The cycle of trees

 

We have enjoyed a busy few weeks on the Rock Farm, and we are now also starting to make some changes for the future.  Up until now, we have been largely focused on repairing existing infrastructure.  There is still plenty of work to do in this space, but we are also fast approaching autumn and the best time to plant trees.  But just as we were getting ready to plant some trees, the weather turned for the worse.

The Rock Farm was subject to a couple of days of bracing winds.  Whilst there was quite a bit of damage sustained in the region, we thankfully escaped with only a couple of branches and trees down.

One particularly fortunate group was the local scout troop that had camped on the Rock Farm.  They managed to strike all their tents before the forecast wind came, however one gazebo was destroyed before they could get all their equipment stowed.

A few sheets of iron on the shed roof needed to be screwed back on tightly, but the main job after the wind had stopped was to clear downed branches off fences.

It didn’t take too long to clear the timber off the fence.  The leafy branches were left in paddock to mulch under the tree, and the larger pieces cut for future firewood.  The bent star-picket was re-straightened and the broken wires repaired.  The plain wire was relatively easy to tension and soon the fence was looking no worse for its encounter with the Brittle Gum (eucalyptus mannifera) branch

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After the wind, and with the promise of rain, we decided to make the most of the opportunity to plant some trees.  One of our favourite trees is the Bunya Pine Araucaria Bidwillii.  This native pine is found naturally in south-east Queensland, however there are some fine specimens in our local area, some reportedly pre-dating European settlement suggesting they were planted by Indigenous people.  The trees are a popular choice for bush food gardens, provided you have the space to grow them.

It is easy to understand why.  The Indigenous people would celebrate the ripening of the fruit with ceremonies, celebrations and feasts.  Groups of people would travel for hundreds of kilometres to attend,  making the most of these opportunities to trade, negotiate with other groups and marry.

Our aim is far more simple.  We would like to see some of these trees grow on our property.  Our first job was to collect some old 44 gallon drums that would form tree guards and protect the young trees from rabbits.  Every farm has a ‘resource centre’ and we just had a wonderful collection of old half 44 gallon drums that had the base cut out.

We have decided to see if the trees grow naturally.  We prepared the sites by scraping off the grass and weeds, and loosening up the soil with the Hamilton Tree-Planter.  We put three seeds in each drum tree guard, and then placed a layer of natural mulch on top of the seeds.

Some of the drums were placed in open areas in paddocks, others were placed in sheltered areas with plenty of trees providing shade.  Once we see how the trees go, we will be able to plant more of these trees.   We aren’t in a rush.  Trials suggest that about half of the viable seed will germinate in around six to nine months… but for a tree that lives around 500 years, I figure we can give it a while to get going!

It will be great to see how they go!

The rain comes!

Things had been getting a little grim on the not-so-rocky Rock Farm.  The end of summer was approaching, but the rain gauge had been dry for weeks.  Even the most hardy plants were starting to look stressed, and neighbours were starting to plan to feed their stock.  On the domestic front, things were as busy as ever, with the Little Fisherman starting high school, and the Little Helper settling into year 6.  In the midst of all the chaos, I went to sea for a couple of weeks.

It was no better when I got home.  In my absence, both cars had broken down, the boys had been home from school sick and the sheep had disappeared (only to return the next day from their holiday).

But then we got a beautiful 50mm of rain and everything changed.

My list of jobs I want to do on the Rock Farm is rather long.  Everything requires an investment of time or dollars or both and many require the right weather.  One of the many on the list was to smooth the corrugations out of the driveway – but had been too dry to even contemplate, until it rained.

When the rain fell, one of the first things I wanted to do was to run a blade over the driveway.  All went well, until I made my way back towards the house…  The creek crossing that had been dry little more than an hour earlier was now impassable.

Thankfully it was dropping just as quickly as it came up.  Soon our depth gauge (a well calibrated star picket) was visible, meaning it was safe to take a 4wd across.

Creek Crossing

That little saga over, I would have liked to continue working through some more of the jobs on my list, but it wasn’t to be.  I had another week away starting early the following morning, but this time I had some down time.  It was the perfect opportunity to re-read one of the most influential books on farming I have read, and do a bit of planning.

Pat Coleby is one of Australia’s foremost experts on farming without chemicals.  Her work is visionary on one level, however when you think about what she has to say, it really is common sense.  She shows how the key to healthy plants and animals is healthy soil.  Her book is full of practical advice on how to improve the soil, and she guides our approach to our farm.  If you’re going to buy one book for your farm, this is a great one!

Part of what we need to do is to return organic matter to the soil.  Slashing the long grass helps to achieve this.  It also causes the grass roots to reduce in size, creating tiny holes which aerate the soil and provide opportunities for earthworms to work through the soil.  I hope to get some cattle to help with this process – as they return the organic matter to the soil in the form of manure.  In the meantime, the old tractor was able to slash this 5 hectare paddock in around 2.5hrs.

One thing I will arrange in the next week or so will be soil tests.  These will help us to identify shortcomings in our soil health.  With the application of the correct amounts of calcium, magnesium and sulphur, we should get our soil back in balance.  Once the soil is in balance, we should see an improvement availability of trace minerals and an increase in activity in soil by the micro-oraganisms and earthworms that drive soil fertility.  This should lead to a reduction in weeds, and an increase in a variety of species that provide minerals and trace elements to our stock.

It is a journey, and I am looking forward to learning about soil chemistry and biology in our quest to improve the health of our land.