How to help retired dogs find new homes
Tararua Vet Services nurse Natalie Smith hates putting down dogs, especially those that still have some life and love to share after stopping farm work. That’s why she started Retired Working Dog Adoption NZ and since then dozens of loyal farm dogs have been given a chance to retire to new homes all over NZ (editor’s note: I can highly recommend it from personal experience!). This gorgeous calendar featuring dogs who have found a new home in the last year is a great way to support their efforts. It’s $15 per calendar, plus $3 postage to bank account 03 0725 0001027 000 (Retired Working Dog Adoption NZ) – please put your name in the reference field and then email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and address.
Jax Lee has been running Kings Truffles for almost 10 years and was keenly anticipating the day she would dig up her first truffle. But she was having a coffee when her dog found it in the fresh damp earth of her north Canterbury truffière (true-fee-air).
“I’d been training up our dog, but it’s always hard, you don’t know if it’s not working or if there are no truffles,” she laughs. “So I was still having a coffee and putting on my boots when he was down the hill… I just saw him digging and thought it was a bit weird – though he was called Digger, he didn’t dig that often – so I went running down and blow me down, there was a massive big truffle!”
Truffle grower Peter Burton has a similar story about Ozzy the spaniel diligently searching around his and partner Rebecca Hamid’s Nelson truffière with his handler Tracy.
“I’d grown bored with it and wandered off and then Tracy came to find me and – bingo!” he says with a satisfied smile. “There were two little pea-sized truffles.”
Jax, Peter and Rebecca’s loving care and attention to their truffle trees seems to be paying off, but for others it has been a much longer journey. One patient grower waited 18 years for his first truffle, although it seems his truffière is now making up for lost time (see page 25). Many other small plantings haven’t produced, possibly because they are not maintained to the levels required for the truffles to grow, or simply because no good truffle dog has visited them yet. The soil quality and climate conditions also play a big part in whether you can successfully produce these fussy fungi and sometimes it just doesn’t come together to create the desired outcome.
In New Zealand, there are well over 100 truffières growing trees inoculated with the Périgord black truffle ( Tuber melanosporum). Research by Plant and Food Research – Lincoln showed good news: among a sample of 43 truffières surveyed, 90% still had the T. melanosporum mycorrhizae or fungusroot’ on some trees up to 21 years after planting, a promising indication that these peculiar underground fungi are able to survive NZ conditions.
It’s still a work in progress though. At the time the research was completed, in 2012, it was estimated that less than 15% of truffières had produced Périgord black truffles, although this figure is now out-of-date as many more truffières have since come into production.
to form definitive conclusions but he can share some preliminary understandings from his 12 years in the industry.
“Canterbury, the South Island in general, seems good for more temperate mushrooms and truffles because it has four contrasting seasons. You have nice patches of limestone like in north Canterbury, so there is this fit with growing mushrooms in the South Island.
“Then you go to the North Island, which actually had the first historical successes with the first black truffles grown in Gisborne, and then one of the best black truffle production was in the Bay of Plenty for many years, and I hear it’s still performing. There is still potential there, very strong, but sometimes we scientists wonder whether the climate is not contrasting enough, if sometimes there is too much rainfall or a too-mild winter, therefore if you are in the North Island you might be better off being at elevation rather than at sea level.”
“I am always hesitant selling trees to people around Auckland,” says Jax Lee. “If I was them I would think very carefully, and try to make it clear that it might not go too well. They have rainfall the whole year, whereas though we have irrigation, we don’t actually use it that often, it’s very strategic.
“But like I say, there’s always an exception, someone who gets awesome yields. I do find a few of them have issues with slugs.”
However, the scientist in Alexis likes to encourage experimentation for anyone who thinks truffles might be their passion.
“I often encourage people interested to try, to try by planting in a suitable soil a few trees of good quality of different species, instead of putting all your eggs in one basket… plant three species of truffle, plant five trees of each, maybe 10, it’s very doable as a project, and at the end of the process you learn what can be grown.” The best trees in terms of truffle production are oaks and hazels, with pine also used for bianchetto and yielding the best results for this species at Plant & Food’s plantation in Lincoln. Spores are inoculated onto the root system of seedling trees, and good nurseries will then test to make sure the correct mycorrhizae are developing on the roots as the seedling grows.
“The most proven, the most commonly used (for Périgord) which we tend to stick with is the Quercus ilex, an evergreen oak, a little holly leaf oak,” says Jax. “That’s definitely my preference from a husbandry side of things and it naturally grows really well in high ph soil, higher lime stone soils, whereas the English oak, while it looks like a beautiful tree and has awesome colour, it quite often gets locked up in iron chlorosis and burning on the leaves, so it can be a bit of an issue.
“The hazel tree can be awesome but a lot of work with pruning, it sends up suckers everywhere every year. It tends to come into production faster because it’s faster growing, but then tends to lose the truffle faster because it outgrows the mycelium.”
Hazels can also be a bit too friendly for the truffle grower.
“A French guy (at a conference) said ‘oh, the hazel, it’s like a female, it’s not faithful, it accepts a lot of other spores onto the roots’. I was the only female at that conference…”
General tree health is also important says grower Rebecca Hamid. She and Peter had what they call a ‘learning experience’ with some of the trees they bought when they first started which highlighted the difference between truffle science and truffle farming.
“We could tell that the trees had been handled wrongly in the nursery, such that they had twisted roots. If you normally buy a tree with twisted roots from a nursery, you should really untangle those roots or the tree will never put down a straight taproot. As it gets older it won’t be able to anchor itself against the wind and in the long term that tree won’t be a healthy tree.”
But that creates a problem when you’ve paid a lot of money for special spores to be inoculated onto those roots.
“The advice we got was ‘you’re growing truffles, not trees’, and that was the science approach because all the energy had gone into making sure the trees were properly infected and that the feeder roots, not the tap roots, had been inoculated… but the roots, and particularly the tap root, was not healthy. They never did well… we decided to pull those trees out and replace them.
“Another example is the provenance of the tree; if you see a tree growing in a forest and it’s going straight up and it’s healthy, if you collect seed from that tree, you’re more likely to get better offspring than trees that don’t have a decent leader and too many side branches. That’s another experience, I think, for the nurseries which are growing trees for truffles in New Zealand… they need to choose a good provenance in terms of the types and the species of trees.”
The trick to growing a tree that produces truffles is to take good care of it, but that’s not what you think says Jax Lee.
“A lot of people think of it is as ‘oh, I’m