Thursday, July 6, 2017
Gardening With Mushrooms
I got really excited earlier this year when I saw fungi growing under my mulch in the hoop tunnel bed. I couldn’t stop daydreaming about the symbiotic relationship to come when I planted my seeds and transplants. What I didn’t give too much thought to was that most plants do best with a species-specific ratio of fungi to bacteria and that I had no idea what that ratio was. Not only that, but I didn’t know if the species of fungi I had growing was even compatible with my plants since each plant has its own specific fungi it does best with.
This was brought up to me by my Horticulture Technology Degree wielding brother-in-law when I had him proofread my Mycorrhiza article. He had a point then, and still does, but I didn’t let it ruin my parade. And as spring came on more fully I realized that maybe it didn’t matter if this wonderful co-operative relationship was established.
I noticed many mushrooms popping up all over my bed. It started off with a spikey little guy under my chamomile. I contacted the local mycological society and they confirmed what my Google search turned up; most likely a species of Lycoperdon, or more specifically lycoperdon echinatum (or americanum). I had asked a few questions wondering if it was edible or safe to have in my garden and they replied with “some may be edible but it can easily be confused with ones that are not”. It assists in the breakdown of various organic matters and inhaling large amount of the spores the mushroom releases could cause a minor respiratory reaction similar to inhaling other foreign dust or matter would. They ended the letter with “If I found it growing in my garden, I would leave it to grow.”
Of course! How could I forget one of the main reasons fungi exists? I even mentioned it in my mycorrhiza article but was so wrapped up in the concept of beneficial symbiosis that I overlooked what it does best; decompose. And so far my garden is showing the benefits.
Last year my radish was spindly and never developed right, possibly from a lack of calcium in the soil. My spinach, tried multiple different plantings throughout last year, never did anything. I think I got three small leaves all year. The rest of my crops grew ok, but overall disappointing compared to the years before when the beds were made with fresh soil and organic fertilizer. This year is off to a great start. My chamomile is now a big bush standing over my waist and is producing dozens of flowers a day. My radish from last fall I’m letting flower for seed is up to my chest. The radishes planted this year are ready to harvest in less than 2 months and are of perfect shape and flavor. I’ve got the biggest leaves of kale and spinach I ever had coming out, and more potato and tomato plants than I know what to do with.
Fungi break down organic matter and make it available to the plants. I don’t use fertilizers of any kind anymore for experimental purposes, organic or otherwise. The only thing I add to my soil is compost and mulch that I make at home. This is such an easy way to garden because the fungi are doing all the work for me. All I have to do is keep feeding it, keep it well covered and reap the benefits of nature doing what nature does best.