Free Fungally Dominated Compost & Mulch

Hi. We’ve been using fungally dominated compost and mulch in our garden for years, and we’ve done so without ever purchasing any compost or mulch products. Today I’ll show you how, but first let’s talk about the difference between bacterially dominated compost and fungally dominated compost. Here we have a hot compost pile, made from leaves, garden waste, and used coffee grounds, that has been cooking along at about 140 degrees Fahrenheit for the last few weeks. Hot compost like this typically has about 25 to 30 parts carbon to 1 part nitrogen, , and though fungi play a part in the decomposition process, bacteria play a more dominant role thanks to high nitrogen ingredients like coffee grounds. You can make fungally dominated compost, on the other hand, simply by increasing the carbon to nitrogen ratio. As a rule, the higher the carbon to nitrogen ratio is, and the coarser the material is, the more dominant fungi will be in the decomposition process and the longer it will take. For example, here is what I call our slow, or lazy, compost pile, which has been the source of most of our fungally dominated compost over the years. I add mostly brown, but some green, ingredients to the pile without even considering the carbon to nitrogen ratio. I also add large amounts of woody material, including chopped up tree branches, twigs, and leaves. This lazy approach, combined with the inclusion of woody material, almost always results in a carbon to nitrogen ratio well above 30 to 1. The lower level of nitrogen doesn’t support as much bacterial activity, so the pile doesn’t heat up as much and decomposes more slowly. Fungi, however, prefer the lower temperatures. They also have enzymes to break down the leaves and twigs, and prefer them as a food source. As a result, fungi flourish and we end up with fungally dominated compost in about 6 months to a year, with some sifting required. If I didn’t mind waiting longer, I could make fungally dominated compost with no high nitrogen inputs. For example, I could build a large pile of leaves, which have a carbon to nitrogen ratio of roughly 50 to 1, and in a couple years I’d have leaf mold, which is an excellent fungally dominant soil amendment. I could do the same thing with wood chips, which have an even higher carbon to nitrogen ratio, and would take even longer to break down -over 3 years in our climate. Adding fungally dominated compost to the garden will increase the number and diversity of fungi in the soil. These fungi will help break down organic matter and make nutrients available to plants. The compost will also support the growth of mycorrhizal fungi, which supply plant roots with nutrients and water. While this is true of all high quality compost, some claim that fungally dominated compost better supports mycorrhizal fungi than bacterially dominant compost. However, more research is needed to confirm this. Now, let’s get back to the time it takes to make fungally dominated compost. Understandably, some of you may be thinking you’d rather buy a product than to put in all that time and effort. Well, I have some good news for you. Fungally dominated compost is not necessary in your garden. In fact, there are free alternatives that will better support mycorrhizae – specifically, high carbon mulches like leaves and wood chips. Coarse wood chips, in particular, are especially effective in that they provide an excellent food source and habitat for mycorrhizal fungi. In Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott’s article “Mycorrhizae – So, what the heck are they, anyway?”, she offers some practical advice on cultivating mycorrhizae, which includes the following: “Coarse organic mulch is a good reservoir for [mycorrhizal] spores, and litter type affects mycorrhizal diversity. Try to use a mixed mulching material, such as arborist wood chips, which will help reduce nutrient runoff and leakage.” And as I mentioned, leaf mulch is also an excellent fungally dominated mulch. According to “Teaming with Microbes”: “Fungi can … extend up into the leaf litter on the surface of the soil, decay leaves, and then bring the nutrients back down into the root zone – a huge advantage over bacteria, the other primary nutrient recycler in the soil food web.” In addition, mulches also support other beneficial soil organisms like earthworms, which will consume the decaying material and deposit nutrient-rich castings in their wake. So, I hope this video has given you food for thought on how you can increase fungal diversity in your soil and support mycorrhizae without purchasing any products. To hear Stephen Legaree address some of the fungally dominated compost product claims, please follow this link or the one in the description below. Well, that’s all for now. Thank you very much for watching, and until next time remember you can change the world one yard at a time.

100 thoughts on “Free Fungally Dominated Compost & Mulch

  1. After watching your videos i started mulching my garden with leaves in January. In June i raked back some of them to plant some seeds. There were thousands of white threads in and around the leaves. At first i freaked out, but decided to plant the seeds anyway. I'm glad i did. The plants grew huge. Thank you for the advice and great videos.

  2. Collected leaves, made a pile, added a piece of 'fungally infected' wooden border. Checked the pile and yes, the 'infection' is spreading in the leaf pile already. Do I need to protect my pile from frost? It is a chickenwire cirkle.

  3. Great episode. We too indeed agree that fungally dominated compost is the way to go. We have leaf mold piles, and "yard waste" piles that just sit all year, and occasionally we moisten them. Then like you said, a good screening and they are ready to go! 

  4. Nice work on keeping your pile 140 degrees for 3 weeks. The last pile I made only obtained 140 degrees for 7 days. I would prefer to have it above 130 for over two weeks. Looks like my next pile will need more coffee grounds.  Did you add additional "N" during the initial 3 weeks or did the original compost materiasl stay that hot from the start? Thanks for sharing another great video! 

  5. I have to say Patrick, you have convinced me once again to start mulching with leaves, and if I can get enough of them, to start a leaf mold pile. Thanks for all of the great info!

  6. Thanks for another educational video Patrick! I sure wish it was a requirement for every grade school to watch your videos! Thank you for what you are doing… truly are changing the world one yard at a time!

  7. There ya go, making me doubt myself, again.  LOL.  This topic confuses me so much I have pretty much abandoned "Lazy" piles for the much more satisfying-in-the-short-term "Hot" piles. 

    I do a lot of pruning (I have about 100 feet of Laurel Hedge (ugh)) and bought a chipper to deal with it.  I get prodigious amounts of wood-chips. At first I investigated all the wood-chip advocates (Back To Eden) and was a convinced acolyte for a while.  But eventually I read/saw enough evidence that claimed that wood chips actually ROB nitrogen from the soil unless they are allowed to break down for 3 years.  So, I quit adding it to my piles and now use it exclusively on my perimeter, ornamental beds.

    I also quit dressing my raised beds with wood chips (in the winter to prevent compaction from the rain) and went back to only leaves.  Purely anecdotal: but I feel my beds have done better since I quit using wood chips in them. 

    Oh well, it's a learning curve and I count on guys like you and Stephen to help me out.  Thanks.

  8. We enjoyed another great video of yours…it validates what we are seeing in our gardens. There is no putrid odor to the broken down organics, just a rich, earthy odor (still we are careful about the handling and breathing it in 🙂 
    We have piles here and there in the garden; every few days we gather the broken down product from under the piles and distribute them among the plants.  It is also a good method for water retention.

  9. Mychorrhizal species can't live in compost at all, these is no host plant. They do better subsiding on mulch in the garden. This is the main reason adding this compost does nothing when it comes to mychorrhizal relationships. The fungi present are wonderful for exacting additional nutrients after, especially from mulch.

  10. We have had a lot of rain this month and last month and I saw this very thing on the leaves when I went to the compost to empy our scrap bucket into the compost pile.  I am doing this very thing without even knowing it was the right thing to do.  Brilliant!

  11. To get that fungi in the soi, what is better:  a high carbon mulch or fungally dominated compst?  I lean towards the mulch method since it is less work, and mulching has other benefits as well.  No to metion the fungi never get disturbed in transport or sifting….

  12. Hi Patrick-I get so excited when I see fugally dominated compost amongst my leaves and woodchip.  I work with several clients who bring in sample of fugally compost and not know what it is they get all scary until I explain to them what it is and they get excited and go home and put it back and be happy they have that natural process going on in their backyard.

  13. Thanks for your fantastic vids! One question, when we talk about carbon:nitrogen ratios, are talking weight (mass) or volume.
    Also, moisture content would effect.
    thanks again…

  14. I love leaf mould! I also hate the wait. Before I start a new pile I attach a 4.5 inch rubber coupling to the end of some PVC pipe. I have predrilled holes in various places along the pipe. Then I place my leaf vac's exhaust to the coupling and let-er rip. The occasional airflow through the pile seems to break it down much faster than it normally would. If you are having a hard time imagining what I'm saying I have pictures.

  15. Much to my surprise, I think I am getting it.  I have been watching very closely how you make different composts and fertilisers, and whilst I don't think I am able to do it yet on  scale that you can, I do believe that I am starting to appreciate the principals and can start the process.  Many thanks for all your dedication.  All I can really say is that in this little corner of the world it is very much appreciated.  Or maybe it is mulch appreciated, if you appreciate puns.  All the best.

  16. And I thought it was a bad thing when I saw mold growing in my compost pile!  I was afraid I would spread fungus to my garden plants.  So do I just have to let it break down long enough until the fungus disappears before using it in the garden?

  17. That is super information! So much to learn… Thank you for all your hard work and sharing your information. Merry Christmas to you & your family! Peaches  

  18. the "2)" Mycorrhizae piece is very illuminating in describing the mechanisms of fungi and other organisms in feeding the plants in different forms from beneficial to infectious. the ending pretty much narrows most commercial applications of just about anything , beyond wood chips and pine bark mulch alone… Okay, well assuming you are starting with some beneficial organisms and a decent ratio of organic matter in place already, I can agree. Here in the mid-Missouri south of the Missouri heavy clay soils, everything and anything added to increase fertility, structure and the Mycorrhizae community is a plus toward your goal of growing food that is nutritious. If any of these building blocks are missing, nutrition and production along with soil health are going to suffer. deep soil profiles demonstrate best the effects of soil performance when organic matter and soil activity are limited, ie. comparing clay soils to creek bottom or river bottom soils as in Missouri hill ground.

    wow! that all being said, you have done a wonderful job at demonstrating how it works, what works and have the scientific information to verify it! great job! thank you!

  19. Patrick, I could really see the results of the hyphae in action while harvesting leaf mold on areas of my property today that haven't been touched with a rake in several years. Question is, do you think that disturbing it, as in what would happen during raking, transport, and spreading onto a new site for mulch will kill it?

  20. I'm going to be very curious what happens in our garden next season, because the only things we put in it are free – horse manure, leaves, wood chips, chop & drop weeds, spent plants & comfrey. I sometimes mix liquid ingredients to feed, but the soil is what I'm really interested in seeing develop. It's coming up on 3 years since we started using those things, so we'll find out! Last year, we saw a lot of mushrooms in the wood chips and they're breaking them down at a pretty rapid rate.

  21. If I understand Dr. Elaine Ingham correctly, then she would disagree with some of your comments.  Specifically, mycorrhizal fungi need living roots to grow and can spread by spores but generally not in fungally dominated compost.  Second, worms don't consume decaying matter, rather they consume the bacteria and fungi in the decaying matter.  Third, the recycling of nutrients, excluding by the mycorrhizal fungi, is accomplished when the protozoa and nematodes and worms eat and poop out the remains of the bacteria and fungi; thus effective recycling also requires healthy populations of beneficial  protozoa and nematodes in the soil.  (Worms can be nice but they are not native to our northern soils and have all been introduced from elsewhere.)  So healthy, fertile soils require adequate populations of bacteria, fungi (including mycorrhizal), protozoa, and nematodes.  Any of these can be completely missing in highly disturbed dirt: construction, farming/tilling, salt fertilizers, and any of the "cides" like insecticides, herbicides, etc.

  22. I forgot to add that the desired proportion of bacteria to fungi depends on the crop you are trying to grow.  Most garden crops except for brassicas and beets require an approximately 1 to 1 ratio by weight.  The latter like a much higher ratio.  Perennial crops, shrubs and trees like much more progressively lower ratios with evergreen preferring ratios more like 1 to 1,000.

  23. I had a straw bale that I was mulching my tomatoes with and it was sprouting some very strange mushrooms and full of mycelium. Then I scored a couple more leftover from other's Halloween festivities sitting out by the curb just waiting for me… That's what I mulched my raised beds with this year. If you want fungus find some straw. 

  24. I though that most annual plants preferred their nitrogen source in the form of NH4 not NO3? In which case wouldn't your plants benefit more from a bacterially dominated compost because bacteria produce waste in the form of NH4? Also I thought fungi take a long time to grow and do better in perennial beds because you don't disturb the mycelia and they can form better relationships with the longer lasting roots.

  25. In south Florida fungal compost is quick and easy. Set aside some ground and mulch it. Add yard waste and run over with lawnmower. Grind to a fine fibrous mix. Every now and then you get impressive mushroom formations. It has taken as little as three months for yard waste to turn into compost. Even naturally occurring leaf litter here turns into compost on its own in just a few months, even on concrete!

  26. Really enjoyed this one. I noticed you used whole leaves. Can you speed up that microryza environment by first shredding the leaves?

  27. I am not to please with these in the backyard garden…. they are doing more harm than good to my soil…maybe because i am in the Caribbean, the temperature is MUCH higher…. this fungus is in my soil and it is attaching itself to small sticks, scraps and any other organic matter…every time the area dry out, and i wet it, the water runs off the soil's surface…I have discovered that by keeping the soil moist constantly the white fungus do not develop and only then I would notice earth worms, and other micro organisms which are breaking down the organic matter in the soil.

  28. Thank you for the consultation my friend, I will get the soil test to find out what fungus that i have in the garden. informative video btw.

  29. Very informative!, Thank you so much. I live in Phoenix, so I rely, on heavy mulching to protect the soil from the heat.I no longer want to remove mulch to apply organic fertilizers 3 times a year and in the process disturb the delicate fungal growth, what do you advise me doing,  compost teas for the trees?Thanks

  30. As far as carbon content of the compost pile goes, can you use carbonized rice hulls or carbonized coconut shells? These are basically charcoal/biochar made up of rice hulls and coconut shells.

  31. not all white, fuzzy mycellium is mycorrhizal. that mycellium is probably a saprophytic fungus. mycorrhizae only exist where there is a plant root, so in order to cultivate them, you need to grow host plants for them to live on. Rodale has a great article on how to do it. google "rodale guide to on-farm mycorrhizae production."

  32. Hi Patrick I live in the Northern Nevada desert ( zone 5). I do not have a good source for leaves or coffee grounds. I have been buying Alphalpha pellets, and beet pulp at the feed store. I've been sprinkling them on the garden in the fall. I have noticed more earthworms, (and Robins) should I continue? and how can I increase fungal microbes without leaves? Thank you for your expertise.

  33. Hi Patrick, The dry beet pulp is leftover from making molasses. (I think.)          I'm a cabinet maker so I produce lots of sawdust. It all goes into the garden. The problem is, it seems to break down very slowly. That is why I incorporated the Alphalha, and beet pulp in with it. I am also throwing in some granular molasses to speed things up. I'll let you know how my experiment goes. Thanks again for all your practicle advice.

  34. Well done. One of the few who get it right. Thanks mate.. from Australia. To go to the next level… try Peter McCoy's Radical Mycology on this link—>
    You are Subbed. X)

  35. Always liked your video tutorials as they are practical and very easy to understand. This one is no different. I may not have the space to practice this for now but I'm bookmarking this for a future time. Also, I liked that you espouse practices that are low- to no-cost. Frankly, a lot of other gardening videos seem to be gimmicks aimed at making people believe farming means spending on this and that to grow food.

  36. I noticed that you don't shred your leaves for compost bins or sheet composting. Are the leaves broken down to plant in by spring?

  37. Now I understand why more carbons than nitrogen. And also that mulching is not just to keep the soil from drying up. Thank you!

  38. I see that you put leaves on your beds in the fall and all over your yard. Is it for fungi growth before you use your soil in the summer? also, you had mentioned about the arborist… when I sign up, do they call and dump a truck load, or I can talk to them like Do you have a place where I can go a scoop some bags home, not alot, because I have mostly grass lawn, and that my husband does not want to. Let me know how this operates, bec I would like some shavings but affraid to try. thank you, and your videos are the best. I like your concept of growing mykorizy.

  39. 3 years ? I gathers leaves in December in SW. 3 ft deep around a tree by march it's a 5 inch mat a month latter and it's full of worms.

  40. I've used small coffee can size (volume) almost full of organic wild rice in water couple days. Then splash in vinegar with the mother let it soak couple days or so. Then mix this all in with my finished compost. Let it sit, turn and use it on top of soil. Have the white micro roots growing Great. Seems to be very active. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

  41. So I tried to find a more recent video where you're carting those paper bags of leaves around. I also did a search on your channel for "paper bags". Then I gave up and decided to ask here and just hope you still monitor comments on old vids! I'm so curious about the bags you use – what are they, where do you get them, are you using them (I assume) simply as an alternative to plastic, or is there some other magical reason I can't think of, are they easier/harder to work with than plastic bags?

  42. Lhe sou grato por tão valiosa informação,e por sua capacidade de transmiti-las de maneira didaticamente assimilável.Um afetuoso abraço.

  43. I am collecting all the green leaf tea that i drink into a ceramic pot and it has lots of fungy,i add every day one or too portions and a day after it’s covered by fungy.I think it works really fast but i will know when the pot will be full and i will look down to see.

  44. Hi.. I've read that perennials prefer fungally dominated compost while vegetables prefer bacterially dominated compost. If you're gonna be planting vegetables… why use fungally dominated compost? Will your vegetables thrive in the environmental created by the fungi?

  45. Hi, thank you for all your videos. I'm a new gardener, and I'm wondering why you're spreading your leaves outside your garden beds. Are you building your soil outside your beds?

    Also, I have a pile of leaves, maybe 8 to 10 garbage bags worth of leaves, inside which were about a bag worth of grass clippings. Last October, I dumped them into a pile about 5 feet wide and 3 feet high. I've also occasionally dumped green kitchen waste into the pile as well. I thought to turn the pile a few weeks ago when the weather warmed up, but all I found was very dry, powdery mold everywhere. What am I doing wrong?

  46. How to you fill your beds with compost if you have all that mulch on them? Do you rake the mulch off, add compost, then rake the mulch back on?

  47. i feel bad,it must be shitty,not being strong enough to break little twigs with your hands,but have to use snips.

  48. Have you considered getting a shredder to chop up the woody bits even further? I've been considering it for the last month or so but I need to make a good argument for hubby as he is not yet convinced that it will be a good investment.

  49. I get so confused. So many opinions. we decided to just pick a method and stick with it. we chose the Mittleider Method but I have doubts now regarding mulch. So confused! We are developing our property now a in the creating the beds of a 1 acre plot.

  50. A great guideline as I’m researching good soil practices and the difference between fungi and bacteria. I have all these organics on hand in my country property but was unsure how they all interact and come together. Looks like I’ll be making two compost heaps from now on 🇦🇺👍

  51. By watering my leaves in the fall and the rain over the winter in Zone 7 I get leaf mold in less than one year.shredding the leaves speeds this up. I often put a layer of 5in of leaves on the ground then cover with 6in or the wood chips as u describe. the leaves break down fast and the "black" layer is formed faster than the wood chips alone. this is my experiacne. keeping a living root in the soil all year with perenials or trees keep the fungi healthy and alive for the veg. plants in the spring. I like your videos btw

  52. I was offered about 150 plastic bags of spent mushroom substrate (looks like sawdust with some small black mushrooms which the grower said got "contaminated" (and I don't know what he meant and his English was not great) anyhow I brought them home but I am not sure exactly what to do with them. After hours on youtube, I still have to wonder if I should pile them up and place a bucket or three of red worms in the middle or put them in my garden! Any suggestions?

  53. I basically do the same thing you're doing except I run everything thru a chipper first. It breaks down the material faster than waiting for mother nature to do it. The only soil addition I buy is peat moss which I mix in with my compost. All my plants love it.

  54. I’m making my own organic soil.. I have cattle, and feed alfalfa hay. I rake up all the green/leafy waste,, and use it in my mix. I also use my cattle manure. I break up All my old pots of soil, from previous plants,, add organic potting soils, 1/4” minus gypsum ‘ag fines’,, Blood meal, bone meal, humic acid,, dolo-lime, azomite,, and bit of epsom salt.. I get my Myco,, from a huge old (15 yrs) pile of decomposed wood chips/shreddings… I speed the process of decomposition,, by covering this old 6’x2’ ft stock tank,, with clear plexiglass.. Cooks the stuff like spinach.! Also kills noxious seeds and insect eggs!! 😊❤️✌️

  55. Ohhhh that white white thing call fungal I see that under my woods chips didn't know what is it …. I look at it & scary thing to me 👩🤣funny dumb sometimes if we poor in knowledge….thanks so much for your loving garden & knowledge many things💜

  56. Patrick, thanks for all your effort to give us tips on how to garden well year round. This question is specific to zucchini and squash. I live in Zone 7b/8a I am dealing with powdery mildew on a few leaves of a zucchini plant. Any tips on how to effectively stop this fungus without damaging our fungally dominated compost? I have seen tips on using baking soda mixes, but thought you'd have some advice! Thanks again.

  57. this video is so helpful! I have a cat too. can I add the cat litter into the compost? does the compost have bad smell if I do everything right?

  58. Local gas stations save the coffee grounds for me 🙂 I use it in my compost. Pine needles are one thing that fungi thrive on and it doesn't make the soil acedic.

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