Like many gardeners these days, you’ve probably heard about the importance of mycorrhizal fungi for growing plants. These fungi are crucial for transporting nutrients from various parts of your soil to the root zone. What you may not have heard is that with the growth of more fungi in a new soil mix, can come a really nasty pest:
The Fungus Gnat.
By itself the fungus gnat is not necessarily the end of your garden, but the destruction these pests cause to your roots can invite much worse problems that can wipe out your entire garden: Fusarium and Pythium. In this article, you’ll learn how the Fungus Gnat gets a foothold in your soil, what the effects are, and how to prevent them from destroying your crops.
Understanding Fungus Gnats
Fungus gnats earned their name because they eat and thrive off of a diet of fungal organic matter. They are typically helped along by very wet conditions in the soil. New living soil cultivators typically over-water when beginning this unfamiliar growing style, thus inadvertently contributing to the fungus gnat’s proliferation. If you are focusing on building a truly living soil where mycorrhizal fungi can thrive, then you really need to build an entire soil ecosystem. This leads to some temporary imbalances that you’ve got to be prepared to correct.
Wet soil is the perfect home for both fungus and decaying organic matter. There, the fungus gnat larvae eat the fungus or decaying matter and rely on the wet conditions to thrive. Often invisible to the naked eye, overwatered organic matter begins to decay within the topsoil. There, the fungus gnat lay their eggs.
Fungus gnat larvae thrive within the top 2 to 3 inches of the organic growing medium. They primarily feed on decaying matter, algae and fungi. However, these larvae will feed on plant roots and leaves found resting on the growing medium surface. And below the surface, the larvae are wreaking havoc on a plant's root structure. Unlike their adult parents, the baby larvae will do damage to a plant's root system, even though fungi are required for normal development. If plant tissue is the only thing available, the Fungus Gnat will go after it. Not only do these larvae cause lots of problems, but they are also fully grown within just two to three weeks.
It Gets Worse: The Snowballing Effects of Fungus Gnats
The worst part about these pests is that both adult and larval are known vectors of fungal pathogens. As a vector, they open up new wounds for these fungal pathogens to take hold. Most commonly, these include Fusarium, Verticillium, and Pythium.
Fusarium is a horrific plant pathogen that causes a serious disease known as crown rot. Crown rot is caused by a soil-borne fungus that can survive in the soil indefinitely. Next is a soil-borne pathogen that causes wilt and decay, known as Verticillium. This pathogen can live within the soil for years before finding water and then germinating. Once alive, it begins to eat at the plant's root structure. As the Verticillium starts to replicate, they infect part of the root world known as the xylem. The xylem system is responsible for transporting water throughout a plant, starting with the roots and transporting water up to the leaves. As Verticillium begins to grow rapidly, it blocks the vessels within the xylem. As reproduction continues, they begin to produce a toxin that travels up the xylem and into other areas of the plant.
How do we combat this problem from the start so that as an educated farmer, we can improve and speed up Mother Nature? The answer is a true living soil ecosystem. By learning to build our thriving ecosystem, inoculating certain soil-dwelling species into the living soil beds is beneficial not only for your plants but for the ecosystem that they thrive in. This method is known as Integrated Pest Management (IPM), and it often starts with beneficial predators.
Adults are brown or black, typically 3-4 millimetres long and are winged. One of the only downfalls of this beneficial predator is that the rove beetle is relatively expensive for larger farms or gardens to invest in. As intelligent farmers & gardeners, how do we deal with this? We learn to farm our own.
Only three ingredients are needed to begin to farm rove beetles. First, create a mixture blend of 60% Canadian sphagnum peat moss and 40% rice hulls. Next, mist the new mixture and place it into 3/4 of the container being used. Then, add 1/2 cup of oatmeal and 1/4 cup of water and place the oatmeal into the remaining 1/4 of the container. Finally, simply add 25-50 rove beetles to the newly mixed substrate. Let this substrate sit for a few weeks and shortly after, the larvae will begin to appear underneath the oatmeal. Within a month, the population will have at least doubled in size, a simple fix for gardeners both large and small. To increase the volume and speed of the rove beetle's population, the farmer needs to simply increase the number of substrates created. Then, the rove beetle works in a symbiotic relationship with the Stratiolaelaps scimitus, widely known as the "H-Miles Predatory Mite."
Both males and females inhabit only the top few centimetres of soil. Under a simple microscope, most stages of this mite appear similar. Eggs hatch in about 2-3 days, and the life cycle is complete in around eleven days. These predatory mites feed upon the young larvae of fungus gnats in the soil and are most effective when applied to the soil before the fungus gnat populations are established. H-Miles consume 1-5 prey per day and can survive as a scavenger by feeding on algae and plant debris.
When using these "living soil defenders," beneficial nematodes are of interest because of their ability to protect against fungus gnats for about 18 months. Once added to the soil the nematodes locate pests and enter through various body openings or the body wall. After they have entered the host pest, they inject bacteria into the pest's blood. This bacteria creates food and builds a friendlier environment for its reproduction needs. As food begins to run out of the host pest, the nematodes will simply move onto a new host. The nematodes will continue to do this until they have exhausted their food source.
The easiest way to ensure success as a new living soil farmer is to learn to be proactive instead of re-active. The more focus on feeding and improving the soil's overall health, the easier growing cannabis will become. Furthermore, by cultivating a truly living ecosystem in your soil, eventually all these elements will come into balance. Once you have ecosystem balance, even the presence of a fungal pathogen like Fusarium will not necessarily attack your garden, because there will be a predator to keep it in check. Focus on the health of your soil, and everything else will come together.
Most gardeners who are familiar with organic farming practices know that worm castings are like black gold. When it comes to beneficial, organic amendments, there may be nothing more beneficial. Composting worms, otherwise known as Earthworms, are the soils "intestinal engine," feeding the entire microbial world in a complete closed-loop nutrient cycling system. They consume organic matter and transform the newly produced carbon into a product sold at high-end garden centers known as worm castings. You will always hear organic gardeners and growers raving about the benefits of worm castings. However, when asked if they are cultivating with composting worms in their soil system, most will reply, "No."
In fact, cultivating worms in your soil has additional benefits over just adding worm castings, and could ultimately save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars on buying new worm castings every year. Furthermore, you can save even more money by encouraging the worms in your soil to reproduce faster. In this article, we will show you how.
The Benefits of Live Worms in Your Soil
Composting worms, like all other organisms in the soil food web, form a symbiotic relationship with their neighbors. One of these groups of creatures that live in symbiosis with worms are mites. In order to become a true organic gardener, one must learn how to control pests without using pesticides, and a very effective way to do so is using predatory insects and predatory mites. So by encouraging composting worms to grow in our soil, we can also encourage these beneficial mites. Adding this skill set to one's IPM playbook allows the organic gardener to learn to trust and believe that mother nature will combat the plant's health issues. This gives freedom and time back to the gardener so they can focus on other things, and become a proactive gardener instead of a reactive one.
Composting worms dig and build dissolved oxygen channels and allow soil mites, especially the white springtail mite, to "hitch a ride" onto the worm's bio-film. Then, they move around the soil system working in harmony with the composting worms to break down organic matter into carbon. The more composting worms living soil gardeners have to work and continue driving the soils engine, the quicker the newly created soil life can keep up with the high nutrient demands of the plants.
Composting worms love the oils and fats that are found within the avocado and seem to prefer to "congregate" around avocados over other food sources. Therefore, we can begin to attract worms from all over the soil medium by using an organic avocado. Organic is important, because we don’t want to potentially introduce any pesticide residue into our soil, even if it’s on the avocado skin.
Here are six easy steps to implementing “Avocado Tech”:
1) Cut the avocado in half exposing the fleshy green side and the pit.
2) Move enough topsoil to allow placement of one half of the avocado in the soil, face down.
3) Do the same for the second half of the avocado.
4) Only bury the avocado halfway, exposing the skin above the soil line.
5) Lightly mist water over the avocado skin and surrounding area every other day.
6) Allow two weeks to pass without disturbing the avocado.
This will jumpstart the breeding not just of composting worms, but of all of the diverse soil microbial life a gardener needs to grow a high-end product using only mother nature to feed our soil and our plants. This will also spur the reproduction of isopods (roly polys), white springtail mites, rove beetles, Hypoaspis miles mites, and predatory mites.
One of the concerns we hear about transitioning to cultivating living soil gardening is, "How are we going to be able to afford the amount of composting worms it takes to fill a commercial market garden, or even a farm?" With these conditions, composting worms will begin to double in population every 90 days. We recommend transitioning one small section of your garden at a time, and using the surplus of worms you will create to populate the next section. Calcium sources such as Gypsum, Oyster shell flour, and eggshells, aid in speeding up this reproduction process as well. Calcium is KING when it comes to next level worm farming and vermicomposting.
There is a disconnect with some gardeners about the real power of having the nutrients they feed their plants come from soil microbes instead of synthetic salts. The living soil system relies in part on the quality of the organic matter that the microbes are breaking down. Quality inputs will always equal quality outputs. So take the plunge by starting to introduce and breed live worms in your soil, and we promise you’ll see a big difference.
If you are just starting out gardening, or if you’ve been doing it a few years but have been tilling your soil every year and using fertilizers, then it will take some time to rebuild the life in your soil. But you can speed this process up and produce giant, dense produce in your first season by breeding your own worms and supplementing with Bioflux fermented plant boost. It contains hundreds of species of bacteria and fungi that will jumpstart your transition to living soil. Or mix some Terraflux activated biochar into your soil (you can also amend it as a top dressing), and instantly increase your organic matter percentage. Just head to the Everflux store by clicking below.
Living soil is the symbiotic relationship between organisms working together to break down organic matter in your soil, which, in turn, provides valuable nutrients to plants and the microbial world. This style of cultivating allows the newly formed soil to function as its own ecological community, feeding the plant roots itself. This is known as growing with mother nature and was first called the "soil foodweb" by Dr. Elaine Ingham. The soil foodweb world consists of composting worms, beneficial nematodes, protozoa, bacteria, and fungi.
Living soil cultivation methods have proven time and time again to produce extremely high-quality produce. They generate these results by breaking down the organic matter that collects on the ground. Then specific decomposers like red wiggler composting worms, roly polys, and white springtail mites break that organic matter down into carbon.
The ground that doesn't contain beneficial organisms is not living and should be considered DIRT. Dirt requires nutritional supplementation via fertilizers and compost teas just to produce mediocre results. Red Wigglers and African Nightcrawlers will work in a symbiotic relationship with the microbial soil foodweb to help build dissolved oxygen channels, which allows newly formed roots to begin to grow a larger circumference. This symbiotic relationship also helps to control dangerous pests and improve water retention, thus reducing the amount of attention needed to produce abundant, high quality yields.
Why Is This Style Called "Beyond Organic"?
USDA Certified Organic has come to mean any farmer that uses organically certified input materials. Many would argue that this is a very watered-down version of the original meaning. Even focusing on “soil health” is not necessarily enough, because some farmers and growers get caught up on the chemistry of their soil, thinking that they need to add various mineral and chemical nutrients in order to balance their soil. However, the focus of a truly organic farmer - or what we are now calling “beyond organic” or “regenerative,” is on biological soil health. When a farmer promotes the right microbes and the accumulation of organic matter in their soil, everything else will follow.
Tilling creates a Catch 22 for the organic farm: tilling speeds the breakdown process of organic matter but also dramatically minimizes the lifespan of the organisms living in the newly tilled soil. Essentially, excessive tilling kills off the microorganisms in the ground rather than nurturing them. As a living soil farmer, learn to trust the process and let Mother Nature work synergistically with the microbial world by pulling down the organic matter. This organic matter becomes the living soil we are after and naturally boosts the amount of active organic matter that is bioavailable. This entire microbial world operates on this life source for creating energy and receiving nutrition, improving its organic content. This is fantastic for achieving the high quality produce we are after. A beyond organic farm will use little or no tilling.
In a Living Soil, a complex and high glomalin soil will begin to form. This kind of soil is drought resistant and has impressive water retention capabilities. Increasing micro-diversity has many beneficial and long-lasting effects that you can see all the way up the food chain. There is a direct correlation between biodiversity in your soil and the complexities of taste and oil production in whatever you are growing.
The Benefits of Growing in Living Soil
When produce is cultivated in a no-till/living soil system, they begin to emulate the more delicate complexities like that of aged fine wine. A healthy microbiological ecosystem MUST be alive and thriving for you to achieve these same results building your living soil system. The full genetic profile of the plant relies directly upon the quality and level of microbiology in your soil system. The higher biodiversity increases over time and creates a healthy closed-loop system where more top quality microbial levels are achieved.
Speeding Up the Process of Regenerating Your Soil
If you are looking to start cultivating your own food, then there is no better cultivation style. And if you’ve been considering making the switch to cultivating with true living soil, there’s no better time to do so. If you are just starting out gardening, or if you’ve been doing it a few years but have been tilling your soil every year and using fertilizers, then it will take some time to rebuild the life in your soil. But you can speed this process up and product giant, dense produce in your first season by supplementing with Bioflux fermented plant boost. It contains hundreds of species of bacteria and fungi that will jumpstart your transition to living soil. Or mix some Terraflux activated biochar into your soil (you can also amend it as a top dressing), and instantly increase your organic matter percentage. Just head to the Everflux store by clicking below.