WHERE DO ALL THE OLD TREE GUARDS GO?

covers blown against the fence

It’s an embarrassment that when I see litter in our paddocks.  That’s because it’s usually my own: one of my tree guards that has blown off and landed in the creek, or among the ti-tree, or strung up against a barbed-wire fence.

But collecting them again is the easy part.  The problem is what to do with the hundreds of covers that stay on, doing their job, and then need to be recycled?

If you want a seedling tree or shrub to survive out in a paddock, you generally have to guard it.  Guard it against rabbits, frost, loss of moisture and so on.

Over the years we’ve tried all sorts of protection – from star pickets and mesh, teamed with water-filled beer bottles (worked against rabbits, but were not great against frost and moisture loss), then to big floppy plastic “grow tubes” which were held up by three wooden stakes,  (a lot better against moisture loss and frost,  but needed a fence to protect against the sheep). Then to the recycled wax-cardboard milk cartons, which were smaller, easier to carry but not as much protection.  They mostly disintegrate in a year.  Since 2011 we’ve been using corflute (fluted multi-wall polypropylene) in larger sizes that protect the growing plants for longer.   It’s sturdy against rabbits, frost and help with moisture retention, and is easy to put up, only needing one stake.

2011 planting

The ones we use are a delightful pink, from Global Land Repair, which has the extra benefit of showing up on the hillsides so that I can admire my plantings from a distance.   The pink is also supposed to  encourage photosynthesis and rapid root growth.   One batch of covers faded rather quickly, and it did seem to me that the trees planted in those ones struggled a little more, but I may just have been bitter because I couldn’t see them on the hillside.

We’ve tried several different sizes and settled on a medium-sized Pioneer Plus.   Some of the earlier ones we tried were bigger, but to stop them flying away on the wind, they had holes drilled in the sides, which the branches grew through and were tough to remove.  The large ones without wind-holes are difficult to get a grip on to remove, and heavier to carry up steep hills, not to mention the time I asked my assistant Trent to put out 200 of them some days before we started planting.  When the weather turned windy, they took off like kites and turned up hundreds of metres away festooned like giant pink flowers on a patch of rose briars.  Matt Kilby from Global Land Repair is very keen on having wider tops to allow branches to spread naturally, but I find this just allows more access to the kangaroos to nibble it down to a stump, so I prefer his straight-sided ones when I can get them.

It was interesting to compare the guards used by Greening Australia, which are a conservationist-attracting pale green, ready glued into a straight triangular tube shape.  When the Green Team planted our problem paddock on Adnamira they used rip lines plus the covers, very healthy plants, a rather splintery softwood stake, a staple to stop them flying away, and water.  That was much quicker than our twelve step planting program (hole or rip-line, plant, mycorrhizae, tree-starter minerals, coir mulch mat, cover, stake, extra wood-chip mulch, and water – okay that’s only nine steps, but it feels like twelve).

I no longer spray my rip lines or planting hole locations before I put the trees in, because it seemed to cause more trouble than it was worth.  Instead I use a coir mat and lots of heavy mulch to suppress surrounding grass growth afterwards.  That has the extra benefits of keeping moisture in the ground and breaking down into nutrients for the trees.

Even after seeing Greening Australia in impressive action I still like my pink covers, mainly because they are easier to reuse.  The Global Land Repair covers also have a foot that bends up.  Once installed they don’t usually blow away, so don’t need a staple.  The hardwood stake they’re designed for is much less splintery, and stronger, so I often get to re-use that as well, if it’s not gripped by the ground so hard I can’t remove it.  If the tree has grown quickly, usually a wattle, it’s possible to unfold them to get them off, rather than having to cut down the side or squash the new branches through the original small hole.

A weak point in all corflute covers is the edge of the hole where the stake goes through, which tends to tear to the side.   I’ve tried using duct tape to repair that, but it tends to melt and fall off over time.

Most of my pink covers get used two to four times.   Each year I plant about a thousand trees, and recover about 6-700 usable covers.  If the plants grow slowly, I leave many on for two to three years.  Over the years in the sun they fade a little, and after four or five years they get brittle and have to be retired.

It seems a shame to simply send them to landfill.  I supplied a few torn ones to my neighbour Cathy to see if they’d work as flaps on wombat burrows, but they were too soft.  In the end she preferred pieces of chicken wire that the wombat would see through more easily, and receive its dose of anti-mange medicine calmly.  An angry wombat is something to avoid.

Andrew at Pakaflex 1I asked my brother Andrew, who is in the plastics industry, whether corflute could be recycled and he told me it was polypropylene, which is a Group 5 recyclable plastic, “It’s miscible” he said “Miscible, not mixable, for some reason that’s the term they use, but it means it can go back in the mix with both group 5 and group 6 plastics.”  As I hung up he was still muttering “miscible, what a stupid word”.

I called Matt Kilby from Global Land Repair and he agreed to get the recycling triangle and number 5 printed on the future batches.  On that basis I managed to get some into the recycling containers at the Murrumbateman tip, although the manager was doubtful.  .

The Greening Australia ones don’t have the recycling symbol.  I don’t want to re-use them because I’d have to buy the fatter, splintery stakes and a stapler, and I prefer my pink covers.   So I called Graham, one of my contacts at Greening Australia, and asked what I should do?  I discovered that they were happy to take back any that were re-usable (note to self – take a screwdriver to get the staples out without ripping the corflute).  That covered about half of them.

He said they’d had a lot of trouble trying to find somewhere to send the unusable ones, and the recycling stations in Canberra wouldn’t take them, with or without a recycling symbol.

After talking to  Graham I did a bit more internet surfing and found that Corex in Melbourne will take back pallets of clean corflute for recycling at no cost from New South Wales.    That’s interesting.  Maybe we can get an annual program going to collect it up and send it back????

In the meantime, Craig wanted the buckets of broken covers out of the shed, so I took them to Murrumbateman Recycling Station and hallelujah, they took them because the top one showed the recycling triangle. recycling symbol Together me and the guy on duty stuffed a full bag of Number 5 PP.  I hope they go to a good home.

 

 

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SPRING SURPRISES

enthusiastic weeds on the sheep manure pileOne of the things I love about gardening is the unexpected arrivals.  After being away for three weeks we had a predictable explosion of spring weeds – sticky weed, nettles and grasses especially.   Many of them arrived with the sheep manure dug up from under the woolshed a few months ago.

Also expected were the running-wildly-to-flower brassicas – broccoli, kale, and bok choy plants, as well as lettuces and leeks for a bit of variation (and wasteful non-eating).

More delightful were the strawberries (by the bowl), the remaining broccoli heads and the asparagus in big fat stalks.  My theory was I should keep planting a few new asparagus roots each year until I began to have too much to eat in a season.   I think I’ve finally reached that point.

Also doing well are the snow peas.  All of them have been pushed along (like the weeds) by the big doses of sheep manure, so it was definitely worth the trouble.  This year some of them were flowering pink, as were some surprise poppies.  They matched nicely with Mum’s camellia.

Even the dwarf peach tree was hiding surprise peaches, despite the attack of curly-leaf disease which I was too sick to treat at the right time.peach hiding among leaves

A further surprise among the overgrown parsley though, I have no idea where that came from…hmmmspring surprise

Best surprise of all – having our friend Robyn Evans visit from Brisbane and weed the grass from among our irises, our sudden group of yellow irises among the usual blue ones.  Robyn among the yellow irises

GOLDEN DAYS

Suddenly, while I was still coughing and wheezing from the flu, spring arrived on the hills around us.  It seemed as if every type of wattle and fruit tree began to flower simultaneously, even while the mornings remained so cold and frosty I couldn’t step outside without going into a coughing fit. Continue reading

DEATH OF A GIANT

When trees attack they often do so without warning.

A few months ago, a massive old eucalypt (I thought possibly a Blakely’s red gum, but my identification skills are poor – or maybe a very large Red Box (eucalyptus polyanthemos )  in the crop paddock near the house suddenly turned into a crushing giant squid-shaped thing, demolishing fences and flattening my hopes of helping it live into another century. Continue reading

UP AND DOWN THE HILLS

Despite the dry ground and heavy frosts, 2017’s winter planting season has gone really well.  I’m down to a couple of weekends planting extra plots to use up 100 leftover plants.

Increasing the number of regular helpers has made a great difference, as has Matthew’s reliability and skill as my outstanding Chief Planting Assistant. Continue reading

RAKALI SIGHTING

I’ve been looking out for Rakali for a while now, ever since my wonderful assistant Matt found a yabby claw out on the creek bank while we were doing  water testing at Lizard Crossing.   I was told that water-rats (or rakali) like to take their food out onto the bank to eat.

Unfortunately, the first one I saw was dead.  So was the second one.

Continue reading

A RIPPER OF A DAY

Sometimes everything just seems to go right.  This last weekend was one of those.

We finally had a planting location where we could use the ripper.  This is my big project for this year – a big windbreak on Adnamira which will connect a gully with the existing ridgetop windbreak.

Continue reading

BEETLING ABOUT

We have some beautiful beetles here, and some that annoy me by eating trees that I would like to have survive, but I’d never paid much attention to the little black beetles that crawl around on the ground.

Then in March we had a visit from Kip Will from UC Berkeley who was interested in carabid ground beetles.  (Not rabid, as I thought when he first said it.)  To check out what we have, we set up pit traps (plastic beer cups buried in the dirt) at various locations in the Box Gum woodland, helped by Fabian and Martta.

Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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. 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: 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