MAKING WILLOWS WEEP

When I was a child I loved to play around the “magical” twisted trunk of a huge weeping willow (salix babylonica) in a gully behind the house on Adnamira.  It was a little off-putting, however, when I traipsed down the paddock one day with my adventure Barbie dolls,  to find a whole nest of baby black snakes all writhing under the roots just where I’d planned to set up camp.  Nevertheless, I still have a fondness for weeping willows, from a bit more distance.

Along the Murrumbidgee river we also have black willows (salix nigra), crack willows (salix fragilis) which sound like nasty addicts but merely break easily, basket willows (salix rubens) and possibly white willows (salix alba).  Some of them have been growing in huge clumps for at least fifty years.   They were always in the same place and I never saw them spread, because they did not seed.

We planted cuttings from some of them along Mullion Creek and around the springs on Adnamira, as a way of stabilizing the banks.  It was wonderfully easy to jam them into the soft ground.

The weeping willows I’m not too worried about, but unfortunately, the non-weeping varieties are now able to seed and spread and potentially choke up the river, taking the place of the native casuarinas.  That’s a problem, because in the winter when willows drop their leaves, they affect the water quality and temperature,  again making the environment more hostile for the native fish and other creatures.   I’ve seen areas of the Molonglo river upstream from us that appear to grow nothing but willows.  In other places I’ve seen great success with willow control, allowing a refuge for native plants.

It’s only in the last five years that we’ve seen hundreds of new willow seedlings shooting up, meaning the invasion had reached us.  So I put “invasive willow eradication” on my list of jobs, waiting for the right moment.

The right moment occurred in the form of Fabian, visiting from Germany in February, who was prepared to tackle a variety of tasks I didn’t want to do alone (or some of them, frankly, at all).

We worked out what tools we would need.  I didn’t want to spray the foliage because the spray would go in the water, so we experimented with using a drill to make a hole in the bark and then spray glyphosate directly into it.  Unfortunately, we were using the drill on “backwards” so it was surprisingly hard work, and the drill was heavy.  It may have felt heavy because I was coming down with flu. Also the first spray bottle I tried simply dripped everywhere. So instead I got a nice sharp handaxe and a cheaper (but more effective) spray bottle and sent Fabian out again while I succumbed to the attack of flu.

The poisoning was a slow process because many of the young trees were growing among the rocks right at the edge, or even in the middle of the river, so Fabian had to wade out around them.  Definitely a job for the warmer weather.  And the older trees in many cases had been pushed by floods into a tangle of limbs that had to be individually treated.

None of the trees were removed.  We’ll just let them rot over time.  Any small cut branches were put up high to keep them from taking root.

Things were going well until Fabian came rushing back, covered in European wasp stings.  He’d been hanging upside down below a trunk, trying to reach some awkward branches with his axe, so it was hard to get right side up and run away.  His face and neck were horribly puffed up, as wasps, unlike bees, can sting over and over.

After he recovered, full of feelings of revenge, we scouted out the tree by night (when European wasps are less active), using red filters on head torches that supposedly meant they could not see us.
weapons for wasps

Unfortunately, the site was very awkward, slanting sidewards into the trunk.  To get really close to it would require balancing across the fallen branches.  Also, as we shone our supposedly “invisible” lights into the hole from a distance, I could see insect eyes staring straight back at me.   We beat a hasty retreat with our sprays and bottle of diesel fuel.   So did Michael Carter a few nights later when he went and checked out the possibility of pouring soap (a contact poison for them) into the hole.   We all had to finally admit it was a job for the professionals.

Most recently I went to check on how the willows were going (dying) and found pretty good results.  There’ll be more to do next year, but I hope no more wasps.

WATCHING GRASS GROW

Ever since I went to the Friends of Grasslands workshop in 2014 I’ve been itching to try my hand at revegetating native grasses, rather than only trees and shrubs.

PB030862Of course, that’s not all that easy to do.  Sue McIntyre has some good suggestions, but we are mostly forced to deal with weeds where we can, and hope that native grasses and forbs can do all right on their own.

On both farms, my parents made a big effort to “improve” the pasture with introduced grasses such as phalaris, clovers, and lucerne, which increase the carrying capacity for sheep  (you hope),  but need fertilizer and water to survive. During the “Millenium Drought” from 2001-2008, it was the native grasses that kept at least some coverage on the bare hills because of their ability to withstand lack of water.

I thought that there was some affinity between native grasses and rocks in particular, because that’s where I saw most of the remnant forbs and wildflowers. That was, until we had a visit from someone who’d worked at Esdale in 1970-71 and was very proud of having ripped all the hills he could with a tractor on a dangerous tilt and enthusiastically sowed introduced pastures.    The area we fenced for a Box-Gum woodland reserve was one of the ones that was just too steep to plough.box-gum-lower-planting-2-june-2014
I think the survival of native grasses has been highest on the back hills also partly because  the water supply was limited in the hot seasons, so it was less often grazed in high summer when the native grasses are seeding.  I’ve been working on making it possible to do more rotational grazing by improving the water supplies (digging a waterhole, adding troughs), but that may mean more summer grazing and less native grass.  Just locking the gate against sheep isn’t a great option though, because the land can be quickly overrun with wild oats, saffron thistles and other weeds.   It’s all a balancing act.

In the meantime, I had an opportunity to create a new area of native grasses on Adnamira when I had an old dump area covered up and levelled to provide access to one of our revegetation areas.   Continue reading

LIZARD CROSSING

It’s the time of year to see reptiles out and about on the roads again. bearded-dragon-on-road Bearded dragons (pogona barbata) do threatening push-ups as they try to frighten off approaching cars.  Or they lie as flat as possible like this one is doing, before scuttling quickly away.

Continue reading

A WALK IN THE GARDEN

This is the time of year for walking in gardens, when they’re often at their most beautiful.    They’re also the most work if you want to choose a particular look, rather than just take what comes.

waterfallOut on the hills, “what comes” is pretty good right now. Continue reading

LEARNING TO COUNT SEEDLINGS

My goal this year was to:

  • Check and do some replanting if necessary on last year’s plots on Adnamira and Carkella.  My guess was 50 to 80 because I knew some of them had had a hard time with the dry weather.
  • plant 30 trees/shrubs in tiny triangles on Adnamira
  • 30 trees/shrubs in a small connection plot in the Tank Paddock behind the homestead
  • 60 trees/shrubs in a rocky knoll connection plot in the dam paddock on Esdale
  • 500 trees/shrubs in a windbreak on Esdale (funded by Local Land Services)
  • TOTAL – 670 approxsection-1-looking-toward-cockatoo-area

What actually happened:

  • 150  trees/shrubs replaced on Adnamira, Carkella and Esdale – an unsatisfactorily high number of losses, due to the dryness and frost at planting,  and a long dry autumn followed by boggy wetness and clay soil in unexpected places.  It was however great that we were able to fill in some gaps in old plantations that had no shrubs while we waited and waited for the new fences to be constructed.   There are still some gaps at Carkella that we’ll fill next year.
  • 30 trees/shrubs  in the tiny triangle project and
  • 30 in the Dam paddock.
  • no Rocky knoll planting.  That will need at least 100, and will wait for next year.
  • 645 trees/shrubs in the Esdale windbreak, which still needs 100 more in next year’s planting, which will make a total of 745 for the whole area.
  • TOTAL FOR THE YEAR:  855 trees and shrubs

Continue reading

PIXIE DUST, KITES AND PINK HATS

There’s nothing better than a beautiful day out on the hillside, unless it’s a beautiful day out with lots of lovely people planting trees.

kristen-among-the-rocksjake-helpingplanting-with-a-puppy

This year we had the wonderful team from Justin Borevitz’s lab at ANU, along with another hundred yellow box  (eucalyptus melliodora) that they raised from seed, genotyped and either pampered or subjected to all sorts of tests (drought strtrees-in-truckess, various sprays etc).  In the last two years we have planted 30 to 50 of these which despite some setbacks in the way of frost, not to mention last autumn’s endless dryness, have been doing well.   The main challenge is transporting the big pots (this year big sections of pipe) up to where they’ll be planted. The rest of our plants come from Murrumbateman Landcare, Greening Australia or Damian DiMarco’s nursery on Wallaroo Road, making as wide and balanced a range of species as we can manage. Continue reading

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

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

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

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 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).

Continue reading

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

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