Mycorrhizal fungi are greedy capitalist pigs!

If you know something about permaculture, then probably you heard that mycorrhizal fungus:

  • live in symbiotic relationship with plants
  • help plants to extract nutrients from the soil
  • promote more abundant yields
  • improved resistance to soil pathogens and environmental stress

It comes with a price as fungus does not do it because it have “a good heart”, but because it gets carbohydrates from the plant. It’s business. And as it sometimes happens in business each partner wants to get more and give less. Mycorrhizal fungi –  plants relationships are no different…

One of the benefits mycorrhiza partnership provide to the plant is getting more nutrients. As fungi mycelium is better and quicker in acquiring nitrogen from the soil than the plants roots, fungi can and they do use it to their advantage…

If nitrogen is scarce in boreal forest the fungi gives plants only a little nitrogen in exchange for a constant supply of carbon (sugars). Now, you would think that if nitrogen is more abundant the fungi will share the wealth with the plant? Unfortunately that’s not what happens, as fungi try to horde the nitrogen and not increase the supply for the trees. What is important, that it does it even when it is limiting the growth of the plant, potentially reducing it’s own future “income” (carbohydrates from the plants)…

What is also very interesting is the fact, that if plants have been inoculated by many myccorrhizal fungi, they choose to “do business” with a fungus that provide them with the most nitrogen. If they are only inoculated by one fungus, it has a monopoly, and can demand higher price…

Mycorrhizal fungi are encouraged by mulching topsoil


Pimping ain’t easy

As a lot of you are very “Game” savy (game is an art and science of seducing fair ladies) I will use a metaphor of pimp-ho-trick relationship…

At the moment I live in Thailand, just an hour drive from Pattaya, I’ve been there once to buy some testosterone. In case you don’t know, for over 40 years Pattaya was one of the world’s largest spots for prostitution. The reason? Very poor economy, especially in the north of the country (Isan region) forced large amount of poor, young, uneducated girls to look for some employment. One of the most desirable commodity those girls had was their body. Considering that average woman in Thailand gave birth to 6 children in 1960, supply of young, desperate girls was quiet high. Women could be bought cheep and in bulk. Pimps and madame (or as they called here mamasans) could choose most beautiful girls with the nicest and the most “professional” attitude.

Nowadays average Thai woman give birth to only 1,66 child (or children?), economy of Thailand is booming, Isan region has special tax discounts to encourage business to invest there… Supply of young, willing ladies that want to have sex with old, fat and unattractive white men is significantly reduced. Bar girls are often more interested in checking Facebook updates than entertaining customers with a conversation. Sometimes they refuse to have sex with certain men. The pimps can’t do much as it’s getting more and more difficult to find employes. What’s even more shocking is the fact, that some prostitutes are fat, and old. Though having at least one fat girl in a bar is good, as some men prefer fat women (as one mamasan friend of mine told me – usually the Indian guys).

It’s all about supply and demand. If one partner needs the other too much it will often get a worse deal, than if it’s more independent…


How to use this knowledge in permaculture context?

There are at least three things you can do to make sure your your plants get a good deal, and the mycorrhiza relationship stays mutualistic (beneficial to both partners):

  • Increase soil fertility, so your plants can get nutrients directly (rock dust is a good idea)
  • Fertilize your soil, especially with calcium, so nitrogen fixing organism will be more abundant
  • Increase biodiversity of your mycorrhiza, so your plants will be inoculated by at least 2 fungi

that will give your productive trees and shrubs an advantage. Or as a businessman would say… a competitive edge.

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