Fungal Friendly Farming?

Mycorrhizal root tipsMost of us have experienced the power of fungi! Unfortunately, this may be when they cause diseases in our crops like Alternaria (early blight), Erysiphales (powdery mildew), damping off (Pythium, Sclerotinia, Botrytis) and Phytophthora (late blight), among many others.

Yet increasingly science is establishing that soil microbes, with fungi at the head of the list, play a vital role in enabling strong, vibrant, healthy crops via their symbiotic relationship with plant roots. Rewarded by sugary exudates from the roots of healthy plants, microbes symbiotically ‘tend’ these crops and bring them mineral nutrients, water, and an assortment of biochemical ‘medicines’ synthesized on the spot in response to specific plant signals of stress.

Can you make them work for you?

In this issue we will reveal how to make fungi a partner in your success as a grower. We will show how tillage destroys their careful networks and providing them living roots throughout the season will reward you many times over –– with bumper harvests, crop longevity, soil resilience, water storage, and better availability of nutrients you already have.

Starting with a little science about life forms and fungi, we discuss soil microbes: who they are, how they work, and how to harness them. (If you like this topic, be sure to read our book review about Lynn Margulis, the UMass researcher whose revolutionary work on bacteria and their abilities as biochemical engineers altered our understanding of all life on this planet.)

Other submissions detail ways to encourage more fungal presence on your farm, including making fungal composts and inoculants. An interview with a Massachusetts farming couple, who have raised soil microbial support to a high priority in their agricultural practices, discusses the realities of this approach in the Northeast. Other articles feature noted soil scientists, one explaining how fungi enhance human health by supplying crops with nutrients by way of intelligent membranes, another revealing new research showing the importance of no–till methods in maximizing the presence of vitamins and anti–oxidants in our crops.

We hope you are inspired by this issue to learn more about the fascinating world of soil and how we farmers, as the primary managers of so much of it, can bring its miracles more into harmony with the way humans use this planet.