It’s that time of year again, when we happily send some young trees out naked into the winter.
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
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
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).
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
As 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.
“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
In the darkness, I heard the dog barking and scuffling with something in the gravel driveway. I assumed it was a beetle. Obviously something small. But when I went over to look I could see it was a snake.
Calypso was dodging in and out enthusiastically. So much for the snake-avoidance training. I shouted at her, though, and she backed off.
“Is it a baby brown?” I wondered. It was too light-coloured for a red-bellied black snake.
But our biological dinner guests started shouting “Typhlops! Typhlops!”
Whatever that meant. Continue reading
Brazil’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
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.
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
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
“Start small” Cam advised. “If the erosion hole is deeper than your knees, it’s probably too big for a beginner”. Continue reading
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.
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?
And how would they feel about planting in rocks?
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.
Last weekend we planted in two different directions at once.
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
At 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
Just before the weather began to turn cooler, a stranger came flapping through the garden.
It was large enough that you could expect to hear the wings beating.
Once we’ve got our trees planted, we usually walk away for several months and hope for the best.
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
The Easter Bunny this year brought friends and excellent company – and the planting of 182 trees and shrubs
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 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
The 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
I now have a wonderful kit that will tell me what’s in the water that flows past our house.
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.
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
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.
As 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