Britain is very famous for its delicious tasting, high quality strawberries which are arguably the best in the world, and definitely one of the most popular of all types of fruit consumed in the UK. Strawberry production in the UK is smashing its records every year and the demand for tasty, fresh strawberries is still growing… The unique climate of the country and the careful crop management of experienced UK growers together deliver these tasty, succulent packs of joy to our local farm shops and supermarkets every day, from early May till the end of October.
Mycorrhizal Fungi and strawberries
Strawberry production in the UK is smashing its records every year and the demand for tasty, fresh strawberries is still growing…
Growing the best flavoured strawberries – whether they are in your garden or produced commercially - depends on many environmental and man-operated factors. Just like us, humans, plants are also relying on essential components for surviving. These are water, food – for plants they are essential micro and macro elements absorbed from the soil through the roots - , optimal temperature, sunlight and also an abundance of microorganisms – just like those bacteria in our gut flora- around and within the plants which are partnering our beloved strawberry plants through their lives from the first sprouting of the leaves and roots until their senescing.
Soil microorganisms are yet so little understood and acknowledged compared to fertilisers and other plant stimulants which are well known to help plants grow better, healthier and most importantly yield more good tasting fruit for us. But what about these silent microscopical heroes whose names are not very often mentioned? And who are they? The answer is;
Millions of plant beneficial bacteria and fungi, from which, one of the most important are called mycorrhizal fungi.
These days, strawberries we buy at the supermarket are no longer produced in open fields. Growers use 'clean' substates to keep unwanted, harmful soil microbes away, and also to control the water and nutritional needs that each plant needs for superior growth. These substrates are made from peat, (compressed coconut husk), and are often called 'semi sterile', as opposed to the 'dirty' soil...
Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi or AMF are a type of fungus from the phylum Glomeromycota, which are forming a mutually beneficial relationships with around 80% of all terrestrial plants, and have been helping plants taking up nutrients and water more efficiently, and fighting off biotic and abiotic stresses for more than 40 million years. The word mycorrhizae means fungal root (myco=fungus, rhizae=root) which refers to the relationship between the plants’ roots and the fungi which lives within and around the rhizosphere (root area). Needless to say that even now, 40 million years later plants still relish their fungal marriage, which gives them 100% natural, life-long benefits, and AMF still can be found in most soils and plants around the world.
Supermarket Strawberries are no longer grown in open fields, and don't benefit from their Fungal Partnership!
Needles to say that there are many benefits from growing in a clearer environment, but not until recently have the downsides of growing in inert substrates been discussed: strawberries growing without the soil-microflora; and most importantly without their mycorrhizal fungi are more prone to stresses and are not enjoying the benefits of a mycorrhizal symbiosis which could potentially be better tasting fruit, longer shelf life and lower water requirements and fertiliser, as the plants use the resources sourced with help from their fungal partners...
In the last decades the agriculture industry have been increasingly turning towards sustainability in order to produce healthful food without compromising future generations' ability to do the same. This roughly means: using less chemicals and less hazardous growing techniques, and more natural, biological products. With these changes in the attitude of growing, the importance of re-introducing AMF to crop production has become more and more evident…
Strawberry Growers, Crop Researchers, and Mycorrhizal Fungi Producers are working tirelessly to find ways to reunite strawberry plants with their fungal friends!
As a results of these movements and changes, today in the UK there are many caring strawberry growers, passionate crop researchers and keen and busy mycorrhizal fungi producers who are working tirelessly every day to find the best ways to reunite strawberry plants with their fungal friends for a happier life for the plants, and a healthier and tastier eating experience for us, strawberry lovers.
Klara is a mycorrhizal researcher at Plantworks with particular responsibility for designing and running trials with AMF on soft fruit and substrate grown protected vegetable crops. She also has an interest in studying other types of AMF, such as ericoid and orchid mycorrhizas. She has a Bsc (Hons) degree in horticultural engineering.