Revegetation

SUMMER DAZE OR CIRCLE OF FIRE?

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.  intrepid-triple-canoeing-photo-by-caroline

We’ve had a hot summer, with the compensation of time on the river in my new canoe.   Learning to use it involved lots of shouting, and we lost the “drop-in” (read “drop-out”) middle seat in the big waterfall.  canoe-launch-christmas-day-2016

Even Mum took to the river in her fabulous sixties beach jacket.

Meanwhile the grass on the hills has dried to a crispy straw consistency, perfect for flames.  Craig watered some of the more accessible of this year’s tree plantings, and we checked up on others (mostly good news).

panorama-with-alan-and-lisa

With Alan and Lisa checking up on the little triangle plantations on Adnamira

Andrew Leonard and Frank have been helpful at keeping the grass well grazed around the house.  There’s  so little nutrition in what’s left, the sheep have had to be shifted to silage and “sheep nuts” to keep them alive.   Or be sold off.

We were glad to have the short grass last night.  Out to dinner with the neighbours, they got a phone message from Richard Scanes at Adnamira:  “Fire at the Esdale house”.  We left abruptly.   fire-closeupComing over the ridge our first sight of Esdale was glowing flames running up the hill from the orchard behind the house.  Craig says I was swearing as I crashed through the potholes on the road, but I don’t remember. We were glad that both households had the fire tanks ready to go on the back of the utes.  Other neighbours turned up very quickly, then the fire trucks appeared, flashing lights and big hoses, just in time for the mop-up .  Our Mullion brigade trucks took an extra fifteen minutes because the Yass Valley Council has left the Glenrock connecting road in such terrible shape. They’ll be hearing about it.

If we had to have a fire, it was a good night for it.  Completely windless, so the flames were only knee high and moving fairly slowly.   I could immediately see it had burned through part of the orchard, leaving a nice campfire of one of the old plum tree stumps, and into the neighbouring paddock, where a log was alight. After changing into jeans and boots,  I ran up the hill to the small plot of trees Matt and I planted in August.   While I waited for Craig ( who was having a struggle with the fire pump and then had to go and use the hose on the cypress near the house), I whacked at the flames with the mattock and cleared trenches in front of trees I hoped to save.  It did have some effect, but the results of a stream of water from Frank’s fire hose were much better.

The fire had clearly started from the dodgy leaning power pole behind the house, which has been reported multiple times to Essential Energy and the previous power companies.   They’ll be hearing more  about it from us.

The repair guys when they arrived looked for fried birds on the ground, but in fact a wire had come adrift, probably dropping a molten piece into the grass.   It makes me wonder, with all the local fires started by poles, whether it would be better to take the investment in replacing poles and put it into helping us all go off-grid.

Anyway, in the aftermath, there was little real damage. 1.8 hectares (4 acres) of burned ground.  The metal chicken tractor protected the chickens from the flames, the fences are metal or metal and concrete, the new garden beds and the big cypress trees along the fence were saved, the radio dog fence was fairly easily repaired.  Three of my new fruit trees are probably gone, and at least half of my little revegetation plot, but some of the ones that survived will have done so because of the covers and heavy mulch (hard to put out, but good insulation).

Steve Faulder, our local fire captain, came down to double check for smoke this morning (over the terrible Glenrock Road again).  He laughed when I said I’d prefer to see him under better circumstances.  “I’m getting a bit of complex” he said “With all these people who say they don’t want to see me round their places, this time of year.”

What have we learned?

  • It’s always good to have your fire pump ready in hot weather.   And working.
  • Get a new rake-hoe (much better than a mattock for clearing ground in front of a fire).
  • It’s always good to have plenty of beer on hand for the post-fire midnight recovery.
  • Wine and climbing through barbed-wire fences don’t mix.
  • When we build our shed, put in a gravity-fed standpipe for filling up water tanks.
  • Emergencies can happen on a still night.
  • Neighbours are the best.

A big thank you to Andrew and Leonie, Frank, Richard, and the crews from Mullion 1, 2, 7B, Cavan 1, and Jeir-Marchmont.

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

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

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

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

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 monster

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

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

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

WHICH? WHAT? HOW MANY? THE PLANT LIST

Nick and Nick's Patch aka K2C Exclosure 4

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

Acacia dealbata Silver Wattle (1)
Acacia genistifolia Early Wattle (3)
Acacia implexa Hickory Wattle (3)
Acacia rubida Red-stemmed Wattle (5)
Acacia sp. a wattle (1) probably Sydney Green
Bursaria spinosa Sweet Bursaria (3)
Callistemon sieberi River Bottlebrush (5)
Eucalyptus macrorhyncha Red Stringybark (1)
Eucalyptus melliodora Yellow Box (4)
Eucalyptus polyanthemos Red Box (3)

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.tree seedlings2Rainer and Lesley K2C

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

WANT A TREE? PLANT A SHRUB

line of trees AdnamiraThe 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

THE BIRD LIST

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

CHOCOLATE LILIES – YUM

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

NEXT YEAR’S SEEDLINGS

MLG propagation Sue seedingSeeds 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

SEEING THE WIND

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”.  IMG_1877

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

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