Thursday, December 22, 2011

Mud Puddings for Everyone! Have A Happy Muddy Christmas

Mud pies. Mud puddings. Mud chocolates. Mud ice-creams.

These are all things I made during my Christmas holidays. And now I play with mud for work.

With an unusually wet and cool summer in Australia, it is a great opportunity to get kids outside and into the mud!

Getting kids to play with dirt isn't just about getting covered with mud (and poor Mum/Dad having to clean them up after). They are actually learning a lot about soil and environmental science.

Soil Texture
Let them mix with their hands! Feeling the mud in their hands is exactly how a soil scientist works out the texture of the soil. The texture helps us to understand how much gravel, clay, sand, silt and loam makes up a soil.

If you ask your kids to decorate your mud surprise, they will probably run straight back into the yard. They will scavenge for cool nuts, berries, fruits and leaves. They will learn about where different leaves and fruits come from, and at what time of the year they can find them.

Soil hydrology/water
Most kids will get a bucket of dirt and add water when making their Mud Kitchen treats. How much water the soil can hold is all about soil physics and soil water holding properties. If they get two different soils for two different cakes, they can compare the difference!

Soil is important for life
Whilst they are busy digging up the yard, they will notice grass, trees and all sorts of plants growing in the dirt. Maybe they will even find a worm or two. Noticing that things are growing in the soil will help them to understand where food and fibre comes from and how important soil is in our lives.

Convinced that playing with mud can help learning?!?! 

Why not make them a Mud Kitchen! 

You can stock your kids Mud-Pie kitchen with kids gardening gear, your old gardening tools, old containers and kitchen equipment. Just make sure they have a bowl and spoon, or they won't be able to bake mud cakes!

Playing with mud does mean mess. But, soil isn't actually 'dirty'. Simple hygiene (washing hands with soap before eating) is all you need to worry about in Australia. And if you give them old clothes to frolic in, then you don't have to worry about them ruining their new Christmas outfits.

Merry Muddy Christmas!

Thanks to my Mum for letting me get dirty during my school holidays. And thanks to Jane Rawson @ The Conversation for inspiration, following the post 'Off the couch and out the door'. Check it out for other awesome holiday tips!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The Strawberry Snatcher

Case: The Strawberry Snatcher

The Problem:
My box-garden is doing much better this year, after some good rain and a new position in the sun! However, I have had some of my foodstuffs stolen by a cheeky animal. Happy to share, but all my baby spinach?!?! I don't think so!

What has gone missing: 
Strawberries, basil and baby spinach

List of suspects:
Snails and Slugs

Investigation #1 - Check for Possums
I covered the pot with netting. Waited for a few days and checked. The basil and baby spinach still went missing. Unlikely to be a possum. 

Investigation #2 - Slugs and Snails
Put out some slug and snail deterrent (stuff that has done the trick before). No use; basil decimated! Decide that a bird is probably after the strawberries, but still not certain about the spinach and basil... 

So I give up and replant my seeds... and hope for the best.

Whilst at home one day... 
... I heard the rustling of leaves from behind my pots. And there the thief was! Caught red-handed was a blue tongue lizard! Mum did always say there were quite partial to a strawberry or two :D

My Mum-in-law also has problems with lizards and Cunningham's Skinks eating her rocket and other salad greens. I am guessing old Blue Tongue here likes basil and spinach too. 

I suppose I will just have to share; plant more and hope he doesn't eat them all! :D

The Case of the Strawberry Snatcher: Solved

Monday, December 5, 2011

Local Soil: Celebrating World Soil Day

We are very lucky in Canberra. I am sure there are very few Capital Cities in the world where you can walk out your back door and straight into a natural environment!

I thought a nice way to celebrate World Soil Day would be to share some photos and a bit of info on the soil and landscape of one of my favourite local walks.

Mt Ainslie is 842m above sea level, and is a popular walk for people who live in the Inner North of Canberra. I live just down the road from Mt Ainslie and try to walk up it (or its sister, Black Mountain) a few times a week.

As a function of routine, I often forget to stop and have a look at the soil on my walk. Today, this has been remedied! I have taken a few photos, stopped and pondered and looked up maps. This is (very roughly) what I found:

Some erosion at the bottom of the walk

Mt Ainslie is fairly steep and rocky, with underlying geology mainly "the Ainslie Volcanics are composed of Dacitic ignimbrite and minor volcaniclastic and argillaceous sediments" (thanks Wikipedia). Most of the soils on Mt Ainslie are shallow, rocky, have weak organisation of peds and few (if any) layers. They are likely to fall into the Great Soil Groups of Lithosols or under the Australian Classification as being Rudosols and Tenosols.

A plant struggles to survive in this rocky environment.

The start of the path up Mt Ainslie may have some Podzols (GSG), aka Chromosols (Australian Classification).

At the bottom of the Mountain, the vegetation is a Eucalypt woodland in a shallow rocky soil.

There is plenty of life in the soil. This ants nest was about 1m wide by 1.5m long!

The vegetation changes as we climb up! Now dominated by Casurina species. 

A healthier looking Tenosol, with some great organic material (Casurina needles) and an A and B horizon.

 A red Tenosol looking a bit washed out after our recent thunderstorms.

The view! I can see Parliament house (on the other side of the lake), the War Memorial and my house!

The view towards Black Mountain.

Soil, soil everywhere!!! Happy World Soil Day, everyone! 

More Info on Mt Ainslie and Canberra Soils:
Or Get Involved with Mt Ainslie Weeders

Friday, December 2, 2011

World Soil Day Celebrations in Canberra

The best day of the year... if you are a soil lover!

The Fenner School, ANU will be holding World Soil Day celebrations on Monday 5th December. 

There will be free morning tea, 'guess the pH' and bolus competitions. We will also be playing soil movies and displaying some latest research. There will even be some research by a Martian Soil Expert! 

The events run between 1030-1130am at the Frank Fenner Building Seminar Room (Linneaus Way, ANU). 

All public, children and adults welcome! 

For more information, please contact Zoe Read: zoe (dot) read (at) anu (dot) edu (dot) au