available on how to grow mush rooms for profit. One day, the growing of mushrooms may be come big business in India too. The mushroom crop begins to appear a fortnight after sowing.