Australia

VISITING OUR WEEDS

Thistles and brooms, ryegrass and goosegrass and vetch.

The more I learn about the weeds that infest our paddocks, the more I find myself spotting them when we travel.

Fancy names, multiple names, “Great Mullein”, “Salvation Jane”, “Horehound” and “Pellitory of the Wall”.

Some are clearly at home, well controlled by the climate, or insects or other features that keep them in check.  Others are clearly weeds to the places we visit also.

Some are surrounded by little fences, protected plants in their place of origin, hardly surviving their own onslaught of invaders, like the pine trees of the Madonie forest in Sicily, a tiny patch of grass on the old castle mount in Cambridge, or what looked like serrated tussock in a municipal planter in Malta.

Some of our Esdale weeds were Australianised by the homesick, like Scotch thistles and Scotch broom.

Some were brought for their medicinal qualities, like variegated thistles  or St John’s Wort.

Others were brought even more deliberately, as part of agricultural projects, like African Lovegrass, a contamination of Consol grass, to be used for erosion control.

Blackberries, dandelions, and nettles for food.

Hawthorn for hedges.

All necessary to people who could see no potential in the unknown Australian plants around them.

All essential so the invaders could feel at home, by bringing more invasives with them.

Left behind was the sense of living together with the land, keeping the seasons according to ancient knowledge, like the swallow return in Sicily, which helped farmers time their crop planting.

Such traditional knowledge existed in Australia too, before Europeans.

In the meantime,  Australian plants have joined the worldwide whirlwind of plant mixing, especially eucalypts planted for timber and windbreaks.

The eucalypts in Sicily looked particularly miserable, as invasives sometimes do when a single predator makes it across the big divide and begins to control them again.  Sicily certainly needs trees (the ones that weren’t chopped down by the ancient Greeks were removed by the Normans), but Sydney Blue Gums were a strange and now unhealthy choice.

At least, as we wandered the hills of Sicily, Cornwall, Tamil Nadhu, or wherever, there were some things that haven’t joined our Esdale irritations.Sicily roadside thistle Petralia

Or not yet, anyway.

Sicily roadside thistle
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DONE, BUT DUSTY

Amazingly, we’re done with our main project for 2018!

After the bitter weather on our big planting a few weeks ago, I was worried we’d never get our whole Glossy Black Cockatoo project finished.  Thankfully, Darren Menachemson and a wonderful crew from ThinkPlace plus a Greening Australia “Adopt a Plot” team came to our rescue. Continue reading

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.  Continue reading

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

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

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

MIGHTY MURRUMBIDGEE

Even in the dark I can tell when the river has started to flood.  I love to hear the normal soft rushing sound at night, a little like distant traffic.  This is more.  It’s a freeway roar that means big standing waves crashing against the rocks.  Big water on the move is magnificent.

Whole islands disappear, leaving just a set of scrambling waves, rushing to get past. 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

Continue reading

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