Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 39.djvu/82

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


THERE was one great difference between this garden of mine and the gardens of my neighbors—an enormous difference, I might say—for, while they had onions in their gardens, my garden was on an onion. In fact, the onion was my garden, and in some respects this was an advantage to me. I had no soil to prepare, no seed to sow. I had merely to keep my onion a little moist, and the crops appeared of themselves.

The first to come was a sage-green down, appearing near the neck of the onion, just where the clear, shining scales close round the stalk. If the onion were put into the earth, this stalk would shoot straight up and bear a crown of flowers, followed by a crop of onion seed. It makes efforts to sprout even in a dark cellar. It pushes the scales apart, and the last remnant of life leaves them—of their own life, I mean, for, no sooner are they dead, than a host of tiny spores find life-food in their remains. These spores had been falling on my onion scales for months, but, so long as the scales were unbroken, could gain no roothold. Now thousands of them had pushed out little threads, which, branching and interlacing with each other, at last formed a film that the eye could see. Then quickly followed the sage-colored, velvety spots, and I knew that my first crop was ready for examination.

What was it?

The housekeeper called it mold. She said that my onion "had begun to get moldy." Mold is one of her deadly enemies. She recognizes it as a sign of rot or decay, and, wisely from her point of view, she gets rid of it as quickly as possible. I called it mold also—a mold. For I knew that before long there would appear other crops unlike this one, yet like enough to bear the name of mold also. I knew, too, that though these molds are almost too small to be seen by the naked eye, they have Cousins that every one knows by sight. There are the mushrooms, the toadstools—yellow, red, and brown—the gigantic puff-balls, and many an odd-looking mass simply called "a fungus." The term fungus, or more often its plural form fungi, denotes a most persistent, industrious class of plants whose one aim in life is the production of millions and millions of spores. The sage-green spots on the neck of my onion were the spores of a fungus. With a needle I could scatter them like a cloud of fine powder. But I could not see how they were growing on the little plants without a microscope that would magnify them about three hundred times.