Soil talk.

I was going through my (eek! seriously disorganized) photo files yesterday and I came across these two pics that I took at the community garden this fall.   The light was absolutely amazing that day in October.

Highbush cranberry2

Highbush cranberries

Mushroom in mulch

Although they look pretty, the mushrooms are symptomatic of a problem in the community garden.  Large chunks of wood mulch were used to dress the beds along the perimeter fence when the garden was built about five years ago (and by “large,” I mean HUGE – see Exhibit A, above).  It was all done mainly for aesthetics over any practical purpose and through the years, many of the chips have been dug under, creating a soil structure akin to cement.  Pore space is at a definite premium, and will eventually affect the way crops grow.  (I won’t get into the whole carbon-nitrogen imbalance thing here, but that’s an additional issue.  I recently read that bark chips can take at least a decade to decompose in soil).  To make matters worse, this year, the mushrooms turned up in full force.  LOTS of mushrooms.  Expected, sure, but definitely not welcome.  Although we made an attempt at damage control in the fall and removed some of the uppermost layers of the wood chip/soil clumps, we’ve got a long way to go to fix this mess.  Definitely a cautionary tale about using the right mulch for the job (and in this case, about not digging it in)!

Let’s talk soil and/or mulch – do you have any problem areas in your garden? 

Pest to watch (out for): Artillery fungus.

Hopefully no one out there is currently plagued with this pest – if you are, you’re in for some additional spring cleaning duties.  It’s a messy one!

Also called shotgun fungus, these members of the genus Sphaerobolus are usually spotted (yes, I’m making bad puns again) covering the sidings of houses or the exteriors of vehicles.  Artillery fungus colonizes wood, so if you’re laying down wood mulch, you may be encouraging its growth.  The peridioles (spore packets) of Sphaerobolus are interesting:  they rest above cup-shaped cells that gradually fill with water.  Eventually, the cells invert, which causes the peridioles to burst, exploding outward in a distance up to 6 metres (almost 20 feet).  The spores immediately adhere to any surface situated in the blast zone…which most often happens to be cars and houses.

Just to make things more delightful, artillery fungus is really, REALLY difficult to remove.  Part of the problem is that you don’t want to use harsh chemicals or scrapers on the surfaces that the fungus sticks to.  This website has a few potentially workable suggestions, the most notable of which is employing a combination of Mr. Clean Magic Erasers and a bit of mouthwash.  Bleach and hot water and plenty of elbow grease apparently works as well.  Definitely test a small area of before you start your cleaning project, as you don’t want to ruin any painted surfaces.

As for prevention of further attacks, it should be noted that there isn’t really an effective fungicide on the market to deal with artillery fungus.  (I’m not particularly fond of chemicals, so I probably wouldn’t recommend one even if such a thing was available). The best option is to consider whether or not you really need wood mulch, especially near the foundation of the house or alongside the driveway.  Replacing the wood mulch with gravel or another desireable product may be a simple solution to a labour-intensive problem.  As well, bear in mind that the wood chunks found in potting soil might also be a haven for the fungus.  (Don’t get me started on the LOGS I keep finding in commercial brands of potting soil mixes – it’s a pet peeve of mine.  I’m currently on a seemingly unending quest to find a good quality brand of potting soil – I thought it would be a matter of “you get what you’ve paid for,” but I’m actually still searching.  It really builds a strong case for creating your own potting mixes).

I tracked down a video that gives you an idea of how artillery fungus grows and disperses, and the mess it can make:

I’m so glad that artillery fungus hasn’t been an issue (so far) in my garden!  I hope you haven’t been pestered by it- but if you have, what did you do to get rid of it?