More Trees Planted on the Rock Farm

After an usually dry April with no rain recorded at all on the Rock Farm, May started with a much needed soaking . I took the opportunity of a rainy day to relax and catch up on a long overdue book review (Call of the Reed Warbler). Rain like that is an gift not to be missed however and it was just the motivation I needed to get two new tree guards completed and some acorns in the ground before winter.

Our lock-down project last year (New Paddocks on the Rock Farm) was to divide a 6 hectare paddock into three smaller paddocks by building two new fences. It was always planned to plant trees along the new fences, which will one day provide shelter and mulching deciduous leaves to the paddocks either side.

After running the mulcher over the long grass, I put two new strainer posts in the ground 3 metres off the existing fence. At the end of a pretty solid day, I had the first tree guard finished, with acorns planted between each star picket.

I repeated the process the following day with the other guard.

We planted a mixture of Californian White Oak (Quercus Lobata) and Japanese (or Korean) Emperor Oak (Quercus Dentata). In between the oaks, I have also planted some Tagasaste seeds (Chamaecytisus palmensis). Tagasaste is also called tree lucerne, and is a good shelter and fodder tree which fixes nitrogen in the soil.

We chose deciduous trees for these tree guards because they provide good shade during summer, allow light to penetrate during winter and their leaves form a deep mulch for fertilising the soil. Adjoining this paddock is a series of four small horse paddocks. One of these paddocks has a line of white poplar (populus alba) along its northern fence. The paddock is the lushest, and greenest of the four little paddocks – a difference I can only attribute to the tall deciduous trees that provide shade and leaf litter.

If this is your first time reading our blog, you might be asking why I haven’t planted native trees along these fence lines. The answer is complex and it relates to our desire to create a productive farmland that is in balance with nature. We are not trying to re-create the landscape as it was prior to European settlement. Rather as our climate gets hotter and dryer, we believe that large deciduous trees will help shelter our property from the extremes of the weather. We have some beautiful Elm Trees (Ulmus Procera) that are at least 150 years old near an old stone cottage ruin. Their shade and mulching leaves make this area the coolest part of the property on hot days

In other parts of the Rock Farm we have planted native trees. Along the creek bank, we recently planted 300 native trees for habitat and to help stablise the bank. That marathon effort (Can’t see the wood for the trees) has been a great success, with the vast majority of the seedlings becoming established. Wombats have knocked a few over, but overall I am very pleased with the first six months of growth.

Planting trees is rewarding. Just as I packed everything up to head back to the shed, a rainbow appeared. I hope it is a good omen for the beautiful trees I would love to see grow here. As I told my boys, it is my dream that not their kids, but their grand-kids will one day be able to sit in the shade of these trees.

Book Review: Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massey

Few people have the courage to critically examine the path they are following, and after consideration, deliberately choose to take a different one. Massey not only embraced a new form of agriculture, but has also sought and interviewed others on similar journeys . Call of the Reed Warbler is a book about that change in direction, that looks deep into the heart of modern agriculture and provides an insightful and hopeful vision for the future.

Using the following main themes, Massey explores the relationships between humans and agriculture. He intersects the science, literature and shared experiences with deeply personal insights from his own farm. A practical dreamer, Massey provides real examples of the improvements that can be made with a paradigm shift in mind set. The book is structured along the following themes:

  • Regenerating the Solar Energy Function
  • Regenerating the Water Cycle
  • Regenerating the Soil Mineral Cycle
  • Regenerating Dynamic Eco Systems
  • Regenerating the Landscape: Role of the Human-Social

All these themes are closely related of course, and because of this there are many stories that overlap and are linked. This means that the same observations are repeated from different perspectives. Massey takes us into the lounge rooms of hundreds of farmers around the world and introduces them to us in a sensitive and endearing manner. We learn about the trials and tribulations that forced many farmers and their families to alter their farming practices and embrace what is now termed regenerative agriculture. By its nature, animals and grazing management is a large part of the story, however also Massey shares stories of those farmers who are using regenerative principles with their cropping, in most cases with outstanding results.

Widely read, Massey quotes scientists, philosophers, presidents and farmers throughout his book. It is clear that the genesis for regenerative agriculture can be traced at least as far back as the origin of modern industrial agriculture. However humans have been making mistakes with agriculture for thousands of years with ignorance and greed playing a part. Massey even quotes Plato, who bemoaned the deforestation of Attica due to grazing back in 360BC.

Massey traces the development of agriculture throughout history. He explains regenerative aquiculture “implies more than just sustaining something but rather an active rebuilding or regeneration of existing systems to full health. It also implies an open-ended process of ongoing improvement and positive transformation. This can encompass the rebuilding or regeneration of soil itself, and of biodiversity more widely; the reduction of toxins and pollutants; the recharging of aquifers; the production of healthier food, clean water and air; the replacement of external inputs; and the enhancement of social capital and ecological knowledge“.

Massey has travelled the widely across Australia and Africa, and the stories within the pages come from the innovative regenerative agriculture pioneers around the world. Massey interweaves their story with anecdotes from his own farm in the Monaro Plains of NSW. Massey’s farm however plays a secondary role in this story, unlike Rebank’s farm which is the star of his book English Pastoral.

Call of the Reed Warbler is not a text book, nor is it a “how to guide”. Rather it is an engaging story showing the breadth of regenerative agriculture practitioners in Australia. Each of these farmers is on their own journey, and Massey hopes to share enough of their stories for readers to find a part that resonates with them. I found old school friends, neighbours and role models in this book. There are techniques mentioned that I will do more research on, and others that aren’t particularly relevant for us here on the Rock Farm.

Massey has created an incredible legacy with this book. It is a elegant manifesto, profound in its observations, complex in its nature yet easy to understand. It is well worth enjoying in front of the fire on cold winter evenings or on those precious rare rainy days… even the dog will agree!