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ben harpo
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Location: Illinois, zone 6b
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I bought a bag of Mycorrhizal spores for $15. What is the best way to apply it?


If I sprinkle some in a bucket of compost and cooked rice then hyphae fill the bucket... But, I don't know if I can spread that without destroying the fugus... Should i just fling the spores all over my farm?

 
John Elliott
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Pretty much any way you empty the bag will work. Spores are tough things. They are meant to be, to travel the winds and land on some bit of dead biomass so they can begin a new life. What they need to get a good start in life is temperature, humidity and food. Temperature is out of your hands, so you have to make sure and sprinkle them onto things they can eat and keep them moist. The compost pile, on top of some mulch, some brush trimmings, these are all places where fungi can find food.

Mycorrhizal spores are a little more specialized than the average wood decay fungi, although there is a good deal of overlap. Some mycorrhizal spores (but not all) will stay dormant in the soil until a root hair comes their way. As the root hair grows past, the spore wakes up and begins its association with the plant root. It will grow with the extending part of the root, and it will work its way back toward the stem or trunk of the plant. Your best bet is to use your bag of spores in a variety of ways, and let them do their thing. Specifically, I would suggest:

(1) Make a compost tea, aerate it well and add some spores and ground up biochar to the bucket. Some of the spores will adhere to the biochar particles and when you use this bucketful of microbial activity as a root drench, the spores will be off to the races.

(2) Make a starting mix for seeds. Equal parts of peat moss and composted manure, with a spoonful of spores stirred in. Use this for starting tree and vegetable seeds. Except for brassicas. The cabbage family doesn't form any mycorrhizal associations.

(3) If you have a pile of chipped brush, blend some spores up in a bucket of water and drench your soon-to-be mulch. The spores can infect the wood chips and then when you go to mulch your plants, they will continue to grow down into the soil.

Where ever you apply your spores, be sure to water it in good and keep watering it for a week. Remember all those rules about watering, like don't water in the evening, because it promotes the growth of fungal diseases? Now you can break every one of those rules; you want the growth of these fungi!
 
John Saltveit
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I planted wheat seeds until they grew up somewhat, like 5 inches tall, then I removed them and dipped all of the roots in the liquid. Don' t use chlorinated water. Then I planted the wheat plant so that it's roots were touching the roots of the plant I wanted them to grow on. MOst spores will die within 48 hours if not growing on a root. Just yesterday, I removed a scleroderma cepa mycorrhizal mushroom from beneath my apple tree to ID it at the mushroom club meeting. It worked! I put that mushroom intertwined with the roots of a different apple tree so it will get mycorhhizae too. It works!
John S
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Sam Boisseau
Posts: 155
Location: PNW, British Columbia
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Does anyone here have experience establishing Mycorrhizal fungi in their gardens?


My understanding is that they generally don't multiply in compost tea.

I've found this interesting guide on on-farm inoculum production
http://rodaleinstitute.org/a-complete-how-to-on-farm-am-fungus-inoculum-production/

I wonder if an alternative would be to establish the fungi in a garden when sowing a perennial cover crop such as clover.
 
John Elliott
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They may not multiply in compost, but the tea is a good vehicle to get them into the root zone when you use it as a root drench.

I like to collect boletes from under the oak trees at the local mall. Always a nice crop of them after a summer downpour. I bring them home and blend them up with some water and add them to the compost tea. I must have drenched my apple tree a couple years ago and it took, because after the last big rain we had, I had little boletes popping up under the apple tree.
 
John Saltveit
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Please see my post from 9/25/2013 and John Elliot's posts. Those are some of the basic ways. I am happy to answer any questions on it.
johN S
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Joshua Finch
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I've been inoculating with mycorrhizae since I began gardening way back in 2011

I've used spores of only endomycorrhizae, a mix of both endo and ecto mycorrhizae, and now a product with endomycorrhizae and a mix of mineral and biological ingredients which boost initial mycorrhizal growth. The first two products were from Bio-Organics (an American company when I lived in the States). The last product is also "certified for organic use" (yeah, I know that doesn't mean what we would like it to) and is from Symbiom (a Czech company).

The reason I have used inoculum is because my projects in the States were typically in highly degraded, compacted, and otherwise very hostile environments to mycorrhizae. Therefore, I wanted to ensure a network would be established. Here in Finland, the only land I have is quite far a way and has also been mistreated. My other plantings are in containers, where if you are using commercially available potting soils, are devoid of mycorrhizal spores.

Inoculating with mycorrhizae is not always an appropriate measure, so it really depends on what you are doing.

Usually quality commercial mycorrhizal inoculants are monetarily costly. For that reason, I've always tried to ensure a few things:

1) What are the fungal species present? Is the product a mix of endo and ectomycorrhizae? If it is a mix, then application is "easier" as the vast majority of plant species will associate with one or the other group (some plants, like the Sorbus and Salix families are able to associate with both groups- which leads to some interesting theoretical networking). If the species are from one or the other, then it makes a lot of sense to conserve the inoculum for a host species. Endomycorrhizae (some of which are almost known as arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi [AMF]) associate with the majority of annual vegetables and many types of non woody species, although there are many trees which will work with them also. Ectomycorrhizae commonly associate with woody species.

The difference between the naming of the two groups is mainly a distinction of how the fungi makes its connection with a host plant: endomycorrhizae will penetrate the cell walls making up roots, while ectomycorrhizae make their connection between the cells and form a type of "sheath" around the root. Functionally (for the plants), they mostly do the same thing. That said, endomycorrhizae almost never produce a fruiting body we call a mushroom. They spread their spores underground, which is inevitably a very slow process. Therefore if a patch of ground has been treated in a way that is inhospitable to endomycorrhizal fungi for a long enough period, there is potential for them to be completely absent. They can only be ripped apart for so long before they die.

Ectomycorrhizae, on the other hand, commonly spread their spores in the atmosphere through mushrooms launchers They are able to colonize vast areas of the earth because of this. That doesn't mean, of course, that deliberately inoculating trees with them is a waste of time or money. It just means that they are more likely to find their way to a disturbed site than endomycorrhizae. It also should be noted that there are other "groups" of mycorrhizae (such as ericoid, which associate with many heather and blueberry plants as well as kinds that work with orcids). I focus mostly on endo and ecto simply because they are account for the majority of plants we try to work with.

Now that you know what kind of spores you have, you should identify whether or not the plants you want to establish work with them. There are many lists available. Quickly, common plants used by permaculturalists such as those in the Brassicae family, Amaranth, and Lupins, do not form associations with any mycorrhizal fungi.

2) Once you know what plants your spores will work with, decide on how to inoculate. While there are many methods and times in which you can do this, I prefer to inoculate at the time of seeding and transplanting. The closer you can put the spores to a seed the better, so simply pour the recommended amount (or less if you want) into the bottom of the seed's hole and press the seed into the inoculum when you pat the soil for good seed/soil/fungi contact. Not only will the spores recognize when the seed begins to grow its first roots, but seeds can also detect the presence of mycorrhizae and many times will germinate sooner. Seedlings are also more willing to form the connection than transplants. Still, if the seedlings were not inoculated at planting time, you can always inoculate later.

Be patient, however, when inoculating older plants. They already have an established root system (even transplants) and it will take time, probably more than a month in temperate climates, for any kind of difference to be noticeable. Another thing to note is that if you are growing in containers using peat, that peat is an awful substrate for endomycorrhizae. They typically will germinate and begin growing in soils that have some mineral component. Too much organic matter is not a good thing, especially if is peat. Obviously, a very strong O-layer in your soil is what we want, but the fungi can always go below that and into the mineral soil to begin mining nutrients. If you are growing in 100% peat, well, they don't have anything to search for. Keep that in mind.

Also make sure that your inoculum is placed at least 1" (2.5cm) below the surface of the soil since they germinate in relative darkness.

If you are planting something like clover which can be broadcasted onto the surface of the soil and want them to be inoculated with endomycorrhizae, you can always take the time to make small holes in something like a French-intensive pattern throughout the bed. This way, at least some of the clover will land near the inoculum and their roots will find spores pretty quickly. Within a few months, the bed should have a thriving soil community.

3) When using mycorrhizae, avoid high phosphorus fertilization. If phosphorus is available in too high quantities, plants may refuse the make the connection. You then lose the other nutrients that mycorrhizae are very good at finding, including water. You also lose the other benefits of soil structuring, soil microorganism management, and other biological functions they perform. This probably won't be a problem here with permies since we don't usually use anything higher than a "10" on the NPK scale anyway. Still, it is something to keep in mind when you go to a new site that has been farmed chemically in the past. This is where soil testing is really important.

4) Now let us back up; before you use mycorrhizae, it makes a lot of sense to have your garden planned out. The importance of pathways which allow access to beds without compacting is highly important here. Mycorrhizae typically grow pretty slow, meaning it will take a few years before the soil has been sufficiently colonized. We don't want to make their lives harder by walking willy-nilly all over the place. Again, this is pretty normal permaculture stuff.

Commercially available inoculums typically have a shelf life, if stored properly, of 2 years from their "manufacturing" date. Make sure to use all of the spores before this date. Inoculating with mycorrhizae is typically something you will be doing early in the establishment phase and therefore is an expense (if you choose to buy and not use something like the Rodale's instructions for producing your own) and input that should be temporary. You don't need to reinoculate each and every year if your management practices are in line with soil health.

Mycorrhizae are exceptional in their ability to mine nutrients from mineral sources in addition to finding them from harder to break down biological ones. So if soil remineralization is something you are interested in, make sure that you have healthy fungi in your soil so that the nutrients can become plant available (and are also stored longer, etc).

Once again I should state that, if you are using endomycorrhizal inoculant, you will more than likely never see a mushroom emerge from the species you added. The only way to "know" if endomyocorrhizae are present is to look at the roots of a host plant with a microscope and have the ability to identify their presence that way. Still, good management and proper matching of host/fungi over a period of 1-3 years makes it quite improbable that they are not present. At least in a "normal" situation where soil depth if greater than, say, 6 inches (15cm). Green roofs (not gardens on roofs) are hard to establish mycorrhizal fungi in because of the substrate and soil depth.

-

What else?

Mycorrhizal fungi do not replicate in compost or compost teas. They only grow in the soil in connection with an appropriate host plant. Without a host plant (or plants- the beauty if mycorrhizae is what they do for the system at large, rather than just one plant), they cannot complete their life cycle. (Edit: they may in some kinds of compost if the temperature is low enough and the compost is left where the fungi can colonize and live long enough to produce spores)

I would, personally, not put mycorrhizal fungi spores into a compost tea. That said, there are products that use gels and liquids. Gels are pretty good if you are doing a lot of bare rooted plantings and want to ensure good contact. There are some products that are made for drip irrigation systems. Still, the spores need to reach the roots and the most effective way, I've found, of doing that is to place the spores directly into contact with them in the soil, under any mulch or compost. Physically bypassing a mulch layer and putting the spores in the root zone is my preferred method, but that doesn't mean that adding them to a compost tea destined for a root drench doesn't work. Just don't spray them on leaves because that would be a waste of spores.

Deliberately inoculating host plants and transplanting them out into different garden patches to establish new mycorrhizal species is a very good idea and is something that I do as well.

Lastly, from the information I have, members of the Malus (inc. apples) family do not form ectomycorrhizal associations. If you have found Scleroderma cepa under your apples, then there are probably roots of a nearby host species intermingling with the apple. Check out this link for a brief discussion of finding fruiting bodies of ectomycorrhizal fungi under nonhosts.

If anyone wants to see photos and such of the garden I have most experience using mycorrhizal inoculation with, follow this link to Permaculture News' forums. Select photographs from the slideshows start on page 3.
 
John Elliott
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Joshua Finch wrote:

Lastly, from the information I have, members of the Malus (inc. apples) family do not form ectomycorrhizal associations. If you have found Scleroderma cepa under your apples, then there are probably roots of a nearby host species intermingling with the apple. Check out this link for a brief discussion of finding fruiting bodies of ectomycorrhizal fungi under nonhosts.



I'm just reporting on an observation. I brought some mushrooms home (looked a lot like Suillus tomentosus), whizzed them up in the blender and added them to some compost tea to use as a root drench. A couple years later, they are popping up under the apple trees. My property is already pretty well inoculated, during a particularly rainy July last year, I was able to identify 15 different species producing fruiting bodies. But this was the same mushroom I picked, fruiting under the tree where I applied the root drench, so I'm going to make the deduction that my attempted inoculation worked.

I'll admit that my gardening antics deviate markedly from controlled scientific experiments, but I think I am on to something here.
 
Joshua Finch
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John:

Yes, definitely keep on experimenting! Because we will never know everything and even most of what we know is subject to rapid change

I was talking with someone who is starting his PhD process soon at the University here. He took over an experiment on a green roof that was designed by someone else. The purpose was to see if deliberate inoculation of the substrate with one species of bacteria and one species of mycorrhizae would have an effect on the plants. I was sitting there saying, well: I understand that you have to be reductionist, but I would be trying to have as many species as possible! He understood my position, but the way the experiment had been set up it was only able to look at a very reduced system. Thats just an anecdotal story of how on one hand we have ecologists saying that diversity is a huge component of soil health and on the other we have folks setting up experiments that are hopelessly narrow. Although it was refreshing that he knew the flaws of the original experiment and was reaching out to talk to other people about how to set up one on his own.

So I say, keep on experimenting. It would be interesting to know if there is a normal host species near your apples where these mushrooms are appearing? Any known ectomycorrhizal associates? Definitely not saying you are wrong, just would love to have some more information. Because it could be that the species under consideration is one of those that is able to form some kind of relationship with roots of non-host species, but is not necessarily a classic mycorrhizal one. That link I sent to the Google Books says a tiny little bit of about these occurrences.

Anyway, I'm not a mycologist. Just wanted to share my bit.

PS: Have you had any success with other inoculations?

edit- it also appears that I'm conflating you and John Saltveit's stories here. You've both had success with adding different kinds of mushrooms underneath your apples.
 
Chris DeBoer
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Location: Boulder, CO
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I'm taking over a 76 acre property in Rifle, CO...semi-arid steppe with 10-14 in. precip a year, pretty difficult soils but that's a long list...

Two Questions:
1) I'm hoping to establish a zone 4 stand of pinyon pine for those delicious nuts (takes 25 years at least so my version of a premie's retirement plan ......I'm wondering the best way to inoculate seedlings with the right ectomycorrhizae species? Ideally I could transplant a seedling from like soil conditions from a nearby tree that has a fungal relationship already established but I might need a permit for this. Otherwise does anyone have any experience harvesting ectomycorrhizae from natural habitat?

2) As I progress through ecological succession in managing the land...cover crops are often mixed with a bacterial slurry before spreading....will throwing in some endomycorrhizae companions be a problem with the competing bacteria? Will they have difficulty getting established? Ought I choose one or the other or perhaps let the mycorrhizae get established then add the bacteria via compost tea?

Thanks for any suggestions or experiences shared!

Chris
 
Sam Boisseau
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Location: PNW, British Columbia
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Hi Chris,


I have a bit of an off topic response; For your broad acre, I recommend reading Water for Every Farm by PA Yeoman as well as looking at Mark Shepard's work.

 
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