Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fungi in the Vege Garden

Imagine my surprise when I started in on my largest vegetable bed and found a fungus had taken over.

Some time before all the rain began, back in November last year, I treated, I thought, my garden to a thick layer of mulch. I did not further work in it till now due to the unending rain in December, illness in January and sheer laziness due to the heat in February.

All the parsley died. Chives thrived. Cucumbers, tomatoes and peas got rained out. Egg plants died after going well until flowering. Lettuce sprang up and went to seed.

Yesterday I began to rip out everything dead. And the remaining mulch came up in sheets. Glued together with a white mycelium. The soil underneath was bone dry and rock hard. Which were a great surprise to me since we've had about a metre of rain since November.

Eventually I fund the fungus's fruiting bodies. Three white, ox-eye shaped and sized objects of about the same consistency. Palpable. As in when squeezing one, it felt like a dead eye. I did not have enough of my wits about me that day to get out a scalpel and my camera to show you the insides. Dirty hands too.

So what mulch now?

I used to use composted grass clippings -- but always got a lot of grass growing among the vegetables.  Hay and straw gave the same result. I switched to sugar cane bagasse but found it prevented rain from reaching the ground, by sticking together and forming an impenetrable mat. Then I thought I'd give ti tree left overs a go. Snails and slugs don't like it so I thought I was onto a good thing. But it is slightly woody. Presumably that's why fiungi would find it congenial.

Got any ideas? What do you use?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Two-spined Spider and Flying Foxes

Two-spined Spider
With its legs outstretched this spider is meant to be the size of a twenty cent piece, or nearly 3 cm across.

I've seen it every day for nearly a month. Always sitting under the same leaf on a young three vein laurel.

Its head and front two legs are at the top. The two supposed spines, which look a lot like eyes, are on its back. The white arc looks uncannily like a smiling upside down mouth.

Lately, I've been going out there by torch light to see if I can catch it doing something. Spinning a web for instance. My Wildlife of Greater Brisbane tells me it occurs throughout Australia and is most common in summer.

The other amazing sight I've been going out to witness, is the flyover of the flying foxes between 7.15 and 8.00 pm the other night. We're on daylight saving here, so it takes till about then for it to be true dusk. Thousands upon thousands of these animals fly out of the north, across my bit of sky, and into the south east, on and on, in four or five ranks usually.

It's mating season and that's apparently the reason the animals are restless even in their flight. There's a continual stream of them peeling off from the main flow, circling and rejoining it. Some trying to fly against the flow. Little ones straining to keep up. Big ones winging easily.

Down where I'm standing the whole event seems to be happening silently. It looks very uncanny, this unending stream of wild animals flying over. The air between them seems to throb if you stare at the stream too intently. I know it's no joke living next door to a flying fox camp -- the smell is probably one of the most pungent to be experienced, and to live in that day in day out, would be unbearable -- but I'm glad to know we still have so many.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March is the Month of Macro Fungi

Troop of 'Gold Caps'
March 2011 has been amazing for macro fungi.  Though I don't know any names or even any species names, being a mere beginner in the field, I have identified at least twelve different macro fungi in the yard.

I number them and take photos exhaustively. Top views, side views, with a ruler in the pic, or a coin. I'm even trying for spore prints. It's fun, though the weather here has been so humid a couple of the fungi melted into black blobs before any spores could escape them.

Usually I'm out of the house as soon as I get up, bare feet in the wet grass, to look for any new ones. Seeing ones I've seen before is also good. As it j=helps me learn what i have in my little (digital) collection. But I will need to make up a sort of ID chart soon, to carry about with me, for now I'm starting to forget them. Is this single one the same as the troop I shot on the way home from my daily constitutional?
'That' fringed pair

 'Troop" is the regular word for a bunch. There's a troop above and a pair to the right. The bunch above is growing on camphor laurel chips. The ones to the right are growing out of bottlebrush litter.

There's more to learn. On and on. One good thing, in contrast to insects, butterflies and the like, fungi patiently stand still while being photographed!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sward Versus Lawn

Basket Grass, Mown
Lawn is usually a mono-culture of one particular grass species, carefully bred up to cover a large area of open ground. Locally, people get their lawns delivered in rolls from a grass farm.

Lawn and open spaces around a human habitation are not just a traditional garden design feature.

Anthropological research suggests that the requirement of open spaces among a parkland-type distribution of trees were always favoured by humans looking for a new cave. So, something to do with our origins on the African savannahs, probably.

Unidentified Grey Grass, Mown
I'm in there with my origins. While I love my foresty bits around the outside of my yard, I keep everything, including proposed new buildings, from encroaching on the sun in the middle.

My clearing in the forest is where I grow my greens and my cherry tomatoes. Beans and snow peas in their season. Where I sit in the sun in winter.

It does mean that I need to encourage groundcovers for the bits in between. And since I don't believe in mono cultures of anything, I let things come up where they will and then keep them all mown.

It makes for a very interesting sward.  Yesterday I counted twelve different species of both grasses and herbs trying for their place in the sun.

Basket Grass, above, is a shade loving grass native to this region. The unidentified grass on the right, is a recent arrival, probably coming with the new gravel for the drive.

Native Commelina, Mown

The Native Commelina gets little blue flowers. It isn't a grass but does the job of covering the ground just as well.

The open ground in my yard, my sward, is a mosaic of colours and leaf shapes. Much more interesting, I think, than a grey drought-proofed lawn of bowling green grass.

What sort of plants do you grow in your open spaces?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Fungi on Tung Nut Tree Stump

While learning more about fungi, I've become an avid watcher of the tung nut tree stump. Every day I trot out to the side of the house and see what's come up, if anything. A few mornings ago, after warm rain in the night, it sported these two on the sheltered side of the stump. Stump in foreground.

While I've got no hope figuring out their name, if they even have any, I can but have a go at narrowing down my ideas as to their kind.

1) They've appeared on the outer layer of bark so probably they are the fruiting bodies of a fungus helping to decompose the bark.

Fungi on Tung Nut Tree Stump
2) Structurally they are very spongy. Difficult to pick up without breaking.

Gills on underside of cap
3) Gills on underside of cap look like badly stranded cotton yarn, almost fluffy. I assume though, that the fact it has gills puts it in the Agarics or 'Gilled' Fungi group. 

4) The Agarics section is further divided according to where the fungus grows. This one grows on wood, obviously.

5) As the morning proceeded, the fungi browned as they rotted and became slimy to look at. I have a pic but blogger refused to let me put it up

6) My reference and guide is the A. M. Young book, A Field Guide to the Fungi of Australia, which to my inexperienced eye seemed the easiest to learn from.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


One of my Favourite Weeds
Northern NSW has many weeds, plants growing in wrong places. Nearly all plants do well in this climate, lots of rain and lots of sunshine. Many non native plants outperform native plants due to the kindness of the climate and their not being part of the local food webs.

This is one of the weeds I love to hate. It's lush and green,  and is never nibbled by insects. It grows mainly in the shade. It's common in the district as many people have it as ground cover. I'm always trying to get rid of it and now have only a couple of square metres where it still keeps re growing.

It is at least partially succulent and covers a lot of ground if left for a couple of months and will shade out anything in its path. Though every scrap of stem bearing a node will grow when left in contact with the ground, it is easy to pull up in wet weather when the roots easily come out of the ground.

Composting in a plastic bag works for this one. Just pull gently on a plant and you'll get a good length of the ground-crawling stem along with it. Put it all in a large plastic bag to sweat it down.  Six month later or there abouts, you can dump it in the compost and it probably won't re grow.

The (greyish) flower stalks I pick very carefully, to not shake too much and spread the seeds, and dispose of in a purpose-kept plastic bag for throw away bits too dangerous to try and compost.

What's the weed you most love to hate?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Macro Fungi

A few years ago I heard that in prime rainforest there are approximately seven rainforest fungi for every rainforest plant species, and that we know very few of the fungi as yet. More recently I came across the fact that most Australian trees live in a symbiotic relationship with particular fungi. 

As I understand it, 'symbiotic' means that both the tree and the fungi get something out of the relationship. The fungi surround the tree roots with their mycelium (roots) sending them into the interior of the tree roots and get food sugars straight from the sap stream. The tree gets elemental nutrients broken down from the soil delivered straight into the roots. 

So far, I've seen about seven different macro fungi (where macro is the size that can be seen without a microscope) around my backyard. What we can see is usually just the fruiting body. 

'Fringed' Fungi
This one I'm calling the 'fringed fungi' for now, since it is going to take me a while to learn any names, or even find where to look for names. 

I'm also still learning how to take their images so they can be identified. Ideally this shot should have had an item in it to give you an idea of the size. The larger cap is about the size of a five-cent-piece (Australian). 

The shot underneath is the underside of the cap, showing the cellular structure. Or pores, as the author whose book I'm using to learn from, calls them. If these are pores, and I'm not even sure of that, then this fungi might be a type of Bolete.

Please let me know if I'm wrong. I'm interested in learning more.

Under the cap of a Fringe Fungi 

Reference: A M Young, A Field Guide to the Fungi of Australia, Illustrations by Kay Smith, reprinted in 2009, UNSWPress.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Azola Water Fern is Dying

Azola Water Fern is Dying
This is the situation in both the baths/water features.
The azola is turning to sludge. 

Guessing, I came up with a number of possibilities without having any idea whether I'm even guessing in the right direction. 

The as yet unidentified thready weed just visible underneath is preventing the azola from sucking up enough sustenance from the water by way of its roots.

It's a seasonal thing. We're getting towards the end of summer here. 

There hasn't been enough sun. (Rain again) Yet last December, when we had 500+ mm of rain, and hardly any sun at all, the azola was fine.

Too much sun. we've had a couple of days of 35 degrees plus. Maybe the azola can't cope with heat and it cooked. It is a fern after all.

There are too many tadpoles in residence. Tadpoles graze on the roots of the azola. 

Can anyone enlighten us on this?