I went to a very cool workday in Madison yesterday at Edgewood College – we had everyone from arboritsts to Biology Professors to certified Permaculturists to co-op living, bike trailer building 20 somethings. GREAT sidebar discussion and I am trading 50#’s of potatoes for a custom co-op built cargo bike trailer! The purpose of the event was to install a mycoremediation bed to filter some of the runoff from their parking lots that drains almost directly into Lake Wingra. The thought behind mycoremediation is that fungus is really good at breaking down tough strings of carbon (cellulose and lignin in nature) – and most petro chemical pollutants – even chlorine- have similar properties so fungus breaks them down to. We built a series of three swales on contour in the runoff gulley and then layered oyster mushroom spawn in 8″ deep beds of chip mulch and sawdust. The hope is that the 1000 sq ft of mushroom bed will filter some of the water (most in a light rain) that runs down the gulley and bio-remediate the oil slicks into smaller, non-toxic carbon molecules. Part of the project was to add a small holding pond for water testing, which the Prof of Biology will take samples from. Very cool way to spend a morning!
In preparation for the event, I did a bit of research on fungus in general and mycoremediation in particular. From reading the Permaculture Canon and especially from Edible Forest Gardening I had certainly picked up that fungus cultures were important for a healthy soil, but somehow had either missed or the authors didn’t tell, the “Why’s”. I still feel that most organic and permaculture gardening texts spend most of their sections on soil healthy detailing the ecology that is found in compost bins – heavy on bacteria and micro organisms, and really skip through the importance of fungus. The long and short of it was that in 30 minutes of Google Research I had an epiphany.
Here is my sophomoric understanding of how it works. Fungus produces extracellular enzymes to break down the lignin and cellulose (or oil drippings by the way). Once the enzymes have broken down the carbon chains into something more palatable, the fungus then absorbs them through their mycelial net. Some – like mycorrhizal fungus then share the nutrients with plants for sugar in a rather direct symbiosis. But what I suspect, and will read Stament’s Mycelium Running to determine, is that as the enzyme work is done in the soil, the carbon chains are broken down enough that perhaps many plant roots can absorb them directly providing immediate boosts to their nutrient uptake.
This would explain why trees and other large perennials prefer to live in “carbonaceous” soils under a thick leaf / chip mulch. A thick carbon intensive mulch often becomes colonized by fungus which ties it into a thick mat of mycelium. In the past I had thought that this would only be directly beneficial to the plants if the funugs was mycorrhizal or after the fungus began to itself decay. Now, with my glimpse into the enzyme secretions of fungus, I think that it may have much more immediate and far reaching effects -placing them in far more important place in the soil ecosystem that fungus typically gets credit for. I am beginning to understand how people become fungus fundamentalists (fungamentalists?).
When I discovered this Saturday night I was became animated and was talking gibberish so fast that my wife thought I was joking. Epiphanies are like that. Looking forward to getting to Mycelium Running in my queue, but I also scored 3 bags of oyster mushroom spawn (we had 150) from the workshop so I can begin expirements here as well. Woo-Hoo!
Be the Change.