Christa Rebel, who farms near Tzaneen in Limpopo, found herself facing an uphill battle when trying to revive an avocado orchard. “These Hass avocado orchards were on the farm when we bought it in 2016. They really weren’t in a good condition, as the previous owners were more lifestyle farmers and didn’t pay them much attention.”
“I tried to revive them, but nothing seemed to work. I believe in an organic way of farming, which makes it tricky considering the lack of chemical assistance."
With the trees continuing to shed leaves and not bearing fruit, Rebel eventually gave up on the orchard and resolved to use the land for another crop. Not wanting to leave the soil bare, she decided to plant strawberries on the orchard floor as an interim measure.
“Since I started a permaculture approach on the farm, I can see how life has returned to the area. The soil was dead and the fauna was not particularly diverse before, but now I can see a variety of birds, insects and animals that have returned.”
Rebel planted the strawberries between the avocado rows and under the trees, and was soon focused on tending the young plants. A few months later, however, she saw to her amazement that the old avocado trees were coming back to life.
When Rebel started investigating the mysterious rejuvenation of the trees, she discovered that by planting the strawberries in the orchard she had brought in valuable mycorrhizae fungi. Strawberry plants are good hosts for the fungi, which cling to the roots and then spread into the soil.
The mycorrhizal symbiosis has been credited as one of the most important of its type on earth. Approximately 80% of all known land plant species form mycorrhizal interactions with ever-present soil fungi.