Triangle 1 view of river

GOING TINY – WITH TREES

I’ve started adding some tiny triangles to my collection of revegetation plots over our hills.

2011 plantingMy plans for tree-planting have been evolving over the past four years since we moved back to live at the family farm.  I started knowing we needed to do something substantial, because the small amounts of revegetation we’d been doing over the last forty-five years were only letting the land go backwards.

So we had to increase the number of trees and shrubs, and the area planted.  That included doing some areas (mostly steep and rocky) of around ten hectares.   Added to that is the need for several big windbreaks as shelter for grazing animals.  Those are still to come.

In 2014 I learned about wildlife stepping stones through Lesley Peden and Rainer Rehwinkel at the Kosciuszko to Coast Foundation, including the research that shows that small birds will travel up to a hundred metres, but definitely not further.  It’s the small birds that protect the big old trees, thus we want birds for the trees as well as for their own beautiful sakes.

final rows in calf paddockSo as well as the big areas of plantings, we began to make small 20 x 20 metre “connectivity” plots, stringing a network of them across the paddocks to link up trees that have lost their neighbours, the river corridor, and substantial areas of bushland to the northeast and southwest.  With three lots of plots in 2014 and 2015, we have been able to connect several kilometres together across previously inaccessible territory for small woodland birds.

Small connections are particularly valuable in places where I never intend to plant windbreaks, such as in the centre of larger paddocks.  It also seems to me that the smaller plantations are much more defensible against fire than long windbreaks without gates.  For example,  Frank has described fighting a fire at Jugiong where they simply couldn’t get around a fenced windbreak, and meanwhile the fire got well away from them.  He points accusingly at some of the plantings along Jeir Creek as places where they used to be able to stop a bushfire, and now won’t be able to.  Mind you, he seems to say that about all trees.  Anyway,  I’ve planned windbreaks (where I can) to cut across and hopefully slow the prevailing winds, while the small links keep the whole thing connected.

So now I’m regularly doing two sorts of planting – big and little, simultaneously, each year.

Since that’s plenty for now, I’d intended to save doing individual paddock trees for when all our big areas were established, to widen their effectiveness into the purely grassy areas. I know that for trees to survive well they need to have some sort of ecosystem around them, particularly shrubs, and that works best in a larger enclosure.

Nevertheless, I’d been thinking for a while of experimenting with some really tiny enclosures, just three plants in each, using stiff mesh and star pickets.   That should be just enough to give some support for the new trees, and cover for the birds while they grow.

One of the advantages of the idea was that while the materials are more expensive than for a long strained-wire fence, it takes no particular skill to build them.  A roll of tie-wire and some pliers, and away you go.

Anyway, my hope was that these little trios of trees would survive and thrive, where most of the individual native trees Dad planted in the 1960s and 70s were a miserable failure. guards closeup 2

Through the generosity of the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife  and Land for Wildlife we can now try out this system  by doing ten of them.

Craig undoing wireIt wasn’t quite as easy as I’d hoped.  There’s a reason that most people don’t try to carry around 6 metre lengths of steel mesh.  It’s very awkward.   Individually, they’re not that heavy, but once you have more than one to carry, they have quite a bit of weight.  Also they slip and pin your fingers, bend and catch on the ground and generally misbehave.

I bought thirty pieces of mesh for this project.  Having ordered them from MA Steel in Yass, I happily turned up with my new 3 metre trailer at their yard. They looked at it doubtfully.  “If it’s just a couple of pieces, you can teardrop them, tie them up, and they’ll fit.  But you can’t do that with this many.”Triangle mesh Craig undoing straps 2

They offered me the use of their 8 metre trailer instead and I took it.  As I lumbered my way into the paddock, I learned a few things about very long trailers.  Such as, wow, that stopping distance is long, and hmm, you need to allow a bigger turning circle if you don’t want to hit a gatepost, for example.  The paddocks were wet and slippery, but thankfully there was no nonsense with sliding sideways down the hill and going upside down in a gully.   I did think that might be a possibility.  I called Craig and he opened gates for me so I could go smoothly through (apart from clipping the gatepost) and slither to a stop right where I wanted to be.   I even had enough room to make a big turn and slither right out again after unloading.

Matt carrying tree suppliesThe following week we had help from my lovely new tree planting assistant, Matthew Kent,  and Dr Sonal Singhal who took time off from the University of Michigan to smack in star pickets with enthusiasm and determination.  It turns out that when you make a triangle on a steep slope, the pickets have to be vertical, but the mesh has to be perpendicular to the ground, and the result is a lot more bits sticking out than any professional fencer would allow.  Never mind.

This year’s grant covers ten triangles.  Each one has three pieces of mesh, six star pickets because the centre of the 6m pieces of mesh were a bit wobbly, and most importantly, one tree and two shrubs.   I placed them around a ridgetop planting from last year, spaced them at around thirty to forty  metres apart, and made sure that each of the big remnant trees on the hill got at least two nearby.  Ten enclosures don’t go very far on a big hillside, but they’ll more than double the number of solo paddock trees on that slope.  They were also slower to plant than a bigger enclosure, because of all the picking up and moving from place to place.

Remnant tree with location of five triangles around itThe grant includes two more years of ten enclosures, so that’ll be a good start on my big deficit in paddock trees.  It will increase the area supported by my regular connectivity plots hugely.  After the three years, if it works well, I plan to start some similar paddock tree clumps on the other side of the river.  After five years I hope to be able to pull up the original star pickets and move my pieces of mesh to new locations nearby (no trailer needed), thus continuing the process as many times as I can.Triangle close to tree

So now, I have three levels to work on – big, middle-sized and little.  Unlike Goldilocks, all sizes are right for me.  I just have to wait for my fingers to recover from being squashed between pieces of mesh.

Vege garden after frost

AFTER THE FROST

The Big Wilt has finally come.  Every year when the frosts arrive, the summer plants die back and make way for the ones that can take the cold.

This year we waited a long time for the changeover.  In some ways it was a vindication of my messy, lazy style of vegetable gardening, the one where I keep sticking in new things, but don’t pull out the old ones until after they’ve gone to seed and died. Continue reading

narrawa burr green fruit

WEEDS – OOPS, NOT A WEED

There’s a look that weeds tend to have:  often spiky like a thistle,;definitely fast growing;  pretty flowers perhaps; obviously not delicious to sheep (so still in existence in a paddock);and setting lots of seed for example. Continue reading

Flood 2016 view from rock outlook

MIGHTY MURRUMBIDGEE

Even in the dark I can tell when the river has started to flood.  I love to hear the normal soft rushing sound at night, a little like distant traffic.  This is more.  It’s a freeway roar that means big standing waves crashing against the rocks.  Big water on the move is magnificent.

Whole islands disappear, leaving just a set of scrambling waves, rushing to get past. Continue reading

COG Survey Carkella large

OUT STANDING IN A FIELD

A few old trees make all the difference when you’re doing a bird survey.  The bare, newly planted paddocks on Carkella and Adnamira were limited to a few species, mainly parrots (galahs,red-rumps, rosellas) and a small family of magpies.

Red-rumped parrot photo by Leo from iNaturalist.org

Red-rumped parrot photo by Leo from iNaturalist.org

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wombat daytime closeup

WOMBAT NEWS

IMG_4337Our lovely neighbour Cathy Campbell has a new project.  It’s called “Managing Mange in the Mullion” (that’s the title of the Facebook group also) and involves counting wombats, working out how many of them are affected by sarcoptic mange and treating them using “burrow flaps” that deliver a dose of medicine automatically at the entry to their underground lairs. Continue reading

Georgia and Yin and hillside cropped

STRIP TREES

It’s that time of year again, when we happily send some young trees out naked into the winter.Yin and maximum number of covers ever

The ones that seem large enough have their wildlife and frost resistant covers removed, so that we can recycle them for this year’s plantings.   That’s hundreds of covers to be jerked up, flattened and carried back to the truck, then transported to our overcrowded garage for storage. Continue reading

Craig with drip torch

WEEDS PART 1- THE BURNING QUESTION

Farming, like nature, is messy.  It’s nice to see the smooth green grass of spring covering the hills and disguising the rocks.  The modern golf course look.   Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily what you need either for wildlife or for grazing stock. Continue reading

Pelican footprints

PELICAN TRACES

Pelican on river vertical 2

Before I got glasses for short-sight at the age of eleven, I used to wonder why people made such a fuss about birds. Most of them were invisible as far as I was concerned.  The only ones I never had trouble seeing were the big ones:  the egrets, the Wedge-Tailed Eagles, the black swans (which I’ve rarely seen since we’ve been back here) and, of course, pelicans (pelecanus conspicillatus).

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Hannah Miller with hoe at Cutting2

SEEDING FOR BEGINNERS

2011 planting

Extreme tree planting

Seed collecting is a new art for me.  It requires timing, observation and knowledge of what you’re looking for.  Mostly I’m nervous that I’ll just take the seeds off a plant and waste them by not planting them in time. Continue reading

Hosing the tree 1

ROMAN CANDLE AT MIDNIGHT

Whole tree burning with flames at baseAs I wandered outside on my way to bed a few nights ago, I noticed a speck of red light on a hilltop.

A star?  I’ve been tricked before by how bright they can be in the bush.  A red star?  Venus?  Wrong direction. Definitely not a car tail-light, on the top of a rocky ridge.

As I dithered, the single speck became two, one above the other.  Definitely a fire, probably caused by the lightning storm that played around us all evening, making the tv signal jump and flicker.  Still uncertain, I consulted the only other person awake at that time, my brother Andrew.  He at least has had some experience with fire fighting.coals at foot of burning tree

“Definitely a fire.  Definitely too wet to do any damage.”  The rain was still pouring down.  “Go to bed and look at it in the morning.”

Okay, useless consultation over.  That ridge is at the back of my Box  Gum woodland planting area, full of long summer grass and baby trees.  No way was I going to leave it until morning.  Although the ground was wet now, a few hours of wind would dry it off to a flammable state.  We had a similar lightning struck tree three years ago that smoldered for two days, then took off, burning about forty hectares before it was put out, needing several trucks and firefighters. Continue reading

Closeup ramphotyphlops

BLIND SNAKE

In the darkness, I heard the dog barking and scuffling with something in the gravel driveway.  I assumed it was a beetle.  Obviously something small.  But when I went over to look I could see it was a snake.

Calypso was dodging in and out enthusiastically.  So much for the snake-avoidance training.   I shouted at her, though, and she backed off.

“Is it a baby brown?”  I wondered.  It was too light-coloured for a red-bellied black snake.

But our biological dinner guests started shouting “Typhlops! Typhlops!”

Whatever that meant. Continue reading

Serra Bonita forest looking to lowlands

THANK YOU FOR THE WATER…

Heliconia Serra BonitaBrazil’s coastal rainforest could hardly be more distant from a sheep farm in New South Wales.  Yet I found visiting it both inspirational and helpful for my own plans.

The rainforest plant life is nothing like our dry eucalypts and grasses.  While there are a few ancient relatives of Australian plants, most of the vegetation looks as if it’s been ordered from a hothouse catalogue – heliconias, bromeliads, philodendrons, orchids and more. Continue reading

ready to rip the lines

RIPPING INTO OUR PROBLEM PADDOCK

Tree planting doesn’t always go as planned.

In 2011, before we actually moved back to Australia, I spoke to Graham Fifield at Greening Australia about being part of their WOPR (Whole Paddock Rehabilitation) program.  That program is designed to revegetate an area of 10 hectares or more, using bands of trees and shrubs directly seeded on the contours.   It uses existing paddocks, so doesn’t require the extra fencing that most tree-planting needs.  After five years, the grazing animals are allowed back in, so it’s not taken out of production permanently.

Direct seeding equipment 2012. Looks like it has a tuba attached underneath.

Direct seeding equipment 2012.

I was interested in trying direct seeding, partly because the way I plant tube-stock trees (with deep drilled holes, plastic covers, mulch, heavy watering, fertilizer, more mulch) is pretty labour-intensive.  If seeding worked, it could be an easy way out.  I was feeling a little overwhelmed at the (643 hectare) size of the entire farm rehabilitation project, so doing 10 hectares at once seemed like it would be a big step forward.  I counted my tree seedlings in the thousands well before they were germinated. Continue reading

Cam carrying a log

WASHING AWAY PART TWO – STICKS AND STONES

One way to stop topsoil from disappearing from under our feet is to use loose vegetation. Anything from grass and weeds to big logs will help catch it as it flows past.

The Southern ACT Catchment Group ran a workshop recently with Cam Wilson from Earth Integral as the expert advisor on how to make the best use of sticks and stones on small areas of erosion before they become large ones.

a knee-deep gully

A knee-deep gully

“Start small” Cam advised. “If the erosion hole is deeper than your knees, it’s probably too big for a beginner”.   Continue reading

Planting sign

A BIG DAY OUT FOR SMALL BIRDS

diamond firetail finch photo by Chris Tzaros

diamond firetail finch photo by Chris Tzaros

This year the grand finale of our tree linkage project was not even on our own land.  To complete the 3.9 kilometres (2.4 miles) of small plots that will allow birds like diamond firetails (stagonopleura guttata) and speckled warblers (chthonicola sagittata) to move around the landscape, we planted a larger area at the edge of the Dog Trap Road.  A paddock that actually belongs to our neighbour Suzanne.

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planting among the rocks

THE GREEN ARMY INVADES

I was quite cautious when the idea of a “Green Army” was proposed.  It seemed like a political stunt.  And the cost of the payslips was going to be subtracted from Landcare, a community organization I admire a great deal.

Who was this Army going to attack?  The trees?  Us?

Who was going to join up?  Willing people? Or grumpy teenagers who’d rather be playing video games, only moving when they were driven along with pitchforks?

rocksAnd how would they feel about planting in rocks?

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Chelodina longicollis photo by Joachim Muller from iNaturalist

GOOD WEATHER FOR TURTLES

Chelodina longicollis photo by Nathan Ruser from iNaturalist

Photo by Nathan Ruser from iNaturalist.org

We don’t often see Eastern Long Necked Turtles (Chelodina longicollis), as they spend most of their time in the water.   The Murrumbidgee River is rarely clear enough to see to the bottom where they hang out.  We do sometimes see them hiking overland after rain.  When you pick them up they not only hide as best they can inside their shell, they can give off a thin, stinky liquid that presumably is meant to make you go away and leave them alone.

It works on me.

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