How to help re­tired dogs find new homes

NZ Lifestyle Block - - Notebook -

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 re­­ing­ 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

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