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Seven Things I've Learned about Mycorrhizae

In the eight-plus years that I've been studying and marketing mycorrhizal fungi inoculants, some basic facts have become stuck in my mind.

  1. The beneficial fungi are not just a nice little extra for plants. Millions of years of evolution together have resulted in plants that need the fungi to efficiently uptake nutrients; and, fungi that cannot survive without host plants. From a function standpoint, the symbiotic plant/fungiare is more a single organism than two separate ones. This fact should be the foundation element of both agriculture and horticulture.
  2. Plants can obviously be grown by overdosing their inefficient roots with increasingly-expensive NPK fertilizer, but why? The eventual soil degradation and water contamination problems from fertilizer run-off are looming disasters. Burning out crop soils that could otherwise be productive for hundreds of years, as well as polluting our children's drinking water with chemical growing methods when there are cleaner and sustainable biology-based methods available seems selfish to my way of thinking.
  3. Much of what is published and promoted about mycorrhizal fungi is wildly over-simplified, perhaps necessarily so. These are highly complex organisms that operate as part of an intricate underground system that we still know relatively little about. A top USDA scientist who has devoted his career to studying the fungi once told me that he always sees people's eyes glaze over when he attempts to explain, in any detail, how mycorrhizal fungi function in relationships with many other organisms.
  4. From a genetics standpoint, the fungi are older organisms than are plants, occupying land areas first. They are also genetically more similar to humans than they are to plants. (I don't know what this means, precisely, but it always makes for interesting conversation.)
  5. The great variety of types of mycorrhizal fungi (more than 150 now named) is a largely unexamined area for future study. Some untested (or even yet-unnamed) types could be the answer to crop yields beyond any that we now consider wonderful. Some theorize that fungi that now support plant life in harsh conditions (deserts or other unfertile soils) may allow crops to thrive with very little fertilizing or irrigation water. Capturing and experimenting with such fungi, matching them up with grains and vegetable crops, could lead to abundant and inexpensive food production from marginal soils.
  6. The fungi are both fragile and tough. By leaving durable spores behind when their host plants die, mycorrhizal fungi can bounce back to re-colonize plants for years to come. It takes a long time to eliminate them from soil, but it can - and is - being done.
  7. Just as one cannot do a slow and careful back flip, one cannot ease gradually into biological growing methods. Fast-acting, high-analysis, fertilizers have to be completely dropped from cultural practices before the beneficial fungi can perform at their best. Plants signal the fungi when they are stressed or lacking a needed nutrient; synthetic fertilizers apparently short-circuit such signals.

Side Note:
Thanks to you who have agreed to trial the new MycoMinerals™ product. We very much want to see how its combination of trace minerals, biostimulants, and mycorrhizal spores perform in various situations. If there are other U.S. readers who would like to receive a jar (no cost), please contact me. There is no need to be highly scientific about the testing - just scatter the product across part of a garden area or mix it into potting soil for some plants, or plant a couple rows "with," and a couple "without."

Good growing, my friends!

Don Chapman
President, BioOrganics, Inc.

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