Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fanciful Fungi #2

Recent snaps of fungi from Gulaga National Park. Although the walk was about 11km return through various landscapes, there was little fungi to be seen. It is possible it has something to do with the recent fire I talked about in my last post. However, I did get to see some very different species this time.

Puffball!!! Don't tread on it, or you will be stunk out with spores. Puffballs are related to toadstools and mushrooms and are part of the Basidiomycota. Unfortunately this one is not listed in my book.

This particular fungi was found on a recently burnt Eucalyptus (Stringy Bark?). It was fairly old and starting to rot out. I think it is a Laetiporus portentosus; beautiful smooth and white when new, and riddled with holes as it ages. Interestingly, it seems that Indigenous Australians used the fungi to transport fire.

Another Basidiomycota, but this one lives on rotting tree trunks and often shelves/piles itself. I believe it is Australoporus tasmanicus, although it is difficult to tell given its old age. 

Interesting Fact:
According to GoogleAnalytics, 'Magic Mushrooms' is my biggest Google-search-hit for my fungi blogs. Amusing. I am fairly certain that none of these are magic. Sorry.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Make me a River: Erosion from Fire and Rain

Some of the most spectacular erosion that occurs in Australia is after fire and rain events.

View of Gulaga from Tilba Tilba

On a recent walk up Gulaga (Mt Dromadery) I was lucky to see some amazing river forming processes. Gulaga is situated behind Central Tilba in south-eastern New South Wales, and forms Gulaga National Park. It is sacred to the local Yuin Black Duck people, and is a significant feature in their Dreamtime.

View Larger Map

Gulaga is 787m above sea-level, and consists of 5-separate geologies and several different vegetation communities, including a rainforest at the summit. I was lucky to notice the geology on the walk from some old ANU Geology plaques on many of the rocky outcrops.

Old ANU Geology Self Guided Tour

Erosion from recent fire and flood was evident along the length of the walking track. The Narooma News reported that fire went through the Mountain in August 2009 after a smoldering control burn reignited. The majority of the mountain burnt, apart from the rainforest at the top of the track. Storms in February 2010 caused flooding. The effect of the storm was clear on the unstable landscape of Gulaga. Massive gullies had formed as scars down the side of the mountain. This particular gully was about 12 m wide and at least 150m long and 2-3 m deep. It is the beginning of a river.

Erosion Scar on Gulaga

Australia's rivers, billabongs, streams and swampy meadows are all products of disturbance, erosion and deposition. Recent research by various geomorphologists has shown that Australia's landscape and water features are possibly a result of fire, rain and erosion. This is all very typical of our dry, firey landscape. Disturbance, such as fire, creates an unstable landscape. Loss of vegetation with fire makes soil more prone to erosion from rain. When storms come thought after fires, erosion occurs. The gullies that form could be seen as the beginning of a new river. The soil that is lost will deposit somewhere below, creating a billabong or chain-of-ponds, or perhaps even contibuting to the sand at some of our favourite fishing spots. 

Beach at Mystery Bay: Is this sand from Gulaga?

This cycle is part of natural processes. Usually we think about how erosion is releated to humans modifying the landscape; erosion in agriculture, deforestation or building sites. What we don't often think about is erosion occurring in a place that people have barely ventured. However, erosion does happens naturally! It is amazing to see it first hand in a protected and preserved National Park.

Lynds and I hope to do some research on fire ecology and soils at Gulaga in the next months. 

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Antarctic Soil Blog

 Was just doing a search for photos of soil microbiology, when I stumbled on a new blog!

 Dr Becky : Polar Soils Blog

The Polar Soils Blog 'track the adventures in research of soil ecology in Antarctica'. Dr Becky works in the Dry-Valleys of Antarctica, looking at all sorts of fun soil realted things. Her first blog entry is a good synopsis of the projects they run each summer.

Looking forward to reading this blog and learning about Antarctic soil and perils of research in an environment of extremes.  

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Soil Myths 2: Mulch Ain't Mulch

Not all mulches are good for every garden.

There are many gardening and composting books out there that suggest all different combinations of mulches for organic gardens. Some mulches include newspaper, shredded paper, woodchip, hay, lucerne, leaves, clipped grass, compost, manure, mushroom compost etc. Gardening books may suggest that you use one, two, three or more as a combination to get the most perfect vegetables or flowers. However, both my own and other Australian research shows that different mulches have different interactions with soil. Some are high in nitrogen, others high in carbon, some can cause changes in pH; this may limit available nutrients for plants. This may affect the productivity of your garden.

Dana and her veggie garden

Before choosing mulches for your garden, firstly think about your soil. I am using my friend Dana's vegetable garden as an example for determining the perfect mulch for her soil.

Step 1: Is your soil stable? 

Stable soil means that it has good water retention and space for root growth, meaning plants will thrive! If it is stable, you won't need to add any mulch to improve the soil structure.

To determine if your soil is stable, get a shallow container with some bottled water. Pick up 3-5 pieces (peds) of soil from your garden and gently place into the water. Leave for 10 minutes. Look at the soil and see if there are any changes. Has the water become cloudy? Has the soil broken apart? Is it still the same?

Emmerson Aggregate Test: No changes to peds = awesome!

If any changes have occurred, that is when you need to think about adding lots of mulch to your soil. You will need at least 3kg/m2 of mulch, and make sure you dig it in to 5-10cm. If you don't have any changes, you just need a top dressing of 1.5kg/m2, and no need to dig in. Just cover up your garden bed to protect it from rainfall impact. Dana will be adding a top-dressing around her plants.

Step 2 : What is your pH?

Your pH can help you determine the type of mulch you need. If you have a high pH, you want to add compost with a fresh mulch (hay/non-composted mulch). If it is low, only use fully-composted mulches, for example composted manure with composted hay.

Dana is lucky to have a pH of 6.5-7. She just needs to add a fully composted mulch.

A pH Kit: pH of 6.5 - 7 is perfect!

Step 3: Do I have good Plant Available Nutrients?

In Canberra, we are typically low in Nitrogen and Phosphorous. Adding a manure based compost will increase nitrogen. Rock phosphate can be added in an organic garden to increase plant available P.

Dana's Organic Veggie Garden Mulch Mix: 
After planting, she needs to spread out 2 handfuls of rock phosphate. Dana will then spread mulch over the surface of her garden using 2:1 mushroom compost with composted grass clippings. This will increase her Phosphorous levels, protect her garden from rainfall impact, promote soil biology and nutrient cycling, and provide slow release nutrients.

Some helpful hints: 
* Never add too much carbon. High carbon mulches include woodchip, paper and hay/grass. These mulches are not a very good food source for soil biology. They have to work extra hard and as a result, you end up with less other nutrients available to plants. Only use high carbon mulches if you want to suppress plant growth.
* Manures and composts can be high in nitrogen. Try to mix in some high carbon mulches, for example 2:1 compost with carbon mulch.
* Do you know your pH? Kits are available at most nurseries and garden shops.
* Soil testing can be expensive and prohibitive. However, you can look up ASRIS online and get a general idea of the soil fertility in your area, or try Googling soil fertility for your area (i.e. soil fertility Canberra). 

Have any questions? Leave me a comment! I am always happy to help.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fanciful Fungi

Fungi are the heart of soil nutrient cycling! We often can not see fungi living in the soil. They feed on rotting plant and animals and break it into more plant available forms. Sometimes we are lucky enough to spot a fungi or two on the soil surface. And they can be rather beautiful. However, working out exactly what they are can become a hard guessing game.

Deua National Park is home to some beautiful above ground fungi. We did the Wyabene Cave (Marble Arch) walk, which took us through about eight different forest and heathland ecosystems. I have done the walk twice, and each time I see different fungi. Trees and spiderwebs (of which there were many) distracted us on the walk, and unfortunately my partner only managed to photograph three species. Regardless, they sure are rad!!!!

Mushrooms and toadstools are part of the Basidiomycota genus. These are the common species that we can find popping out of the ground, and also include many of those we eat! Basidiomycota also have a large amount of poisonous species, including more fanciful ones colloquially known as 'magic mushrooms'. 

This particular specimen (above) was unfortunately not in my guide book. I believe it may be a Amanita species, and would love to hear from readers if they know what it is. Amanita species are mainly found in eucalyptus forest. As you can see from the log and the leaf litter in the photo, this one was photographed in a dry sclerophyll forest.

Again, another Basidiomycota that I am unable to identify. The closest I could find was Boletus barragensis. The book said that it is found in Eucalyptus/Leptospermum forest. Again, by the leaf litter, you can see that it was indeed found in a moister valley eucalyptus forest with leptospermum. It also said that they are a red-brown colour. Whilst this one was red-brown, it also had an amazing bronze sheen in the sunlight, hard to tell in the captured photo. 

This beauty I believe is a Ramaria species. Given its creamy colouring and long coral stems, I am fairly certain that it is Ramaria capitata. Like the guide book says, it has a cauliflower top and can be found in forest. This photo was taken at the last wetter eucalyptus forest on the walk, before the decent to the Marble Arch. 

All fungi descriptions are courtesy of: 'A field guide to Australian Fungi' by Bruce Fuhrer. Published in 2009 (revised) by Bloomings Books. However, I was unable to find all the descriptions I was after. The ANBG have a list of resources for fungi ID. However, none of the sites really have searching and identification options available online. If anyone has a good website or great fungi ID skills, please write in! I would love to know what these beauties are.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Boxed-Up Garden

Just finished planting my winter crop, all in boxes!

Living in a flat reduces space to a garden of pots. We are lucky enough to have a courtyard out the back of our flat. I have a few pots and boxes with veggies and herbs. This winter we have cabbage, broccoli, baby spinach, rocket, kale, peas, silverbeet (the colourful variety), spring onions and rogue pumpkin. The eggplant won't survive the winter, and we need to find a temporary home for our chili tree! We don't have a sunny enough spot inside our flat to keep it warm.

Jack Frost is coming and the Chili Tree needs a new home

The soil is my own special blend. I originally bought the soil from Canberra Sand and Gravel 3 years ago. The first veggie garden, a big bed, was hopeless. Mainly because of the possums attacking the plants. Over the years, I have built up its fertility and soil biota and I have moved it 3 times since then. The last crop over summer gave me some fabulous results.

Possum proofing the veggies is always a problem. Our neighbours upstairs (also with many pots on their veranda) told us of a sneaky basil eating possum that hangs around the complex. I use a simple deterrence method; skewers in each corner of the pot, covered with a light plastic mesh. It is enough of a pain that possums will give up and find food elsewhere.

Sneaky Possums

Fertiliser is all natural. Previously I had been using a combo of compost, pea straw and manure. Now we have no compost, I am going to mix a special blend. Need to do some pH testing before I come up with the perfect combo for the pots.

Choosing veggies for pots is difficult. You have to try species that aren't too deep rooted. Varieties you can try (and most I have had success with) include:
Rocket, spinach, silverbeet, tomatoes, beans and peas, herbs, eggplant, chili, kale, cabbage, broccoli and brocolini, capsicum, strawberries, any baby varieties (carrots, beetroot), lettuce, chives and spring onions, garlic etc.

Try to use deep pots and water regularily. You can use liquid fertilisers in your watering regime, or alternatively use natural mulches for an organic garden. Blending mulches/natural fertilisers is tricky, and there are many myths I plan to discuss in a later post.

Happy Box-Gardening!