Fertiliser-mushroom compost

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Sun, 29 Mar 2009 13:47:27 PDT
When I first discovered that horse manure (really stable bedding mixed with
manure) was available from the local stables maintained by the park police,
I went on a binge bringing the stuff into the garden. I tried it on all
sorts of things. 

I planted a few bulbs of Iris histrio aintabensis in it – directly into a
shovel full of it, without any admixture of soil or anything else. Those
iris really went to town – they not only bloomed but they provided dozens
and dozens of fat little bulbs when I dug them.  When I ran out of manure
and those same plants were moved into regular soil, the faded away within a
year or two. 

Another year I did something so counter-intuitive that the results amazed
even me. I have this hypothesis that fungi in the soil are very aggressive
to one another. I decided that if I could establish a non-pathogenic fungus
in the soil, bulbs which are often victims of pathogenic fungi would be
protected. To test this hypothesis, I used the horse manure. I noticed that
if I kept it in plastic bags, it soon developed a very pleasant mushroomy
odor. I wasn’t aware that any of the Agaricus fungi were pathogens of live
plants, so I decided to store some tulip bulbs in this mushroomy horse
manure during the summer. 

I put a handful of tulip bulbs into a plastic bag full of the mushroomy
horse manure/stable bedding. The plastic bags were clear plastic, and during
the summer I could see that the fungal mycelium was filling the bag. Every
once and a while I would open a bag and take a tulip bulb out to check it.
They were always fine. 

When fall came, I took out all the tulip bulbs and looked them over. They
seemed fine. Except for the peculiar surface texture they had – rough, not
smooth like dry bulbs – they were fine. They were also a bit warm – the
stable bedding was evidently still decomposing a bit, although not enough to
harm the bulbs. There was one other difference: the tulip bulbs were not as
heavy as comparably-sized bulbs stored in conventional ways. The fungus was
apparently monopolizing the moisture. 

I like to tell this story to beginning gardeners, the sort who freak every
time they see any evidence of fungi. The point I try to make is that only
some fungi are pathogens; most are not. The other point is the concept of
host specificity: even pathogenic fungi have specific hosts. They are not
wild cards which will destroy everything they touch. Fungi are everywhere,
and we’re still here, right? 

Jim McKenney
Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone
7, where it's warm right now and the scent of magnolias fills the garden.
My Virtual Maryland Garden http://www.jimmckenney.com/
BLOG! http://mcwort.blogspot.com/
Webmaster Potomac Valley Chapter, NARGS 
Editor PVC Bulletin http://www.pvcnargs.org/ 
Webmaster Potomac Lily Society http://www.potomaclilysociety.org/

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