Mushrooms serve as the spore-spreading component of fungus. Similar to a fruit dropping seeds, mushrooms drop spores into the ground, and when inoculated, spores become a single-celled organism known as a hypha. This thin, thread-like organism then spreads out underground exponentially into a huge branching system of white, thin, root-like masses, which are known as mycelium. At the end of this life cycle, a mushroom is formed, and once that mushroom reaches maturity, it begins to spread spores and start the cycle all over again. Mushrooms are just the means of reproducing mycelium.
Mycelium, when present in soil, adds a huge number of benefits to any plants that grow with it — including cannabis.
Fungi play a vital role in the ecosystem by decomposing and breaking down dead organisms and biological byproducts, liberating the nutrients from within these sources which are then utilised elsewhere in the web of life. Fungi form a symbiotic partnership with some plants and algae and are actually responsible for the very survival of numerous species. Fungi grow in threaded structures known as hyphae, which, due to their massive surface area, allow for maximum nutrient absorption.
Benefits of Fungi
There are three types of mycelium
- Saprophytic, a scavenger of sorts that feeds off dead organic matter.
- Parasitic, which absorbs nutrients from a live host.
- Mycorrhizae, which feeds off live plants, in a mutually beneficial relationship.
Mycorrhizae is the mycelium most gardeners will want to focus on cultivating in their soil.
Mycorrhizae is the scientific name for a family of fungi that forms in a root system, purely for the purpose of satisfying a symbiotic relationship. Initially, mycorrhizae were divided into two categories, being endomycorrhizal and ectomycorrhizal. The first refers to a group of mycorrhizae that live around the outside of the root cell and envelop it. The second category refers to a group of mycorrhizae that penetrate and enter the root cell.
When mycorrhizae colonize a plant root, they proceed to branch out into the soil around it. “You can almost envision mycorrhizae as a series of secondary roots, coming off of the plant root,” says Jason Steinman, production manager at the plant nutrient supplier Hydrodynamics International. “Except those secondary roots are actually strands of fungus.”
Those additional branches serve an important purpose, expanding the surface area and reach of a partner plant’s root system. More surface area means that the roots are in contact with more soil, more water, and more nutrients, so that they can make the most of the resources that surround them. The result is that plants colonized with mycorrhizal fungi have been found to be more resistant to factors like stress and drought.
It’s not just expansion that improves the health of plants that have mycorrhizal sidekicks, though. Some mycorrhizae can also help to break down nutrients found in soil, such as phosphates. That makes it easier for their partner plant to absorb those nutrients, the same way cutting up a meal into smaller bites makes it easier for us to eat. The presence of mycorrhizae can even help ward off plant pathogens like molds, making it possible to fight fungi with fungi.
According to a study, titled, “Improved soil structure and citrus growth after inoculation with three arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi under drought stress,” and published in the European Journal of Soil Biology, the researchers examined the benefits of mycorrhizae for citrus plants, with the results indicating that arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi benefitted citrus seedlings by improving the soil structure and increasing their propensity for drought resistance. Arbuscular mycorrhizae is the most common type of mycorrhizal mycelium used to build soil.
Another benefit mycorrhizae offer is helping expunge heavy metals from groundwater, and thus reduce plants’ absorption of these often-toxic metals into their roots. Cannabis is a large annual herb and has an unfortunate habit of absorbing a large number of heavy metals if they’re present in the soil in which it’s grown. Therefore, outdoor growers should have their soil routinely tested to find ways to remediate the grow medium if it’s shown to contain above average levels of heavy metal toxicity. To that end, mycorrhizal fungi can be a powerful ally in this remediation process.
The hard work of these little mushrooms isn’t free, however. They do charge a fair price. In exchange for helping your root system, mycorrhizae are offered some of the carbohydrates produced by the plant during photosynthesis.
The more the fungi grow, the more it can help the plants surrounding it, too. The surface area covered by the fungi signifies the amount of area that the plant can draw nutrients and water from. The more space they cover, the bigger the pool of plant food that your marijuana can eat. So as you can tell, this relationship is a win-win.
Introducing Mycorrhizae to a Cannabis Grow
Chances are, whatever soil you’re growing in already has some mycorrhizae in it. But just because these fungi are present in a growing medium doesn’t mean they’re making the plants in it healthier. Mycorrhizae spores—the fungal answer to seeds—need to come into direct contact with a plant’s roots to colonize them. And since the spores are fairly large, they don’t travel easily through soil.
In order to introduce beneficial fungi to your weed plants, it is important to provide a food source that will attract them and make them feel at home. A wide range of carbohydrate sources can be added to your plant’s soil in order to get a colony started that will catalyse mycorrhizae. Examples that are easy to locate and cheap to purchase include maple syrup and fruit juice. A recommended mixing ratio is 10ml of carbohydrate source with one gallon of water. It is then important to keep plants well oxygenated to prevent unwanted fungal growth from taking place. Another option to consider when applying the carbohydrate source is to add some rock phosphate into your soil to augment the mycorrhizae formation. This will provide a good source of phosphorous for the fungi to break down and then supply to the plant. A good start to a healthy relationship.
Depending on a grower’s methods, mycorrhizae may be more than an insurance policy. In organic grows, for instance, these fungi are instrumental in breaking down organic material into small enough parts that it can be effectively put to use by cannabis and other crops.
Mycorrhizal products can be purchased in just about any gardening store. They come in liquid and powder forms and are super simple to use. Just a pinch of powder or a few drops of liquid is enough to get your mycorrhizae going.
Another method of obtaining mycorrhizae for your beloved plants is to hike out into the forests and harvest some from the ground beneath your feet. Find an area of woodland away from any chemical or pollution exposure to minimize detrimental contamination. Clear a small area of vegetation and dig a few inches into the ground. Harvest the soil from the area you have chosen and repeat this process in different areas of the woodland for the sake of diversity. This mixture can then be combined with vermiculture, coir peat and compost in desirable ratios.
The beauty of organic gardening
It is a natural phenomenon that mycorrhizae exist, and it is just what makes organic gardening beautiful and mysterious. In fact, it suggests that so long as you are looking after your garden properly, it is going to do everything it can to give you the best quality plants! Nature can look after everything for you. Those who grow in soilless growing mediums miss out on the real benefits of this kind of permaculture, where mini ecosystems are created.
More modern technology, has, however, allowed growers to use mycorrhizae in hydroponic growing systems as well as soil growing operations. They can now be added to a nutrient solution and used just like any other nutrient boosting product you could add to your plants!