Greening Australia

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.

 

 

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KANGAROO ATTACK

They look so innocent.

But my, they have big teeth.

And lots of them.

I’m currently not feeling very friendly towards kangaroos.

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

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

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

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

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?

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

BAD FENCES

fence line 3There’s a saying about fences.  And it’s true.

I have an extra one: “If you want to plant trees on a grazing property, you’d better have good fences.”

Not as catchy.

Only a couple of years ago I was naive enough to think that a few star pickets could prop up a fence with sagging strainer posts.     But I’ve now learned that sheep and cattle are smart enough to find wherever the weak point is, and make their way through.

And if there wasn’t a weak point before, there will be one by the time they’ve finished scratching their rear ends or pushing at it.

What else does an animal have to do, standing around in a paddock all day, but plot a breakout? Continue reading