Australian plants

UNTHINKABLE WEATHER

After months of flu last year, I was very excited when Ben Hanrahan from Greening Australia offered help with planting our new Glossy Black Cockatoo area on the steep gully behind the house.

It’s been a dry year so far, with only scattered amounts of rain making the soil just moist enough for planting.  Mostly we’ve had sunny days and warm temperatures.

We’d ripped and fenced and prepared for the arrival of the mystery volunteers.  Ben didn’t say who they were, just that there were lots of them.   But as we waited for the buses to arrive, the sunny morning began to sour.  Matthew ran around putting rocks on each coir mat to keep them from flying away.  The piles of pink corflute covers heaved and flapped against the heavy weights we’d put on them.

Looking at the surging clouds, Craig, Ben and Matt began digging some “demonstration” holes, to shorten the planting process.

Then the rain came down, just as the two big buses arrived.  cockatoo 2 thinkplace team arrivalThe lovely volunteers from ThinkPlace were instantly soaked despite raincoats and plastic ponchos, but gamely set about transporting food and drinks up to the verandah of the house.  All concept of having lunch out in the paddock was abandoned, but the crew was lively and willing to give some planting a go.

Ben explained the Glossy Black Cockatoo program, where allocasuarina verticillata (drooping sheoak) that have gone missing from the landscape are being replanted to allow these small black cockatoos to move around the landscape again.   I gave a short explanation of what we’re trying to do at Esdale and Adnamira, including encouraging biodiversity and resilience in the landscape while still maintaining a productive sheep farm.

cockatoo 2 blakely box gumI also really want to protect and preserve the big remnant trees we do have, some of which could be up to five hundred years old.  They desperately need understorey plants that will protect the birds that then eat the insects that destroy the trees.   One of our most beautiful Blakely’s red gum trees is in the area we were planting.

Having cowered under shelter through what we hoped was the worst of the weather, we all headed up to the gully for planting demonstrations (almost drowned out by the flapping noise of plastic ponchos), and then let the volunteers loose.  The rain returned, with more wind, covers flying across the hill and having to be chased down, mattocks swinging energetically as more holes were dug, each plant gently separated from it’s tube, planted and protected.

I took to making covers, keeping my foot on the pile while shoving stakes through the holes.  They wrestled in the gusts, occasionally flying back to spreadeagle against the fence.   Usually, that’s the easy job.

When the sleet began, the amazing crew was already two thirds of the way across the hillside.  I worried that if we went on, we’d lose people to hypothermia, but they had their heads down and fought up the other side of the gully toward the fence.

After another twenty minutes or so, Ben decided things were getting too dangerous, and we went back to the house to eat the lunch (out of the rain).    At that point most people were chilled and willingly headed back to the buses to go home, but a small crew went back and finished the last dozen when the rain let up slightly.

cockatoo 2 after thinkplace planting 1

I was frankly amazed that we got 240 trees planted on steep, rocky ground under those circumstances.   Thank you ThinkPlace (and Greening Australia) for dealing so well with our unthinkable weather.   cockatoo 2 after thinkplace planting 3 sunny

 

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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.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UNDRESSING TREES AND OTHER ENTERTAINMENTS

Once we’ve got our trees planted, we usually walk away for several months and hope for the best.  Cattleyard plantation 2013 after planting wide

But eventually we come back and check on them.

On the Easter weekend we had a whole crew of helpers to strip remaining covers from the 450 trees and shrubs planted in May 2013 near the cattleyards.  Also known as “Georgia’s Patch”.  Some of the wattles are now pretty tall and visible from a distance.   That’s great for being able to see them when you drive past. The eucalypts have also taken off since the last time we looked at them in January, although the apple boxes (eucalyptus bridgesiana) tend to flop about when they’re released and disappear into the long grass.   Continue reading

PLANTING IN DRY GROUND

The Easter Bunny this year brought friends and excellent company – and the planting of 182 trees and shrubs

.American Gothic Millie and Tom with mallet and mycorrhizaeTricia as the claw monster

Generally, our method of planting trees and shrubs requires lots of water.  We pour on 10 to 20 litres per tree to give them a head start in our dry landscape.   We add mulch and a stout pink corflute plastic cover to help preserve the humidity, among other things. Then we walk away and hope for the best.  We give them more water if the temperature goes over 40 degrees celsius (that’s 104 in Fahrenheit for people on the old-fashioned measurements).

our truck mounted fire and tree watering pump

Our truck mounted fire and tree watering pump plus 800 litre tank

But out new plants have the best chance of doing well if the general ground moisture is good and there’s regular rain after they’re planted.

Ground moisture when we planted this Easter – nil. Continue reading

A PICNIC UNDER THE MISTLETOE

We regularly see mistletoebirds (Dicaeum Hirundinaceum) around the house and around the hills.  They’re a flowerpecker with a taste for mistletoes.

Mistletoebird (Dicaeum Hirundinaceum) photo by Leo from iNaturalist.org

Mistletoebird (Dicaeum Hirundinaceum) photo by Leo from iNaturalist.org

Mistletoes grow all over the world, not just at Christmas for romantic kissing purposes. Unlike the area north of us, near Lake Burrinjuck, however, our eucalypts have few mistletoes.  I’m not sure why.  Maybe they’re too widely spaced.  It’s probably for the best given all the other stresses on them.  Parasitic mistletoes are a big drag on a host tree’s resources.

Eucalypt with mistletoe, Wee Jasper Road near Yass

Eucalypt with many  mistletoes, Wee Jasper Road near Yass

It’s puzzled me what the mistletoebirds are eating around here.

Meanwhile, Lesley Peden and I were jolting around the paddocks looking at the sites I want to use for tree-planting this year. Continue reading

CALLISTEMON CITY

Mum and I were having a walk around the garden checking out all the growing things when we passed the callistemon bush that grows on the edge of the lookout.  I’d been seeing the flowers from a distance but it wasn’t until we were up close that I realized it was amazingly alive with insects feeding from the cascades of pink blossoms.  callistemon wide

Continue reading

WHO STOLE THE CANOPY?

For the third time in three years, many of our trees are looking like ghosts of their former selves.

Christmas beetleThe immediate, obvious, culprit is the Christmas Beetle (an anoplagnathus species of scarab), a bit of seasonal joy in a shiny suit.  If the weather’s right, it digs its way up from underground in November or December, munches its way to February, then dies.

Their larvae are called “curly grubs” around here and can be found pretty much wherever I’ve tried digging – from high up on hillsides to the sandy soil along the river, under the casuarinas.  They don’t seem to lay their eggs where they feed, necessarily.  Beetle bodies lie thickly under our eucalyptus nicholii peppermint gums that they don’t eat at all.

I hoped that meant that peppermint gums poison them, but I think they just like the shade.  The shade that they remove elsewhere by eating the leaves of the Blakeley’s and Yellow Box gums. Continue reading

WHICH? WHAT? HOW MANY? THE PLANT LIST

Nick and Nick's Patch aka K2C Exclosure 4

Nick and Nick’s Patch aka K2C Exclosure 4

Last autumn we planted up five mini enclosures to provide protection for small native birds and to re-establish a corridor from the Mullion Creek down to the Murrumbidgee River.  It turned out to be a great way to get a lot of connection done without a massive amount of time spent planting.

At the time I was glad to see a lot of native speargrasses and scattered clumps of native bluebells (wahlenbergias) among the introduced grasses and weeds.

WHAT WE PLANTED

Acacia dealbata Silver Wattle (1)
Acacia genistifolia Early Wattle (3)
Acacia implexa Hickory Wattle (3)
Acacia rubida Red-stemmed Wattle (5)
Acacia sp. a wattle (1) probably Sydney Green
Bursaria spinosa Sweet Bursaria (3)
Callistemon sieberi River Bottlebrush (5)
Eucalyptus macrorhyncha Red Stringybark (1)
Eucalyptus melliodora Yellow Box (4)
Eucalyptus polyanthemos Red Box (3)

The numbers in brackets show how many of the enclosures include that species.

I’m really happy to have this list as I sometimes lose track of what I planted, and it’s a long hike uphill to check.  In the heat of the moment I also sometimes make some odd choices.  Putting river bottlebrushes on the top of a ridge, for example.tree seedlings2Rainer and Lesley K2C

After we were done planting, Rainer Rehwinkel and Lesley Peden from the Kosciuszko to Coast Foundation came out and paced back and forward in each little area recording all the plants they saw.  It was early in the season, so many of them were very tiny.

I looked up and made links on the names for many of the plants that interested me or I didn’t know well.  I chose sites that had good information if I could, including the Atlas of Living Australia.  There wasn’t one site that covered everything well. Some were fascinating, such as EattheWeeds.com Continue reading

THE SCOOP ON BUTTON WRINKLEWORT

In my short career as a radio journalist for 2XX in Canberra, I had precisely one news scoop.

That was, tah dah, the discovery of a new species of wildflower, weirdly called the “button wrinklewort”, at the Queanbeyan Municipal Dump in 1983.

button wrinklewort closeupIt seemed sort of cool that someone had found a new flower, even if it was rather modest-looking.

And located in a dump. Continue reading