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Ligaya Gardening Tips #7 Encourage fungi

We often get asked for gardening tips, so have decided to do a weekly post describing things we do to keep our garden going well with very little effort.

Here’s this week’s…

A King Stropharia showing that there is happy fungal life in the soil at Ligaya Garden
A King Stropharia showing that there is happy fungal life in the soil at Ligaya Garden

Even if you’re a bit wary about eating mushrooms from your garden, there are great benefits from just having them there. Of course, there are evil fungi that cause diseases such as Peach Leaf Curl. I’m making a very arbitrary division and just talking about the beneficial ones.

Fungi aren’t plants nor are they animals, they’re in their own Kingdom. If you do a little research of your own, you’ll see why. For our purposes, we can think of fungi as the living interface between plants and both organic and inorganic material.

Before we go much further, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The mushrooms and toadstools that you see are only the fruiting bodies of a much more complicated organism. They are the part that spread the spores so that the fungi can reproduce and spread themselves around. The really interesting part of fungi is those masses white threads that you see when you pick a mushroom or move some long neglected mulch. They thread their way through the organic matter and they are the part of the organism that were interested in. These threads are called mycelia (mycelium is the singular) and are absolutely fascinating.

Here’s a few general titbits that will help you understand how good they are for our gardens –

  • Mycelia excrete enzymes that dissolve mineral matter, making it available for plants
  • Mycelia break down inorganic material
  • Mycelia of some fungi actually penetrate into the root cells of some plant species (I suspect that its really all plants but we just haven’t seen it in all of them yet). This allows more nutrients to be more efficiently absorbed by the plant. It also increases the surface area of the roots enormously, also aiding in nutrient and water uptake. This increases plant health and resistance to disease.
  • Mycelia have been found to be a key in plant communications. There’s a lot of information around, nowadays, about how fungi actively distribute water and nutrients between plants. They can spread warnings from damaged plants to other trees and perform other communications roles. Probably the nicest book to read on the topic is ‘Entangled Life’ by Merlin Sheldrake.

You might be beginning to get the picture. Mycelia are a living web between all parts of the garden – the plants, the soil and you. It’s like having your own internet in the soil, as a matter of fact, in forests, people call this the ‘Wood Wide Web’!

When we started Ligaya Garden, we imported 3 cubic metres of mushroom compost. Often, this is sterilized when you buy it but we struck it lucky. For two years we had a regular supply of the regular, white mushrooms that you buy on shops. Literally kilograms of them over that time, which we ate and them around. Having them here, even if we don’t use them still brings the benefits of having a mycelial web in the garden,

The pic at the top of this post is of a King Stropharia mushroom. It’s an edible species that, with a little encouragement, likes to live out in the garden. I dug a little into the mulch around it and was very happy to see a web of mycelia as well as a handful of pins (that’s the little white baby mushrooms that form from the mycelia).

A flush of Oyster mushrooms from spent mushroom substrate.
A flush of Oyster mushrooms from spent mushroom substrate.

We are currently placing piles of spent mushroom substrate in the garden. It comes from Danny at Barossa Gourmet Mushrooms and is the what is left over after he has had a few flushes of Oyster Mushrooms. We’re not hoping to get a standing crop of Oyster mushrooms but are trying to get them to naturalise in our garden so that we get a few mushies but mostly we want to add to the mycelial network. Oysters are pretty aggressive in colonising many materials so their presence will help decompose organic materials. At the moment I’m training some to eat dog poo!

Oyster mycelium colonising dog poo.
Oyster mycelium colonising dog poo.

There are many reasons to encourage fungi in your garden, even if you don’t plan to eat them. A soil that is dominated by fungi tends toward acidity and is better for perennials who have the time to benefit from long term associations, as you will from your long term association with your own garden.

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