Michael Phillips’ latest book, Mycorrhizal Planet, How Symbiotic Fungi Work with Roots to Support Plant Health and Build Soil Fertility, is an amazing ride. This dense and delightful book is a tsunami of information woven together in language that blends poetry, hard science, philosophy and humor. It is also incredibly enlightening and will forever change how one looks at soil and plants. If you thought Teaming with Microbes was a game-changer, get ready for a revolution.
Phillips begins with a detailed explanation of mycorrhizal networks and their history. Mycorrhizal fungi helped plants make the transition from sea to shore millions of years ago, and the two have collaborated ever since. Fungi work at the tips of plant roots and, literally, leads the way in root development as they hunt for food and water, even breaking through rock in search of a delectable trace element or two. Phillips also relates this to what happens above ground from stem to leaf in terms of plant strength and health and subsequently disease and pest resistance. It is perhaps one of the best explanations of why organic methods work so well that this reviewer has ever encountered.
Once readers understand fungal networks in all their glory, Phillips discusses in detail how to feed and support them. Citrus pips, pure neem oil and whole milk are on the menu, and feeding the soil takes on a whole new meaning. Compost, of course, is high on the list of daily specials particularly for the diversity of species it offers. Mineral additions, often done best via plants like comfrey and dandelion are welcome too, and he offers a number of grow-and-make-your-own ideas and methods.
Phillips also suggests tools, practices, and tips for working in fungal communion whether as a gardener, farmer, orchardist, landscaper, or rancher. He recommends combining perennial plants with annual vegetables to give fungal networks a refuge as well as tilling as little and as shallow as possible to avoid disturbing them. It’s good for the plants, but the network’s carbon storage capacity is unparalleled. Leaving them alone to do their work is our best bet he writes, for thriving as well as surviving. He has done more than his fair share of homework over the years in his own orchards and shares it without reservation. His motivations are multiple: better food from better stewardship, resulting in climate change mitigation and a level of cooperation humans would do well to mimic.
Mycorrhizal Planet is perhaps one of the most important books about agriculture to come out since Sir Howard penned his thoughts and observations. While it can be heavy going at times, Phillips’ comprehensive work is an indispensable first step toward better growing practices that, like the fungi he writes about, impact the whole community for the better. Let the revolution begin.
Joan Bailey writes about food, farming, and farmers’ markets in Japan when she’s not reading books. You can find more of her work at: https://joandbailey.com