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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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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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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A SNACK BAR FOR GLOSSY BLACK COCKATOOS

Last weekend we planted in two different directions at once.  Craig watering Adnamira dam areaAndrew Henjak hammering stakes Adnamira dam plantation

We finished the final small tree lots that are part of the chain of connections across the Murrumbidgee river for small birds. That makes nine tree lots for connectivity only, plus two extra areas, a shelter paddock that used to be a calf-feeding area, and a decorative one that will have an avenue of white trunked eucalyptus mannifera at the entry to Adnamira .  The two extras will act as bird stepping stones as well. Continue reading

PLANTING HOPE

Peter reading prayer Anzac DayAt sunset on Anzac Day we planted an Aleppo Pine (pinus halepensis), a descendent of the Lone Pine at the centre of the 1915 battle at Gallipoli in Turkey.   I don’t usually plant non-native trees, but this one was special.

The Rev. Peter Dillon, a former Army Chaplain, and Dad of our neighbour Leonie, gave a moving speech about the war, a prayer and a reading of the Ode of Remembrance by Laurence Binyan – the one that goes “They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old…” 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 monsterEaster bunny Sophie planting

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

SPYING ON THE WOMBATS

the camera team Corin Pennock Steven Newson Andrew HenjakThe spy camera team arrived yesterday, armed with a big blue plastic crate full of gadgets, plus a couple of star pickets and a mallet.

While the wildlife wasn’t looking, Corin, Steve and Andrew set up three cameras in plausible places for passing four-legged traffic.  Or wriggling snake traffic.  Or winged traffic. Continue reading

WATERWATCHING

I now have a wonderful kit that will tell me what’s in the water that flows past our house.Measuring phosphates using colour disc 3

Finally, we have some way to tell what’s going on underwater, other than just admiring clear water rippling over rocks.   Or staring at turbid brown floodwater, with the occasional tree or wombat carcass floating by, while hoping that we’ll soon be able to get across.

flood at junction of Mullion Creek and Murrumbidgee bridge underwater

Andrew Leonard displaying a 2010 flood (no carcases)

Upper Murrumbidgee Waterwatch came to my assistance, specifically Woo O’Reilly and Damon Cusack who  introduced me to the world of water testing, water bug assessing and riparian condition reporting. Continue reading

WASHING AWAY – PART ONE – DAM IT UP

Topsoil is that thin band of living matter that lies across the landscape.  Except when it is undermined or dissolved by rain and carried downhill into first the gullies, then the waterways, leaving the water silty and the landscape denuded.

Boggy Creek erosion spiresAs a child I loved to play among the eroding soil spires where you could imagine yourself in a miniature Grand Canyon.  My little brother Andrew made endless tracks for his Matchbox cars in the walls of the gully near the house we now call Wombat Hollow.  Occasionally he and I would help the erosion along by creating bucket-powered rivers and flood catastrophes that would flush the tiny battered vehicles over cliffs and down to their doom.

The traditional way to discourage gully erosion is to throw in some old car tyres, kitchen equipment, broken fences and spare car bodies, and hope they will collect silt.  This sometimes even works. 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

EATING HISTORICAL FRUIT

In the last couple of years we’ve netted the most accessible of the peach trees that have naturalized along Mullion Creek to keep the cockatoos from eating them.  The whole operation is worse than trying to get a giant bride and her veil through a forest.

peach tree being wrappedFour people were needed (one of them tall) and a lot of long poles.  The trick is not to twist your ankle,  fall into the wombat hole, the thistles, or in among the blackberries that grow lower down the bank.    Last year Charles tried throwing the net over using a tent pole as a javelin, resulting in a snarl of unreachable netting at the top.  This year we modified the system to prod the net over and then wrap it around.    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

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UMBELLIFEROUS

I get a certain amount of flak for my untidy veggie garden.   I let things go to flower and seed and see what comes up from them next year.  I love that I can grow carrots without having to do anything at all but throw around a bit of compost.

veggie garden wide with carrotsI enjoy the flowers.

That’s where I learned my new favourite word.

It’s a mumbling, ominous-sounding adjective that doesn’t really suggest the prettiness and regularity of an umbrella shaped flower. 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

TAKING TO THE RIVER

The Murrumbidgee River is a significant part of our landscape here.  But it’s only in the summer that we really get to play with it.

2 young men in kayaks on riverwaterfall duo below

Charles and his cousins Will and Alex had intended to go out in our old Canadian canoe.  I was doubtful it would hold three large young men.  However,  it filled up with water for a different reason.  It turned out I’d forgotten they’d put a hole in it last summer and not fixed it.  Last time that happened I spent hours cursing, trying to find a shady, cool place to do the repair in 34 degree (Celsius) heat, covering myself in gloopy runaway resin and trying to decipher the instructions which were written for “dudes” fixing “dings” on the “rails” of their surfboards.

Luckily this time the Leonards came to our rescue with the loan of three kayaks. Continue reading

WHO GETS THE RAIN?

From our verandah lookout at the bottom of the river valley, it often seems that summer storms pass us by on either side.  Whenever the weather report says “showers” I assume that means “rain for other people”.

We look up at the ridgeline of Adnamira and see the clouds tumbling past on their way to Canberra.

When there’s rumbling and groaning from the sky, I hope it doesn’t mean fires started by lightning strikes.    With almost daily thunderstorms, there have been dozens of small fires and a few big ones.  Luckily we’ve had no storms that are completely dry around here… lately. Continue reading