Beginning to prepare for the larger animals…

As a part of our plan for self sufficiency, we intend to include some larger animals into the mix in the future – for meat, milk, fertiliser and many other purposes. Our location and climate however necessitate a fair bit of preparatory work before we even consider introducing those animals into the fragile environment. Just looking at the local landscape’s reaction to the introduced ruminants of various types (and it’s response to their removal), shows how vital it is to ensure that our block is well prepared for their hard hooves and voracious appetites.

The first stage of working towards being able to provide for the animals we would like to include was the earthworks which shaped the area that was set aside for the animal yards (we will have 3, which will allow for rotation of the different types of animals, reducing each species’ impact on any one area). These earthworks have provided contours to encourage the plantings and also low points which manage water flow from rain events and can be flooded to create wallows for our future miniature pigs.

The second step is to plant the trees and bushes in the zone which will provide the lush environment that will allow our animals to prosper with a minimum of support. The species choice for these areas are predominantly regionally native and designated ruminant fodder options, hopefully allowing for a high yield and low loss. I do intend to spot plant non native fodder species like Bean tree (bauhinia gilva) or Tagasaste (cytisus proliferus) in the lower lying areas, if I can get either to survive to be planted out.

Last year, I began to plant some of these trees, in the area which will become the ‘Front Yard’ but there was still two thirds of the overall area left bare. This year all of that has changed. With our current WWOOFer’s  fantastic help, I’ve got organised this year and we have already planted a total of 280 native seedlings, of which 192 are situated in the animal yards. This might sound like an extreme amount of plants, especially considering the yards comprise of around 2/3 acre. My intention however is to plant this area so densely that when the animals finally arrive, they practically have to eat their way into the yards to move around. In this way I am hoping that we MAY be able to support our small group of creatures without significant outside supplements (and little reliance on the larger local environment).  In fact, both last year’s plantings in this area (120 seedlings) and the ones completed in the last two weeks do not include a couple of species which I have not had luck germinating as yet (casuarina pauper and enchylaena tomentosa) and we also ran out of 3 species this year which would have added an additional 30 or so trees if we had them. Not to worry, I will try again with my seeds over summer this year and we will fill in the gaps next year.

Now the babies will need to be settled in with some new irrigation lines and the growing time begins…

Animal Yards 1 (1)

All three animal yards from the west gateway with our lovely WWOOFer, on his last day here today.

Animal Yards 1 (2)

The new plantings from the east (centre of the block)

Animal Yards 1 (3)

Once these new trees get up in size the fire pit are will be significantly more protected… as will all the areas to the east, including the house.

Animal Yards 1 (4)

One year after planting the front part of this zone the difference is obvious.

I am really looking forward to the growth in these new areas – it will fill out the last major part of the yard which was left bare after the earthworks and greatly reduce the dust, wind and heat profile of the yard. Then of course, there are the animals for which this effort has been expended. Time will tell when the yards will be ready for them – it will all depend on how vigorously these babies grow – but I estimate 5 – 7 years before we introduce our miniature cow to the mix and then we will judge the other animals based on how she impacts the trees, which should be well established by then.

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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.

The Planting Begins

I’ve been doing little bits of planting in the last month or so – replacing losses in the existing areas and beneficial bug attracting flowers like borage mainly. It is May though, so I really needed to get started on the main push of planting even though we have not had success in attracting a WWOOFer to help at the moment (we are still looking if you are interested!) and we are missing a couple of parts for the irrigation extensions required.

The planting days on the biodynamic calendar rolled around so I took the plunge with hopes of getting a good start on the ‘front yard’ area. I laid out the plan, counted the trees required (120!!) and started the process of soaking them in seaweed solution to prepare them for the indignity of having their roots exposed however briefly.

Enlisting the 4 year old wrangling assistance of Noven on Friday and Saturday I set myself up over on the hills and began…

Planting Start (1)

Working as consistently as I could I managed to get 88 trees planted by the end of the day on Saturday (I had to water the last ones in the dark). All the new babies have tree guards and are planted in their own personal swales, however they still need drip irrigation and mulch to be set up for their first year in the ground so there’s quite a bit more to do in this area as well as the rest of the planting.

It does make an immediate difference, even though they are less than 20cm tall – this morning, I stood in the valley surrounded by the new plantings and it felt like there were trees there, making the shape of the land I had created seem a little bit more real somehow. I am looking forward to their growth and how it will effect the rest of the gardens to have this buffer of planting to the west.

Planting Start (2)

November Check-in

November has been a sort of slow month in some ways – I pulled a muscle in my ribs which put me out of action for a couple of weeks and then we went to Adelaide for 4 days and Port Augusta twice… so much driving.

We have had some progress though, and we welcomed a new WWOOFer who we picked up in Adelaide. This month the main things that have been done are digging the holes for our header tank stand, tiling a part of the kitchen bench, trenching a pipe across the driveway and putting together a fair amount of IKEA furniture. Little steps to making life more comfortable.

Being the end of the month I spent some time in the garden today checking in on all the plants to see how many losses we have had and how well other ones are going so it’s time to report back.

We have lost 3 Berry Bushes, 1 Fruiting vine and 23 Natives. That leaves us with a current success rate of 89.95%, which given that we had all our losses before this time last year and only had a success rate of 4% is very encouraging! We have also had 9 native plants with a bushy habit that have grown to a size where they needed their tree guards removed as well as some trees that are well and truly out of the top of their guards. Some of them are bigger than the surviving plants from last year!

November Catch Up (3)

A lush, bushy Fragrant Saltbush free of it’s guard for two weeks now. It’s survived through a couple of hot days so I think it might be good 🙂

November Catch Up (2)

Some gigantic trees on the inside curve of the west hill. I don’t know quite why they are going so well… but, yay!

We are having some success with the orchard under-story planting as well, with watermelons, potatoes, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, pumpkins, zucchini, artichokes and various beneficial bug attracting and green mulch plants starting to grow nicely. Hopefully by the end of summer this zone will be looking super lush.

November Catch Up (1)

An apple tree planted just this year and some potatoes and watermelon starting to do their thing, shaded by the bamboo wall in the afternoon.

we’ve also started to propagate the seedlings for next year, with 6 boxes (of up to 60 seedlings) already sprouting happily.

November Catch Up (4)

Acacia Papryocarpa (Western Myall) babies just starting to pop up.

So, things are moving on… even though the weather is warming up and productive time is decreasing… Hopefully we can keep the trees alive and get some other projects finished in the coming months.

The 2014 Planting Round Up

2014 Trees (1)

Left over trees, sorted and ready for pick-up

With the passing of the equinox my self-imposed cut off for this years planting has been reached. The weather is quickly warming up and the spring winds have set in (Today’s readings are around 30 degrees celcius and northerly wind gusts of 70km/hr) so any trees that would like even a fighting chance of survival really need to be settled into their roots by now. A couple of weeks ago all the trees that we were going to use this year were planted out and I sent the left over seedlings to other local homes.

With our losses last year (we had a survival rate of 4% out of 250 natives) we have been implementing a number of strategies in hopes of increasing the survivors by the end of the summer. I had hoped to have all of this work finished by the Equinox, but with the last tree guard placed yesterday afternoon we weren’t too far behind optimal schedule. Just in time it turns out as these warm to hot north winds in the spring were the cause of a great deal of last year’s losses.

The vital Planting Statistics for this year’s effort are:

2014 Trees (5)

Each of these trees has dripper irrigation, mulch and tree guards. Some of the areas the whole beds have been mulched but we’ll finish that over the coming weeks – at least the trees themselves are done.

You can spot the little pale green Trees for Life tree guards in the following photos if you look closely 🙂
2014 Trees (2)

2014 Trees (3)

2014 Trees (4)

Two survivors of last year’s plantings in the foreground with replacements for the ones that didn’t make it behind.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the wonderful Terrica who has been with us for the last two months and in that time has made a fantastic contribution. Planting fully half this years trees is just the beginning of the help she has been. We love our ‘Rica’ ❤

The First Mass Planting…

To achieve the density of plants that we are looking for we need to plant a lot of trees. These trees will help with climate control (shade, wind and water) as well as improving the structure and quality of the soil. Given our soil type and climate it makes sense to begin these plantings with locally native species so as to provide micro-climate zones for planting more fragile species later. To purchase the quantity of seedlings that we require would be prohibitively expensive and while collecting local seed is possible, and even desirable, it is time consuming and that time can, at this point, be better spent elsewhere.

Luckily, in South Australia there is a charity program which is perfect for our needs: Trees for Life. This program is in existence to drive re-vegetation and it’s main service is the provision of inexpensive seedlings, either grown by volunteers or through the materials to grow your own. We chose to grow our own. For a nominal fee (plus membership, also quite affordable) you are provided with everything you need to grow up to 1140105 Seedlings (537x800)000 seedlings (except the time and water), including seed. They will however only provide seed from regionally native species (in our case the Far North Zone which covers the majority of the state – all the areas considered ‘Outback’ . That’s perfect for us though of course, so we signed up and ordered our first set of 20 boxes.

With the help of our first WWOOFers, we got all the seeds in and managed to germinate around 500 seedlings – not the 1000 that is possible, but some of our losses were due to inexperience and others due to our conditions. We were very happy with the results. The seeds are sown between November and January and then must be raised until at least May when they should be planted out as quickly as possible to allow them to get well established before the hot weather sets in.

Assisted by a number of subsequent sets of WWOOFers over the middle months of 2013 we planted around 250 of our seedlings, attempting a couple of windbreaks, some structural lines of saltbush and trees along driveways and dense covering of some of the new hills created by the earthworks that we had done in April. Unfortunately one of the big difficulties once a seedling is planted in this type of environment is keeping it alive. One of the most important aspects of this is the provision of water; most of these species have long tap roots, designed to reach to our relatively shallow underground water table (between 8-12m below surface level), however they First Plantingneed to grow big enough to get to it before they will prosper so in the meantime they need some help or some luck. We don’t want to be left in the position of relying on luck when we are contending with temperatures of over 50C so water is vital. It is also hard, time consuming work to run the dripper lines that will provide that not to mention quite expensive when we are talking about the quantity of drippers and pipe required for the number of trees we had planted. Unfortunately we only managed to get one area (the new hill, which had become known as the ‘Front Hill’) laid with drippers and this took its toll on our survival rates.

140105 Eucalyptus Yearling 2 (612x800)Then came the first hot north winds in late September and we knew we were in trouble – we lost about a quarter of our plantings that first day – as the wind sucked the moisture out of the leaves of the seedlings, leaving them crisped and without hope of redemption. In total, by the end of summer this year we had lost over 95% of the seedlings that we had planted! The only survivors were in the zone which we had managed to irrigate. What survivors they are too! the photo to the left is of a Arid lands mallee  with a more delicate structure than some of the heavier mallees – Eucalyptus Gracialis – this seedling can be seen just after planting in the middle picture: the lower of the two seedlings on the far right of the image.

We have high hopes for those that survived their first harsh summer and have learned a lot that we are taking on board with this years plantings, if we can get the survival rate up, this project will come into fruition much quicker… but any tree successfully added to the landscape here is a win and something to be cherished, I can’t wait to see them grow into a luscious tangle of green over the coming years.