By Trees for Life with additional thoughts from Tom Volk and Aparna Vidyasagar
A forest full of fungi
Autumn is the best time for fungus lovers to walk through a native pinewood — you are surrounded with them. Not because there are more fungi, but because many of the fungi that are there all year round become more conspicuous, sending forth their familiar reproductive mushrooms and toadstools. Since they depend on moist conditions to feed and grow, autumn is an ideal time for reproduction. The familiar smell associated with autumn woodlands is all due to fungi working their way through the soil.
Perhaps because they are so hard to see, fungi have been largely overlooked in spite of their importance — without these strange and fascinating life forms, neither we, nor the inhabitants of our native forests, would survive for long.. About 69,000 species of fungi have been discovered worldwide, but it is thought that as many as 1.6 million actually exist. So in spite of the fact that fungi surround us, there could be many more to discover, even on your own doorstep.
By Jack Kittredge
Most 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.
By Walter Jehne and Phil Lee
excerpted from an interview with Future Directions International
FDI: Why do we need to investigate and discuss these relationships?
The productivity of natural vegetation, particularly on old leached soils, is fundamentally dependant on a range of microbial symbioses between mycorrhizal fungi and the roots of plants. This enables flora to access limited essential nutrients from soils to sustain their productivity, diversity and resilience. Through years of industrial farming and fertilizer overuse we have impaired these symbioses and, with that, the ability of plants to sustain their nutrition and productivity.
Only by restoring these symbioses, specifically the mycorrhizal fungi that govern much of the availability of essential nutrients from soils, can we regenerate degraded agricultural soils and landscapes. Leading farmers are refining practical approaches to do this to improve yields, root growth, carbon and moisture retention and the nutritional integrity of their crops. These outcomes are being achieved without the need for expensive fertilizer inputs. The extension of such approaches through farmer groups will be critical to the regeneration of agricultural soils and landscapes and their capacity to produce food with nutritional integrity.
By Jack Kittredge
Bokashi is a traditional agroecological technique first developed in East Asia and now utilized extensively across Asia and Latin America. Like compost, bokashi is the product of microbial breakdown of organic matter from waste. The main components of bokashi include manure, soil, and carbon-rich agricultural byproducts, such as rice hulls and bran. Unlike compost, bokashi processing makes use of anaerobic microbial processes, in addition to those that are aerobic. These partially anaerobic conditions coupled with energy-rich organic matter allow for the accelerated breakdown of organic matter in bokashi. While composting often requires extended maturation times, frequent aeration and hydration, and large spaces, bokashi matures in approximately two weeks and is made in smaller piles for simpler management. The maturation stage of bokashi fosters beneficial microbial growth, breaks down nutrients to bioaccessible forms, and processes materials so that they no longer attract pests
Several studies support the benefits of bokashi on soil fertility and plant growth, including my own research on the efficacy and nutrient composition of different types of bokashi. In line with other studies, I have observed heightened crop growth of cucumber and kale plants and I have quantified increased amounts of ammonium—a plant-available form of nitrogen—over the bokashi maturation process (Figure 1). Moreover, I experimented with different ingredients and found no significant differences in bokashi quality made with variable starting ingredients. These findings reaffirm not only bokashi’s prowess and sustainability as a fertilizer that diverts waste streams, but also its flexibility as a product. In other words, bokashi can be made from a variety of ingredients that may be adapted to what is available and accessible, without compromising its efficacy as a fertilizer.
By Fungi Perfecti LLC
Approximately 95% of the world’s plant species form mycorrhiza and require the association for maximum performance in the field.
Endomycorrhizae—also referred to as Vesicular Arbuscular Mycorrhizae (VAM)—symbiotically associate with about 90% of the plant kingdom. Their origins date back 350–460 million years and were important in the colonization of land by vascular plants. Endomycorrhizae form an intercellular attachment by penetrating the cell wall of plant roots and forming branched structures called arbuscules within the root cells. These arbuscules provide an extensive surface area for the exchange of nutrients through the cell membrane. Mycelia from endomycorrhizae extend from the plant roots into the surrounding soil, gathering nutrients and water bringing them back to the plant’s roots.
By Jack Kittredge
Everyone has heard the Hippocrates quote: ‘Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.’ Most people nod sagely at such advice, as if it reflects some inner wisdom. Did we not, after all, evolve eating simple foods from nature and did we not have adequate eons to adapt our metabolisms to natural food — incorporating the means of creating key nutrients that were not available to us in our food (humans synthesize 11 of the 20 standard amino acids and get the rest in our foods), and losing the capability of creating others because they were so prevalent in our foods (our human ancestors lost the ability to synthesize Vitamin C, as can dogs and cats, because — so theorizes Linus Pauling –we outlived the need to do so by spending tens of thousands of years eating Vitamin C-rich fruits in trees, before being driven by drought to make a new living on the now treeless African veldt.)
By Michael P. Amaranthus, Ph.D.
Little things run the world. This is especially true when it comes to getting plants established. Under natural conditions plants live in close association with soil organisms called mycorrhizal fungi. These fungi colonize plant roots and extend the root system into the surrounding soil.
Nearly all commercially produced plants form mycorrhizae and require the association for maximum performance in out-planted environments.
Depending on the environment in which they are growing, plants may divert up to 80% or more of the net energy fixed as sunlight to below-ground processes. Some of this energy goes into root growth; but a high proportion may be used to feed mycorrhizal fungi and other soil organisms. This is not energy that is lost to the plant. On the contrary, soil organisms living in the root zone greatly influence the ability of plants to establish through effects on nutrient cycling, pathogens, soil aeration, and soil water uptake. Of the various soil organisms that benefit plant establishment, the most is known about mycorrhizal fungi. Roughly 90% of plant species are thought to form mycorrhizae: the combination of fungal and root tissue is called the mycorrhiza and the fungal partner is termed a mycorrhizal fungus. (A list of common plant species and their compatibility with mycorrhizal fungi follows this article.)
By Walter Jehne
transcribed and edited by Jack Kittredge and Didi Pershouse, from a talk on May 12, 2018
How did nature create Earth’s biologial system? To find out, we just go back into nature and look at all of the evidence, which is very clear. And the answer is all about pedogenesis, which means soil formation.
The Earth is basically made of “stardust.” Four and a half billion years ago, you had a supernova exploding. That dust condensed down, drawn by its own gravity, and formed into rock: our planet, with 96 natural elements that we can see on the periodic table. About 3.8 billion years ago, the first living cell arrived, probably activated by chemical and heat energy. Then 3.5 billion years ago, we think, that photosynthesis evolved. It came to life in organisms in the oceans at first, but was limited by the meager availability of nutrients dissolved in water and the more diffuse sunlight reaching life there.
By Jack Kittredge
Last fall Julie and I were lucky enough to host David Johnson and his wife Hui-Chan Su Johnson overnight when David was in the area for a speaking engagement. He explained to us his remarkable success growing crops in New Mexico using a fungal compost or inoculant of his own devising. The key to making it is to aerate the compost without turning it, since turning destroys the fungal hyphae. His process allows the fungi to grow undisturbed throughout the compost so that, when it is done, it can be spread thinly on soil with every portion inoculating the soil with viable fungal life.
This spring we used David’s plans (slightly revised) to make a fungal reactor. After David’s descriptions of his process, I have added some notes and pictures of our modifications.
By Jack Kittredge
Now that you have read David’s description, you might be interested in our adaptation of the idea to New England.
First, we decided to build our composter in a hoophouse, to extend the season of fungal activity. This entailed modifications to the pipes so that they could be withdrawn inside a structure that was not twice as tall as the reactor.
Second, we determined to irrigate the reactor daily by hand, rather than by a drip system, since we did not have a frost-free water supply to the hoophouse yet wanted to reactor to be functional in early spring and late fall.
The following pictures show our construction progress.
By Michal Phillips
reprinted with permission from Mycorrhizal Planet
Compost is not “any ol’ heap of organic matter” when you have biological perspective.
Bacterial compost results from a thermal process featuring a higher nitrogen charge and several turnings of the pile to aerate the microbe scene. Both of these actions rouse bacteria into action. The thermophilic phase in particular gets the pile cooking, thereby cleaning house of potential pathogens and weed seeds. The whole process generally takes six to ten weeks from start to finish. Commercial compost operations make this sort of “garden compost” for certified organic growers (adhering to federal restrictions) and home gardeners purchasing compost by the bag.
By Jack Kittredge
Raynham, a town of some 13,000 people, was originally part of what is now the City of Taunton in Southeastern Massachusetts, settled as early as 1639 by Elizabeth Pole, the first woman to found a town in America. Three years earlier Roger Williams had fled to that area in a January blizzard to escape a conviction for sedition and heresy in Salem. Williams had earned the enmity of many English settlers for his beliefs in paying the Native Americans for their land and opposing slavery. The Wampanoag Sachem Massasoit hosted and protected the fugitive Williams for three months until Spring came. The Sachem’s son, Metacom, in 1675 agreed to spare Raynham from destruction in King Philip’s War in return for the local iron forge maintaining his troops’ weapons.
In 1731 the eastern end of Taunton was incorporated as Raynham, where folks abandoned efforts to affect history and settled down to building ship hulls which were floated down the Taunton River to Fall River and Narragansett Bay for final fitting, as well as some small manufacturing and farming the sandy loam soil. Closeness to Boston (32 miles) and Providence (22 miles) has slowly increased land values there as city workers seek to live in nearby bedroom suburbs. These increasing land values are part of the problem for Chuck Currie and Marie Kaziunas at Freedom Food Farm.
By Lauren Lum
Over the course of two sunny days in Seattle, 14 sustainable agriculture organizations convened a strategy meeting to advance healthy soil legislation. We gathered as farmers, farmer-based organizations and advocates working in more than 20 states and nationwide to explore pathways at the forefront of healthy soils advocacy.
The meeting was the culmination of more than eight months of webinars and resource sharing building upon a burgeoning interest nationwide in the potential of agricultural soil health to mitigate climate change, enhance on-farm resilience to extreme weather and drought, and improve water and air quality.
By Jack k
William Norton Duesing, known to all as Bill, died at 75 on July 12, 2018 at the Connecticut Hospice in Branford, Connecticut. Bill was born on August 19, 1942 in Detroit, Michigan and was predeceased by his parents, Howard Ernest Duesing and Charlotte Morehouse Duesing.
Bill is survived by his wife, Suzanne Mann Skorpen Duesing and his children: Daniel Ethan Duesing and his wife, Kassie Murphy of Simsbury, Connecticut and Kira Suzanne Skorpen Spinner and her husband James of Middlebury, Connecticut. He will be sorely missed by his six grandchildren: Nicholas, Brian and Charlie Spinner and Zoe, Charlotte and Kingston Duesing.
He also leaves his sister Alice Duesing Sloan and her husband Paul of Alvin, Texas and their children and grandchildren, as well as his brother John Duesing and his wife Pam Clark of West Des Moines, Iowa.
By Jack Kittredge
Congratulations on another fact-filled and informative issue. You did a great job of putting together material from before your time in NOFA. But I wanted to alert you to one rather grievous error in the photos…you erroneously identified a photo of Jack Cook “outstanding in his field” as Samuel Kaymen! I did a Google images search, and sure enough, UMass archive also has it incorrectly identified. I just sent them a note, and had previously given them complete captions on all my photos, which seem to have been lost.
As for the rest of the issue, I do have to raise a couple of concerns: