2016 Tree Tally

It’s been a very busy year so far: I’ve added Home School duties to my list with Aurelius beginning class one and we’ve had a couple of great long term WWOOFers who have kept the productivity rolling on the home front but it hasn’t left much time for tree counting and blog writing!

Better late than never though, just before we are about to start this year’s planting push, I’ve done the rounds of the block with my trusty notepad and come up with the final survival figures for last year’s babies.

2016 Tree Tally (Stats)

The vital statistics as they currently stand

So, we had a drop in survival rates this year, which can be attributed to a number of things:

  • Due to our lack of WWOOFers through the planting season last year, although we planted significantly more trees than the previous year, many of them were planted well towards the end of the season meaning that they had less chance to get established before the hot weather set in.
  • The two last areas to be planted (‘Windbreak 3’ & ‘Hecate’s Hill’) were not hooked up to the dripper systems until early November meaning that they had to be hand watered until then. I managed to get it done most weeks, but there’s no doubt that they were less well tended than is optimal. It’s no surprise that the losses were correspondingly more severe in these zones.
  • Mulching of the flat areas was not achieved until January/February (!) and none of the slopes got mulched at all (we used up 3 big round bales of pea straw just on the flats). The ‘Front Yard’ area had germinated a great amount of mustard weed which acted like a natural mulch/shade so we purposefully didn’t weed that and the losses there were less, although that was the first area planted too so they were the best established as well.
  • It was a long hot summer this year. Last year’s summer was mild throughout so none of the trees were pushed to their limits really meaning that our success rate was naturally very high. This year though, we had a number of days well over 50ºC and long stretches over 45ºC. The cooler weather also took longer to come – not really hitting until well into April. This meant that all the trees were really tested by the ambient air temperature, let alone the hot winds that always come with such conditions. Some plants like the Stone Pine which came with practically no roots had no chance, others just pulled through but will hopefully prosper next year with more advanced root systems.
  • On the other hand rainfall levels were fantastic. With the warmer waters of the Indian Ocean adding moisture to the hot El Nino conditions every tree that was well established the previous year has prospered. The minor losses of trees from previous years – of less established plants – encourages me to hope that most of the trees, once they make it through the first summer, can be expected to continue reasonably happily.

All in all I am very happy with the progress so far and it’s really starting to feel like a garden now – there are parts of the yard where you can look up and see green all around you which is a lovely thing. There is also a noticeably increased quantity of birdlife which is very satisfying, watching the ecosystem build up naturally with only the addition of trees. In the next couple of years, I hope we can finish planting the main body of the trees and hit my goal of 1000 trees/shrubs on the block, and as more an more trees get some size to them the shade and wind profile of the block will start changing dramatically. Exciting times.

2016 Tree Tally (1)

Progress of the orchard plantings from last year.

2016 Tree Tally (2)

Progress of the ‘Front Yard’ plantings in about 12 months

2016 Tree Tally (3)

Some of the trees are taller than me!!

2016 Tree Tally (4)

The first tree is about chest height now – starting to looking like a real tree 🙂

2016 Tree Tally (5)

One of my favourite views at the moment: from the back windbreak along the green zone

2016 Tree Tally (6)

A slightly different angle showing the house in the distance and the poultry yards/sheds (nearly complete) at the right.

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2015 – 2016 Progress Report

Well, the last 6 months have been busy with planting and the like, we only had a couple of WWOOFers (and only one for 3 weeks of the planting season!) so not as much productivity in that time as I would like, but still, when I went out to take the progress photos I realised that we have still made some significant steps.

This year we have:

  • Cleaned and sorted all the ‘junk’ around the yard
  • Put up the Tank Stand
  • Continued to build the sculptural stone edging wall along the east side all the way to the front fence
  • Done all the stone work for the walls of the Outdoor Kitchen
  • Positioned and connected up the small Header Tank
  • Cleaned down the old stone work in the Outdoor Kitchen and built the sink/bench
  • Planted significant areas with native trees as planned (I personally planted around 250 trees this year – a personal best 🙂 )
  • Extended the Orchard plantings all the way around the play area and along the front end of the western driveway
  • Trenched pipes across the driveway in two more places and connected the new plantings to the irrigation system
  • Grew a patch of barley…
  • Sourced and placed logs for the seating in the Bonfire Area
  • Laid the floor of the Outdoor Kitchen and moved the BBQ in so we could start using it!
  • Finished the trampoline hole and installed the trampoline in the ground where it now gets significant use
  • Dug the hole for Brigid’s Well
  • Put in the posts for the roof of the Outdoor Kitchen
  • Installed a clothesline
  • Built half of the Garden Shed
  • Tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to keep on top of the weeds

 

We are now looking forward to meeting our new WWOOFer next week and getting some more projects completed. So far, on track to be finished the major yard works by the end of next year…

2015 Orchard Extensions

All the native planting that we have been doing is vital, making up by far the largest volume of trees in the ground to create the general micro-climate changes that come with large tracts of shade and wind break. However, even though the various acacias are tasty for our future cow and sheep they don’t provide us with much direct food for ourselves so some non native orchard varieties are very important.

The difficulty is that there are a limited range of trees which will prosper in our climate and soil profile so a mix of research, planning, preparation and timing is required to increase our chances of success. The first fruit trees planted while we were preparing for the others were hardier varieties – a quince and two mulberries – which could handle the harsher environment while we prepared for the other, softer species.

Last year we planted a small arc of the inner orchard, which surrounds the playground. This orchard is designed to have the most protected species in it as it will be within two arms of other trees – the windbreak and the front animal yard – on the western side and shielded from northern/eastern winds by the house and shadehouse. The trees in this area have been planned for a number of years and the soil prepared for at least a year prior to planting so we have only been able to put in a few trees each season. Last year we planted two apples (Jonathan and Granny Smith) a pear (Beurre Bosc) and in the nut orchard on the other side of the poultry yards an almond (Self-fertile paper-shell). Add in some lower storey plants and the result a year later is this:

2015 Orchard (1)

This year we continued in that vein, planting the last of the trees in that arc (except for the cherry that is on order still)  and a couple more nut trees in their area (more there next year). 2015 Orchard (2)

Look at those pretty trees waiting for spring to burst into verdant activity… There’s something very satisfying about planting trees that have been actively worked towards for 3 years now. These trees, finally, here.

Previously that would have been the end of it and we would be back to the natives. The big difference this year however is that with the push out into the side of the block the outer ring of fruit trees on the plan opens up for planting. This ring is designed for more hardy, climatically suited varieties as they will have some protection from the outer windbreak but will be in full sun all afternoon as the access driveway which encircles the whole yard is directly to their west. When looking for species to plant the first thing to identify is that our climate, and even soil conditions, can be loosely classed as ‘Arid Mediterranean’ so trees which prosper in the hot south of Spain, Italy and Greece, through Turkey and Northern Africa are likely to have a good chance here. The same can be said for similar zones in the other continents.

Therefore, after seeing what was available in that range, we purchased a group and set them out in a pattern around the edge of the driveway. Much hole digging by Noven and they went in over the Solstice, significantly increasing our potential food sources. I’m quite excited by a number of the species in this selection – ones I remember from my childhood like Loquats, Persimmons and Figs, those rich flavours of Summer and Autumn. Olives figure large in the group too and will make a welcome addition to the pate and quince paste on our cheese plates in years to come. I’m also very excited by the Jujubes, these are not a fruit I’ve dealt with much before but I really enjoy the flavour (like a date but with a light, almost mousse-like texture even when dry) and I have local friends who have had success with them. The last species in the arc is Pomegranate, which grows strongly in this area and will provide protection for slower neighbours as well as beautiful flowers and lovely fruit.

2015 Orchard (3) Looking West with the driveway turning to the north. Note last year’s pomegranate proving it’s vigour.

2015 Orchard (6)Looking South

The Nursery that we sourced the trees from also listed a Native Lime which, when I queried them I was delighted to discover it was indeed the local ‘Bush Lime’ not the more tropical Finger Lime. These trees are quite hard to find, but being a regionally native true citrus they are not an opportunity to miss. They do come with one rather large warning though…. they are very, very prickly. Some spines are as long as 8cm! 2015 Orchard (4) I pruned the ones on the trunk off for transportation.

The limes hadn’t been in the plan yet to be honest, but I was quickly able to open up the last official orchard zone in the yard – the area along the front fence on the side block. This zone will mostly be planted last as it is needed as a staging area for the future house renovations, but the far end can be done now as an extension of the western windbreak which was next on my planting schedule for this year anyhow.  Some quick excavation of the old stone wall and building of the western end of the sculptural wall which will replace it and the area for the limes was ready. You can just see their spindly trunks in the picture, but hopefully they will grow quickly as they are quite beautiful mature trees. 2015 Orchard (5)Of course now I’ve ordered a few more species to join them in that corner so there will be another, smaller, wave of fruit tree planting in amongst the natives that fill the rest of the season.

For those who are interested, here is a full list of trees planted in this round and the remaining trees on order for these zones:
2015 Orchard Variety List

The Lull Between Seasons…

Autumn Equinox has passed and the weather is definitely heading towards the cold side to the scale now; tops between 20 – 30  and lows between 6 – 18 meaning that the new planting season is beginning. Seeds are in for the winter vegetables, masses of greens, roots and autumn germinating perennials like Jojoba and some little babies are starting to show their heads. The main body of the planing however will, as always, be the native trees that we have been nurturing over the summer. They won’t be ready until the start of May so April is a blessed rest month where we can take stock of what worked last year and see how much survived the summer.

With this in mind it is time to do the tally and see what our stats are like for the season just passed (and compare them to previous seasons)Tree Tally (1)

As you can see, we’ve been having some fantastic improvements in survival rates over the 3 years we’ve been planting so far. I have to attribute it to a range of things including; getting dripper irrigation to every tree and shrub without fail, mulching extensively, tree guards and shade barriers and very importantly, a cool summer. We will do everything that we did last year this time, and while we can’t count on the cool summer we can prepare for the heat and every tree that survives casts shade and catches wind which helps the next ones grow.

I’m hoping to plant a further 4 main sections this year (2 segments of windbreak, the front animal yard and Hecate’s hill) as well as replanting those that didn’t make it through the summer so hopefully our block will look that much greener in a year’s time.

Tree Tally (2) Tree Tally (3) Tree Tally (4) Tree Tally (5) Tree Tally (6)

Spring has sprung in the desert!

Over the last couple of weeks I have been watching the season unfold and with the Equinox just days away it is clear that the tide has turned and the hints of summer coming can be felt in the warm afternoons and clear, long evenings. Spring here is a tumultuous time as the temperatures switch and the winds blow out the cold of winter, but before the hot weather settles in and we bunker down for the height of the year I have been enjoying the beauty of this fleeting season in the desert and I thought I would share some of it with you:

Spring (7)

A couple of weeks ago, a sign of the start of the season was the explosion of colour across the road where they have a beautiful patch of Sturt’s Desert Peas. We plan to have a wildflower corner where we will locate our beehive eventually, but in the meantime it’s really lovely to have them so nearby

Spring (1)

Then came the mulberries! they are loaded with fruit and looking lush with their new leaves. Hopefully the fruit can stay on this year and we will get a beautiful harvest later

Spring (6)

Emu babies!! these were spied on a mission to Wilpena Pound, but there is a small family of two chicks in the town…. so cute!

Spring (2)

The quince is out in flower. Last year we had 11 fruit off of this tree even though it was only its second in the ground here. I am looking forward to seeing how it goes this year.

Spring (3)

All the fruit and nut trees planted this winter have shot out (this is one of the pomegranates). I was a bit worried about some of them, especially the almond and the granny smith apple as they were a bit slow, but all good!

Spring (4)

Seedlings of summer bounty to come – pictured are squash, eggplant and various capsicums.

Spring (5)

Yesterday the last of our final personal batch of chickens for the year hatched 😀 We are going to incubate a batch for the local station and will hopefully do some guinea fowls before it gets too hot, but with these 16 we have a total of 28 chicken babies so that’s enough for now!