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.
Of 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.
I thought that there was some affinity between native grasses and rocks in particular, because that’s where I saw most of the remnant forbs and wildflowers. That was, until we had a visit from someone who’d worked at Esdale in 1970-71 and was very proud of having ripped all the hills he could with a tractor on a dangerous tilt and enthusiastically sowed introduced pastures. The area we fenced for a Box-Gum woodland reserve was one of the ones that was just too steep to plough.
I think the survival of native grasses has been highest on the back hills also partly because the water supply was limited in the hot seasons, so it was less often grazed in high summer when the native grasses are seeding. I’ve been working on making it possible to do more rotational grazing by improving the water supplies (digging a waterhole, adding troughs), but that may mean more summer grazing and less native grass. Just locking the gate against sheep isn’t a great option though, because the land can be quickly overrun with wild oats, saffron thistles and other weeds. It’s all a balancing act.
In the meantime, I had an opportunity to create a new area of native grasses on Adnamira when I had an old dump area covered up and levelled to provide access to one of our revegetation areas. Continue reading
The problem with Australian summers is you don’t know which you’re going to have: a nice day on the river, dinner with friends, or an invasion of flames.
I’ve started adding some tiny triangles to my collection of revegetation plots over our hills. Continue reading
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
For the third time in three years, many of our trees are looking like ghosts of their former selves.
The 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
Nick and Nick’s Patch aka K2C Exclosure 4
Last autumn we planted up five mini enclosures to provide protection for small native birds and to re-establish a corridor from the Mullion Creek down to the Murrumbidgee River. It turned out to be a great way to get a lot of connection done without a massive amount of time spent planting.
At the time I was glad to see a lot of native speargrasses and scattered clumps of native bluebells (wahlenbergias) among the introduced grasses and weeds.
WHAT WE PLANTED
The numbers in brackets show how many of the enclosures include that species.
I’m really happy to have this list as I sometimes lose track of what I planted, and it’s a long hike uphill to check. In the heat of the moment I also sometimes make some odd choices. Putting river bottlebrushes on the top of a ridge, for example.
After we were done planting, Rainer Rehwinkel and Lesley Peden from the Kosciuszko to Coast Foundation came out and paced back and forward in each little area recording all the plants they saw. It was early in the season, so many of them were very tiny.
I looked up and made links on the names for many of the plants that interested me or I didn’t know well. I chose sites that had good information if I could, including the Atlas of Living Australia. There wasn’t one site that covered everything well. Some were fascinating, such as EattheWeeds.com Continue reading
The ancient trees that stalked across the paddocks when I was a child were my first clue that something was wrong with our landscape.
They started to die.
“Theý’re old” said Dad. “They’ve had their time. We just need to plant some more.”
So he planted more. The Goodradigbee Shire supplied Sydney blue gums in little plastic tubes. The big trees were eucalypts, and so were the new little ones. Not the same type, or even a local type but that was what was available.
I lobbied for planting some wattles, because I liked the flowers and the way they’d made a golden line down the valley when we first arrived.
“They don’t live long enough. They die after five years.” said Dad.
The trees he planted died even more quickly , most of them before they even grew up to the top of their metal sheep guards. Each guard was expensive and time-consuming to make, requiring two or three steel star pickets and a length of netting, plus a certain amount of tie-wire and cursing the rocky ground. Many of them still sit empty, too much trouble to remove. Continue reading
A big attraction of setting up the “small bird stepping stone” plantations on Esdale this year (five 20m x 20m areas that link the Mullion Creek vegetation to the Murrumbidgee) was the promised monitoring of the plants and animals. I’m really interested to see what the changes will be as the trees and shrubs grow.
It’s great to have an outsider do the official counts because I’m a lousy birdwatcher. I let myself be discouraged at an early age because I was short-sighted and found it hard to pick out a swan at twenty paces. Craig is better, especially with raptors and parrots, but we’re both unreliable with calls and identifying the little brown birds that all look so alike to the ignorant.
Somehow, they can tell themselves apart. Continue reading
What an excellent idea, lilies that smell like chocolate.
Or vanilla, or caramel, depending on your sense of smell (or lack of it, in my case, thanks to allergies).
Something to make you smile, anyway.
When I saw the first glimpse of purple in the long grass, I thought it was Paterson’s Curse ( echium plantagineum), a European exotic which we’ve been working on controlling because it’s toxic and invasive. Continue reading
Seeds are such hopeful things.
The propagation days have started for the season at Murrumbateman Landcare. I usually go on the Thursday evenings, but this time I went on a Wednesday morning.
The seeds all look so enticing in their carefully marked plastic jars. I love the fact that there are neatly printed label for every possible thing we might sow. Continue reading
Things are blowing and banging around here. Trees lean over, the grass on the Adnamira hills ripples in patterns reminding me of a sandy sea bed. The hatch for our new guinea fowl house clatters every time a gust comes through. The irises in the garden flutter, no wonder they call them “flags”.
Somehow, it’s remarkably irritating. Tiring also, on the eyes and the ears.
Spring is the windy time of year here. At other times of year we often get still mornings and a breezy afternoon, but in the spring we can get day after day of wind whipping up the river valley from the northwest.
Although we had a millimetre of rain last night, there’s no sign of it. The ground is dry again and baking hard where there’s bare dirt. There’s nothing like wind for taking away soil moisture. The hills are turning from green to yellow almost as I watch, first the northwest facing slopes, and the ridges, then the more protected sides. Continue reading