When the word Fungus is mentioned, Turfheads often run for the spray rig. Regardless if you want to talk pesticide free turf or not, there has to be a better discussion on Fungi and the resulting role in Humus development by being as key in decompositional shredding as strings on James Hetfield's guitar.
The first stage in the development of Humus is called Catabolism. It isn't the warm up act, it is part of a multi-billing. This process should be initiated by fungi and fungal bodies. In their special way, they take the sticks, twigs and debris of various inputs and in the way only they can, they pre-digest materials so that Macro and Meso fauna (Millipedes, Earthworms, etc.) can get to work. Many of those animals lack the digestive enzymes required to get the decomposition process started. In their cool way, fungi make key changes to the soil food system, allowing the breakup of cellulose, chitin and other sticky and twiggy debris forms.
This system process is fueled by fungi that are contained in all plant parts. Like a good tour bus full of roadies and tee shirt guys, plant seeds, leafs and stems are all fungal carriers of the gang that is going to start the process. Nature has this way of getting what it needs and a system that is void of the fungi that support soil life will look for food. Where? From the plant. Now, think about itwhat happens if that process starts too early. That's right. The death band takes over and either the plant is sucked under before it really should be or nature tries to make something happen by calling in the bacterial scabs. See the show must go on. There will be music, but as you are going to see, it can quickly turn ugly.
Remember we talked about the powerful bacteria? If they initiate this process bad things happen and instead of Catabolization taking the stage which is who everyone came to hear, the scab band Putrefaction crashes the gig. Putrefaction defined is the decomposition of plant and animal proteins especially by anaerobic microorganisms, described as putrefying bacteria. One of the most common reasons that this imbalance takes place is the presence of excess moisture. Putrefaction tours with its friends Rancidification, Maceration and Fermentation. Putrefaction usually plays songs that result in amines such as putrescine and cadaverine, which have a putrid odor and all kinds of toxic substances are produced like Methane and Formaldehyde and Hydrogen Sulfide.These are not the hot groupie chicks and they are easy to detect because they smell. One of the most common reasons that this imbalance takes place is the presence of excess moisture. And now you know why I'm always harping on having a dry rootzone.
At the end of all this, when it goes right, there is development. When it goes wrong there is a different kind of development. In the show that is supposed to be played, fungal decomposition leads to breaking down food sources for decomposers which eat, digest, pass wastes and sometimes die themselves to be food for the system. It's neat and clean and it sounds good and smells good and that's the fresh live smell that we have all committed to our memories as healthy soil. The liquid portion of the life of the soil, called Soil Plasma becomes a wonderful blend of Proteins, Carbohydrates, Salts, Degraded Organic Compounds and Water. Life. Hot chicks at the after party. No warm mayo sandwiches.
Without the fungi, the wrong party begins and when that happens, that soil plasma resembles infection. Toxic compounds, smelly amines, drunken fermented drummers, overdosed earthworms. Skanky groupies. Harmful to soil and deadly to plants. Death. Write your resume. Not a chance that Humus will develop. Death once more. Nothing applied works as it should. Hassled by The Man.
For years, superintendents, green chairmen and others have made fun of me when I am pulling soil samples. As a routine part of my sampling, I use my nose. I smell and often that act is almost as good as a soil test or a pathology report. There is so much information to be had in this kind of observation. That's why I just sort of chuckle along at being made fun of and take very close notes in my head as to what I smell. It's fieldwork.