Saturday, March 5, 2016

How to Make Forests Renewable

A number of Maryland counties give out awards to people and businesses for excellence in recycling. This year, Calvert County has followed suit. I am deeply involved in recycling for the purpose of building better soil and would like to apply for one of the awards in order to bring more publicity to the potential for recycling woody waste in the form of biochar.

My recycling bona fides could also include acceleration of carbon cycling, which is a major element of what +Paul Stamets describes as mycoforestry. When forests are logged unsustainably (as they have been repeatedly in the U.S. since the settlers arrived), then many of the extant fungi have nothing to feed on after a few years and they die away. This interrupts the carbon cycle, reducing the quality of soil with every new tree harvest. The remedy Stamets prescribes is to insure that logging residues are left in close contact with the forest floor. This gives saprophytic fungi the opportunity to thrive on the dead wood, enriching the soil, leading to more rapid regrowth, giving the endophytes and mycorrhizae an opportunity to bridge the gap.

As a forest gardener, I like to get wood chips dumped on my property to use for food forest patches. The chips could well end up as mulch elsewhere, but when my place is closer, the tree guys would just as soon leave them with me. Either way, it's recycling, but I get it down to the soil fungi right away by keeping the chips no more than 1 foot deep. After 6 months, I add horse manure and biochar to accelerate the composting process, engaging a host of other microbes to break down the dead wood into food for plants.

In addition to encouraging persistence of native mycelia subsequent to logging, Stamets suggests dusting new tree roots with edible mycorrhizal mushroom spores before planting. Some of the recommended species are chanterelles on oaks and sweet tooth on conifers. That means going back to harvest the mushrooms in subsequent years. If these edible mushroom spores are used, then it isn't a good idea to also include spores for other non-mushroom-producing mycorrhizae, because they tend to outcompete the edibles. Sweet tooth also can be found under other deciduous trees, so I might try out this suggestion when I begin planting my forest garden.

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