Sep 13, 2019

Trichoderma: A Biofungicide

Trichoderma (Trike-oh-Derm-ah)

Trichoderma is a beneficial fungus that helps to protect your plants against molds and bacteria. These tough little guys stand up against root rot and grey mold, protecting your plants from being destroyed. They create a barrier that makes it impossible for harmful bacteria and pathogens to pass through.

Trichoderma surrounds your plant’s roots releasing compounds that trigger their natural defense systems.

Fungi That Flexes

These guys aren’t messing around. Not only do they strong-arm potential pathogens but they also can kill those that may already be present. Additionally, Trichoderma reduces Pythium, Fusarium, and Rhizoctonia. These enzymes attack harmful soil bacteria and fungi. They wrap themselves around the harmful fungi, releasing these enzymes that then dissolve the invader's cell wall. Think of how a snake’s saliva breaks down its prey after it has swallowed it whole. Yeah, kinda like that. The sexy action term for it is “microbe parasitism.”

They produce mainly two types of enzymes: cellulase and chitinase. Cellulase is an enzyme that breaks down cellulose (the structure of plant cell walls). On the flipside, chitinase is an enzyme that breaks down chitin (the structure of fungal cell walls). Chitinase is also what breaks down the crunchy exoskeleton of insects but as far as studies show, this fungi isn’t an omnivore as of yet. Trichoderma is some mind-blowing stuff. They know when to activate which enzyme depending on what root system and soil it is residing within to not cause harm. Is there anything that these beneficial fungi can’t do?

Who Are These Fungi?

Kingdom: Fungi

Division: Ascomycota

Subdivision: Pezizomycotina

Class: Sordariomycetes

Order: Hypocreales

Family: Hypocreaceae

Genus: Trichoderma

There are four different species of Trichoderma: harzianum, viride, longibrachiatum, and reesei. Each of these has defining characteristics and qualities but mainly are separated by what they eat.

Trichoderma harzianum is the most commonly known species of this beneficial fungi. It likes to hang out in temperatures between 86 to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. It is used as a fungicide and a biocontrol for several different fungal pathogens.

Trichoderma Viride was thought to be the only species of Trichoderma for a long time. It is also known as the “green mold disease of mushrooms”. It breaks down both chitin and cellulose and uses them as its food source. According to our beloved grow expert, Scotty Real, “Its ability to break down both compounds make it very adaptable.” This species can grow on wood (cellulose) and fungi (chitin).

If you are considering doing any mushroom farming in the future, make sure to keep this particular species far away from any mushroom cultivation.
Trichoderma Viride has voracious appetites for all fungi.

Black Mold

Trichoderma longibrachiatum is not used as often as some of the other species of this fungi. This new kid on the block is the most recently discovered
Trichoderma. It is particularly powerful and is often genetically modified to make enzymes that enable it to perform as a bioremediator (meaning that it can clean up heavy metals).

Just as great as they can be in cleaning up, they can be just as terrible when found in the wrong place at the wrong time. Trichoderma longibrachiatum poses a high potential for causing allergic reactions in humans. It is the common black mold found in air filters and the corners of your windows.

Although beneficial in your soil, those that have lymphoma or have recently had a bone marrow transplant should fear this strain like the plague because it has been known to colonize recovering patients.

Trichoderma reesei

Scotty Real is a pretty big fan of Trichoderma reesei. He shared with us that it was first discovered during World War II on the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific. The allied soldiers were finding that it was eating the cellulose off their clothes and wearing holes in the canvas of their tents. Present-day fashion designers now use Trichoderma reesei to create the “stone washed” jeans effect that keeps going in and out of style.

In addition to eating cellulose, Trichoderma reesei excretes antibiotics for the plants. These antibiotics trigger the resistance response within the plant to help it to fight off fungal pathogens.

Trichoderma, Naturally.

You can find Trichoderma organically in nature in native soils on nearly every continent of the world. They can be found in soils of varying temperatures but thrive between 77 and 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Outside those temperatures, the fungi begin to lag or die off.

Trichoderma is very resilient and can survive in the face of pathogens, heavy metals, and bacteria. These spunky little fungi can handle just about anything that you throw at them. But humans are giving them a run for their money by interrupting their natural balance and ability to organically exist in soils.

Just like we are responsible for salt build-up and alkaline soils, we are killing off these beneficial bacteria with mining, construction, pesticides, drought, flooding, and extreme heat waves. We now find ourselves having to add it back to our soils instead of benefiting from its naturally occurring colonies. Just one more reason to care about environmental practices, and how your food is grown.

Increase Yields and Plant Health

In addition to helping your plants keep themselves healthy and fight off diseases, Trichoderma also helps increase nutrient uptake, increase growth, increase yield and increase the number of seeds they can germinate.

Trichoderma and Other Microbes

Trichoderma works well with other microbes, buddying up with anything that is going to increase the health of its rhizosphere. It will melt any pathogenic fungi causing ZERO negative effects.

Scotty Real is a believer in combining Mycorrhizae with Trichoderma for even more stellar results. So while Mycorrhizae extend the root system, mining the soil for life-sustaining molecules, Trichoderma protects against and even kills off the bad guys. Both of these improve the health and overall vigor of the plant.

Biopriming with Trichoderma

Biopriming with Trichoderma is a fancy trick that requires just a few supplies and resources. By soaking your seeds in a Trichoderma-rich solution, you are giving that seed a leg up by empowering them with all the benefits of that fungi. It’s not exactly a "Bubble Boy" scenario, but it kind of is. Trichoderma provides everything your little seeds need to protect themselves against infection!

Hydroponic Versus Soil

Although the benefits of Trichoderma are usually researched within soil, it can be a big benefit in hydroponic grows as well. However, there are notable differences between the two different types of growing media. Trichoderma will take less time to inoculate within soil because the soil provides a host and food immediately upon arrival. There is no initial food source for the colony to take a hold of in a hydroponic system. It is only when the root system grows in length that they are provided with a food source. Until that time, however, the colony will begin to break down the cellulose of the coco or peat to use as a food source.

In both systems, you have to reinoculate (add a Trichoderma brew) about once a week. The Trichoderma will replicate itself but it loses its strength over time. It is best to introduce new, strong fungi to replace the withering guys on a steady schedule to make sure that your plants are always being taken care of by this powerful workforce.

Beware! Trichoderma is an opportunistic pathogen and will adhere anywhere it is applied. If you drop some sprinkles on or near something that you did not intend and there is a food source, it will thrive. This is particularly useful information for mushroom farmers!

How to Use Trichoderma

Trichoderma has a lifecycle of about 28 days. It will replicate itself again and again all on its own but the quality of its performance will weaken over time. Thus, you must reapply to maintain the desired effects on your plants.

The great news is that it is all-natural and won’t hurt your plants if you exceed recommended dosages. We recommend the “once a week treat”. The only danger is over-watering your plants if applying the tea too often.

You want to apply your microbial brew right to your plant’s soil or media. Putting it into your reservoir allows for potential putrefaction caused by dips in oxygen levels. Trichoderma prefers to live at the same pH level that is recommended for your plants, 5.5 to 7.5 pH. So you shouldn’t see any issues when adding it to your growing media.

Trichoderma is like homeopathic medicine when you have a cold. It is just as much about prevention as it is about early detection. If you start applying them too late into the game you will sadly be let down by the results.

Trichoderma Product Recommendation

Recharge today, Recharge tomorrow, Recharge forever. It is the best bang for your buck, with over 400 million of those little beneficial microbes per gram. Most importantly, it has years of proven results with growers everywhere. You literally won’t find one of us that doesn’t use and love this stuff!

“Recharge is a Natural Soil Conditioner that enhances the quality of any crop, potted plant, lawn, or landscape material.  If it grows in soil, Recharge will grow it bigger, stronger, and most importantly, the way nature intended.”

Recharge is compatible with any fertilizers or nutrients that you may be using in your grow. All you should look forward to is a healthy root system and a resilient plant. Just add a ¼ teaspoon per one gallon of water, and water in once a week.

Mycorrhizae... What?

If have been or are planning on doing more research on beneficial microbes you will likely run across products touting the powers of mycorrhizae (and we love mycorrhizae, but…). Both Trichoderma and Mycorrhizae are fungi but have notably different qualities. Mycorrhizae is a symbiotic fungus, meaning that the fungi and the plant benefit from their relationship by working together.

One defining difference between the two fungi is what they eat. Mycorrhizae eat only very specific sugars, and they work hard to get them. Mycorrhizae works by sheathing plant roots, weaving a fungal web that increases the surface area of the root. It attaches to the root tip and seeks out plant nutrients, increasing the absorbency of the root by up to 8,000x. Do the math: more food equals more growth and stronger plants. A by-product of vigorous growth and healthy plants is disease resistance. So yeah, there is that too.

Another thing that sets these fungi apart is that mycorrhizae do not do well with salt-based nutrients. When Mycorrhizae are exposed to salt-based nutrients they interpret it as a signal to stop searching out nutrients. At this point, nutrient uptake comes to a screeching halt. The difference here is that Trichoderma will continue to eat and work no matter the amount of fertilizer or nutrients that are present. As long as there is food on their plate, Trichoderma will continue to gorge.

Two Fungi are Better Than One

Mycorrhizae are highly beneficial for organic long-term gardens but when working with a 90-day crop cycle, Trichoderma will benefit you more in a shorter amount of time. However, the two make a great team. They are not competitive in any way and when applied to your grow, you will reap the benefits of both being present. In our experience, when the two work together they help to create the most resilient plants that you can grow, with the bonus of using organic and natural products.

Can You DIY This Fungi?

Although we recommend purchasing your fungi from a retailer for safety’s sake, you can make it at home if you are feeling super domesticated. What you’ll need is:

  • A small amount of Trichoderma powder
  • Three cups of rice
  • Two cups of water
  • Rice cooker (or pot with lid)
  • A stirring spoon
  • Some Ziploc baggies
  • Rubber bands
  • Sewing needle or thumbtack
  • Safety glasses and gloves

Here we go:

  1. Put your water and rice in the rice cooker. Turn it on. If using a pot and lid, bring the rice and water to a boil then lower it to a simmer and put the lid on it. Cook until the moisture is gone (about 25 minutes).
  2. Put a couple of spoonfuls of the cooked rice into a new and clean Ziploc baggie. Squeeze all the air out, pack down the rice and then seal the bag and wrap it to keep any spores or air from getting in. Let the rice cool until you can handle it comfortably.
  3. Once the rice is cool, open the bag and add a ½ teaspoon of
    Trichoderma powder to the rice. Close the bag again. Don’t squeeze the air out this time. Seal it with a rubber band at the top, not the Ziploc part. Let the bag naturally fill with air. Shake the bag and spread the fungi on all the rice. Create two sections of the bag. Pack the rice tightly again at the bottom, leaving the air at the top of the bag.
  4. Take your needle and poke about 10 holes in the air-filled part of the bag.
  5. Do this repeatedly with as many bags until all the rice is gone.
  6. Place the bags in a clean area that is room temperature and that is not too dark.
  7. Shake the bags again in two days, pack the rice down again, and let sit for another 7 days.
  8. The fungi are ready to use. It will remain usable for 3-4 weeks. The Trichoderma could be anywhere from dark green to light yellow to white. If it is healthy, it should smell vaguely like coconut sunscreen.

Once you are ready to use your homemade fungi, dilute 1 kg of rice with 200 liters of water. Any unused fungi can go into your compost or simply place in the trash. Be very careful to not spread any unwanted spores in your home or garden!

The More You Know, The Better You Grow!

By using Trichoderma in your grow, you are taking action to create a healthy root system and plants that are more resistant to pesky pathogens. It is all-natural and saves you from having to resort to applying nasty chemicals. Once you find out how well it works for you, tell a friend about your new little fungi friends!