Is a Mushroom a Producer?
If you have a garden, you’re bound to see mushrooms sprout around. However, this doesn’t mean panic. Yes - you may have heard negative things about mushrooms from other green thumbs. But once you know them, you’ll love having them around.
- Mushrooms are decomposers that break down dead plants and animals, absorbing nutrients and enriching the soil. They have root-like nodes called hyphae that effectively break down organic matter and can secrete enzymes to break down complex cells.
- Mushrooms provide benefits in gardening and composting by nourishing plants with essential elements, improving soil water retention, acting as biological controls against pests and diseases, preventing soil compaction, and serving as a natural fertilizer that reduces reliance on synthetic fertilizers.
- Mushrooms are an eco-friendly alternative to synthetic fertilizers, as they don't deplete soil quality, contribute to eutrophication or climate change. They offer multiple advantages and can be cost-effective when used as a fertilizer option, promoting sustainable agriculture and soil fertility.
Are Mushrooms Decomposers or Producers?
Before answering that, here’s a quick recap of what these two terms mean.
Producers are organisms that produce food with the help of air, soil, and sunlight. On the other hand, decomposers don’t have chlorophyll to make their own food. Therefore, they survive by breaking down dead plants and animals.
As fungi, mushrooms are primary decomposers. By ‘decomposing’ dead plants and animals, mushrooms absorb the nutrients they need to live. At the same time, they help recycle organic matter within the ecosystem while enriching the soil with usable compounds.
Wondering how they pull this off?
Fungi mycelia have root-like nodes known as hyphae. These break down dead matter more effectively than bacteria. They can break the inner layers of hardened plant materials such as tree bark.
Some mushroom varieties also secrete potent enzymes that can break hard, complex cells.
Are Mushrooms Consumers?
The short answer is yes; mushrooms are considered consumers.
Also known as heterotrophs, consumers are organisms that don’t produce their own food. Instead, they consume plant or animal matter.
Heterotrophs can be divided into herbivores, carnivores, omnivores, and decomposers. And as you know by now, mushrooms are decomposers.
Decomposers vs. Detritivores
Some people mistakenly use the terms ‘decomposers’ and ‘detritivores’ interchangeably while describing mushrooms. Despite organisms of both types sharing the same diet, they’re different.
Decomposers break down organic materials into usable nutrients, which they can consume or return to the soil. In addition to mushrooms, toadstools and bacteria are well-known decomposers.
On the other hand, detritivores directly feed on the dead or decaying plants or animals. Examples of these organisms include woodlice, dun flies, and millipedes.
Decomposers and detritivores complement one another. Detritivores expose dead organisms, allowing decomposers to break down the decaying matter.
Benefits of Mushrooms in Gardening and Composting
By now, you have an idea of why mushrooms are more friends than foes to your garden. But if you need more convincing not to pull them out, here are several benefits to letting them grow.
Having mushrooms in your garden means that your soil is healthy.
Mushrooms break down proteins, carbohydrates, and fats into essential elements that plants can easily digest. In return, they receive sugars made during photosynthesis.
Mushrooms also nourish plants by extending their reach in the soil. Some hyphae attach to plant roots to create filaments that expand the surface area of plant roots. That way, they can ensure the health and growth of plants.
More than half of the fertilizers produced and used in gardens and farms are synthetic or inorganic. As a result, they may lead to harmful effects to the environment, such as:
- Depleting Soil Quality: As ironic as this may sound, too much fertilizer can affect soil fertility by increasing its acidity levels. That’s why farmers need to test the soil every three years.
- Eutrophication: Many substances from synthetic fertilizers find their way to lakes and oceans through rain and sewage. These increase algae growth and reduce oxygen in water bodies. In addition to aquatic life, substances from synthetic fertilizers can result in an imbalance in the food chain. After all, animals and birds consume these aquatic organisms.
- Climate Changes: Nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and methane are part of most fertilizers. However, these chemicals contribute to the number of greenhouse gases.
Luckily, mushrooms can be great substitutes. They can deliver the benefits of top fertilizers without the above disadvantages. Plus, they provide numerous benefits of their own.
Soil water-holding capacity is the amount of water that a soil can hold for crop use. This is an important factor that gardeners and farmers track to ensure the health of their plants/crops.
In addition to soil texture, soil organic matter (SOM) plays a vital role in ensuring soil water holding capacity. SOM is decayed materials originating from plant or animal materials.
As you know, mushrooms decompose SOM further to enrich the soil. Therefore, they can help improve soil’s water retention capability. That too without exhausting water resources or affecting the surrounding environment.
For Pests and Weeds
While fungi are considered pests themselves, they can be used successfully to protect crops from various pests.
Some fungi can infect insect hosts such as caterpillars, grasshoppers, and mealybugs. Once inside, they grow throughout the body of their hosts. Some species may also produce toxins that can quickly kill their hosts.
Moreover, fungal hyphae and plant roots suppress pathogens in the soil. Therefore, plants can be safe from root diseases.
What further makes fungi an excellent method for biological control is that they don’t affect people or other mammals. Therefore, they’re extremely safe to use. Besides, they can be easily mass-produced, making them cost-effective as well.
Inhibits Soil Compaction
Soil compaction is when soil particles are pressed together, reducing the space between them. As a result, compacted soil has greater density, a lower water infiltration rate, and a higher chance of aeration-related problems.
These issues may be problematic for some plants. Their roots will need to exert more force to penetrate the soil. As a result, they may not fully get the nutrients and moisture they need to grow.
Mushrooms can help against this issue. They prevent the surface of the soil from turning crusty and compact. They enable soil drainage and protect plants from excess moisture.
As mushrooms also help aerate the soil, they prevent root decay caused by excess water trapped in the soil.
It’s a Fertilizer Option
Mushrooms can easily replace traditionally used fertilizers and provide more benefits to both the soil and your plants.
- Mushrooms extend the root systems of plants to help them get the nutrients they need to grow, specifically phosphate. This, in turn, reduces the need for phosphate fertilizers.
- The use of mushrooms can reduce the growing dependence on artificial fertilizers without compromising the fertility of soils. This is important given the growth of the world’s population and the importance of global agriculture.
- Mushrooms can be used as light fertilizers as they contain a small percentage of nitrogen. This allows them to slowly enrich the soil while discouraging the growth of weeds.
- Mushroom compost is relatively cheap in comparison to synthetic and organic fertilizers. Farmers can easily combine it with waste from their animals to grow their crops.
The Bottom Line
As a quick recap, mushrooms aren’t producers. They’re consumers, specifically decomposers.
Despite their bad rep, they are actually a great addition to any garden. After all, they do both your soil and plants a lot of good. Therefore, if you spot any near your plants, don’t pull them out. Instead, appreciate Mother Nature’s gift and get ready to see positive changes ahead.
Enjoy this article? Then you might enjoy reading our article on why are mushrooms important to the food chain!
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