Block of the Week: Podzol
We'll forgive you if you think we're making this one up. Wasn't Podzol one of the goblin chieftans slain at the Battle of the Five Armies? Well, possibly. But it's also the weird-sounding name for one of Minecraft's rarer blocks - and probably a more important part of the natural world than you know!
Added in patch 1.7.2, podzol spawns in vast quantities in only one biome - mega taiga. Taiga is itself an unusual word (you can trace it back to Mongolian!) and refers to the vast forests of spiky, cone-bearing trees that cover huge portions of the Earth. Other than the ocean, there's no biome bigger in the real world, but the so-called mega taiga variant found in Minecraft is rather rare. There, podzol replaces grass on the floors of the enormous forests of skyscraping spruce trees, and the lack of grass means there aren't a whole lot of passive mobs around.
What you will find enormous quantities of in a mega taiga biome is the world's best pizza topping - brown mushrooms - as well as mossy cobblestone boulders, which are handy for prettying up builds. The ample supply of unusual building materials, and relatively flat terrain, make it a pretty good biome to set up home in - you'll end up with a rather unusual-looking base!
It's a bit of a surprise that podzol is so rare in Minecraft, given how common it is in the real world. Real-world podzol covers a huge swathe of the Earth's surface, underneath the pine forests that blanket the subpolar regions of our planet. It's also found under the eucalyptus forests of southern Australia, and in heathland in Western Europe where humans have been grazing cattle for thousands of years.
A typical podzol is split into two layers - one of them looks a bit like ash because minerals have been sucked out over time, leaving not very much behind. That, alongside the fact that podzol is kinda acidic and doesn't hold much water, means that it's not a very good soil to grow crops on, but not bad for grazing animals.
Back in Minecraft, there's one especially useful property of pozol that makes it worth adventuring out to find a mega taiga biome. Mushrooms can be placed and grown on podzol no matter what the light level is. Not only does that mean a handy supply of mushroom soup (great for in-game vegans!) but it also makes it easy to grow giant mushrooms, if for some reason you want to build a house out of them or something.
You'll need a silk touch tool to collect podzol, or it'll just turn into dirt, and you can't hoe it into farmland. But otherwise it pretty much acts the same as dirt - saplings, all kinds of flower and sugarcane can be placed on it normally. It doesn't spread, unlike grass or mycelium, and won't turn to dirt if you put a solid block above it.
What's your favourite use for podzol? Have you used it to build an enormous mushroom harvesting machine powered by redstone, and if not, then why not?