Conservation

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)  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.a mess of branches

Unluckily, it was in the path of a wind-storm, or a Willy Willy, a giant version of those dust devils you see swirling about in newly ploughed fields.   You could see the line of this twister down the hill from near 2016’s Esdale windbreak, where it took down two dead tree trunks, then the big Blakely’s in its little compound, surrounded by young trees and shrubs planted in 2015,  then invisibly across the crop paddock to the trees over the trough in the Old Orchard, where it ripped off branches,  then straight at the old poplar by my new house entry gate, demolishing the side of the grid and smashing one of my little winged lion statues from Bali into tiny pieces of grey volcanic stone.

From there the storm  crossed the river to Adnamira and blew things about enough to make Richard Scanes comment “How about that wind storm?”.

I was very sorry to see my statue smashed, and the hard work that went into connecting up the automatic gate wasted, but the death of the big old live tree was really upsetting.

I thought perhaps it had been secretly eaten away from the inside by termites, but when we looked at the raw, exposed trunk it was obvious the wind had simply wrenched it off its base.downed tree ripped at base.jpgWhile Craig, Fabian and Andrew Leonard (mainly Andrew Leonard) sawed off branches and resurrected the fence, I stumbled around through the mess looking for the seedlings we put in.   Thanks to the lurid pink covers we found and straightened up all but one, which was firmly embedded under the main trunk.

At least these little ones have had an eighteen months start on replacing their ancient neighbour.  I’ll plant some more where the canopy used to be.  It’s nevertheless a huge loss that we no longer have that tree, one that was probably here before Europeans arrived in Australia.  It’ll be decades before any of the new starters have anything like its spread.

At least, since the timber is good, we’ll have a memento of the giant.  Sometime in the next month or so we plant to convert part the main trunk into slabs that we can use for benches and tables.   At a metre thick and very straight, it’s beautiful timber.

I would still rather have our old giant.

Valley trees 2015 2

Valley trees in 2015 after plantings

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.

Plus fantastic volunteers on our big planting days.Planting crew day 3 2017 So much better than when I started out all by myself in 2009 with a mattock, hauling buckets from a distant dam for water.

I loved introducing lovely Finnish Rotary exchange student Martta to Australian tree planting, although she wasn’t wild about the sharp saffron thistles.

Slowly, we’re building our wildlife connections and shelter across the landscape, despite the rocks and steep slopes.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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

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 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

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

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

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

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

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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