Fungi are an essential part of any ecosystem, they recycle nutrients and energy in the system, form symbiotic relationships with plants, pioneer new habitats, and the fruiting bodies of some species are tasty treats. Fungi occur naturally in any ecosystem and almost all are beneficial. Mycorhizzal fungi form associations with nearly all plant roots and help to make nutrients such as phosphorus from soils available to the plant host. Other fungal symbionts live within the plant between cell walls and help to conduct water and ward off would be herbivores with toxins. Only a few rare fungi are parasites or pathogens of plants or animals. Most fungi exist as free living decomposer; a simple but vital ecological role.
While fungi occur naturally in the ecosystem in many forms; most do not form ‘mushrooms’. Mushrooms are the macroscopic reproductive structures of some fungi groups. Of those species of fungi that do form mushrooms, less than 3% are edible. Edible mushrooms are also widely distributed geographically and seasonally. Recruitment mushroom species from surrounding natural areas is also increasingly difficult as habitat is fragmented, poisoned, and destroyed. The chances of one naturally having a wide selection of edible mushrooms in their local ecosystem year round are therefore low.
It is because edible mushrooms are so naturally rare, yet so desirable for their unique texture and taste that cultivation is desirable. Introduction of edible fungi to your ecosystem can take many forms depending on the species of mushroom and method of cultivation. Changing the fungal composition of your ecosystem can be difficult but is possible.
At PrairieGreens we are slowly introducing new species of edible fungi to our system. As we managed our hedge to reduce fire hazard and invasive species; we were left with lots of biomatter. We use some of this matter for pea trellis, mulch, biochar, hugelkultur, and other purposes; but fungi presented a great new edible option. In relationship to enriching our permaculture system mushrooms add a utilitarian aspect to the natural process of decay. In the future we plan to use the edible fungi to supplement our own diet and CSA .
We utilize the spare biomatter in two ways depending on the size of the material and the species of mushroom. Candidate logs are inoculated with infected dowels into drilled holes. Smaller waste materials are mulched and used as substrate in sunken beds. We are growing our fungus under shade trees where they will remain shaded and moist.
It is important to match substrate and method of cultivation to the species of fungus cultivated. You can find my own abridged reference attached. mushrooms Most fungi prefer either hardwood or softwood, and many prefer a particular species of tree. The ideal log is cut during bud swelling in very early spring; and then left for about two weeks to cure. Cutting at this point ensures high carbohydrate content in wood and low spore content in the open air. These two factors will greatly increase your odds of colonization success.
Fungi are superficially like plants in many ways. Fungi first develop to maturity and then need to be induced to form mushrooms with environmental queues (usually light or temperature). Like plants, some species of fungi reproduce in summer, while others reproduce in spring or fall. Like plants, many fungi are perennial and reproduce only some years.
After your logs have provided you with food; move the expired/respired logs to another area and allow grubs and beetles to take over the logs. The bugs will relish the partially digested wood and in turn your woodpeckers, flickers, and other wood cleaners will find a few more meals.
Introducing edible fungi to your ecosystem is a rewarding and educational process. However, one should keep in mind that species introductions must find a balance in the system and should not become invasive or problematic. Consider ecological implications before implementation of any plans.