Fungi play a crucial role in the function of polytunnel gardens, yet they are all too often overlooked. Polytunnel gardeners who want to make the most of their growing areas should consider the vital role these organisms play in the soil ecosystem. Taking care of fungi and other soil biotas in your polytunnel can help you to make the most of your growing area and create a thriving ecosystem that can serve you well for many years to come.
The Roles of Fungi in the Soil Ecosystem:
Without fungi, organic gardening would not be possible – full stop. Though largely at work invisibly, fungi are essential to the communication of plants. They also assist with the transportation of water and nutrients. Fungi work hard, transporting:
- other nutrients
- and water
They work, essentially, like the roots of plants. Though in a far finer, more elegant and far-reaching manner. In a teaspoon of soil, you might find a couple of centimetres of plant root. Yet there may be many metres of fungal hyphae. They work between the soil grains and solubilise nutrients which makes them available for the uptake of plant roots. Without fungi, these nutrients are not made available in an entirely organic environment.
Fungi’s unbroken chains, that can travel freely through an open soil structure, can transport water and nutrients to where they are needed, and also serve to bind the soil together. Specialist fungi, such as mycorrrhizae, work by forming symbiotic relationships with plants, effectively increasing the surface area of a root mass exponentially. Trichoderma are able to invoke an immune response in plants, hardening them to disease and attack, as well as performing other beneficial functions. Adding these specialist fungi to our gardens when planting can help us to increase our yields of edible produce and ensure the smooth function of the polytunnel ecosystem.
The Importance of ‘No Dig’ Gardening
When we dig or till the soil, we disrupt the fragile soil ecosystem that allows the ecosystem to thrive. Fungi are no longer able to maintain their delicate balance when fungal networks are damaged or destroyed. By avoiding soil disruption wherever possible, and top-dressing with mulches and organic matter, we can help to make sure that fungi are able to do their job in our polytunnels.
Fungi are the unsung heroes of our gardens and of other natural ecosystems. Take care of the fungi in your soil and they will continue to aid you, and your plants.
Elizabeth Waddington is a writer and green living consultant living in Scotland. Permaculture and sustainability are at the heart of everything she does, from designing gardens and farms around the world, to inspiring and facilitating positive change for small companies and individuals.
She also works on her own property, where she grows fruit and vegetables, keeps chickens and is working on the eco-renovation of an old stone barn.