A dry spring on the Rock Farm

My last post was about managing weeds during the spring growth.  Unfortunately the hoped for spring rain didn’t eventuate.  Even as parts of the State are getting some of their best rain in months, we have managed a paltry 3mm.  It is better than nothing, and might give the clover the break it needs to set seed!

Our property has an interesting arrangement where the road access comes in and past the house to the paddocks. Like all roadsides / laneways, this is rarely grazed, because of the inconvenience to traffic.  But it was the only part of the property the cattle hadn’t grazed and every bit of grass is precious at the moment.

Several fences needed to be fixed up, and water provided before I could contemplate putting the cattle in the laneway.  Even so, I still used temporary electric fence to allow the cattle right up to the garden – a treat they all enjoyed!

In fact the cattle were so happy to have access to the special grass near the garden, they hardly noticed me sneaking in close for a Selfie!

School holidays is an exciting time for the kids.  As they get bigger, their commitments grow too, with sporting camps keeping them busy for the first week.  These are fantastic opportunities for them, but I also love seeing them get creative in the shed.  Of course the dog is in the thick of it too, causing equal measures of delight and frustration at her efforts to help.

Speaking of the shed, our region is often windy in Spring.  Very windy.  And the old shed was looking a little worse for wear, with several sheets of corrugated iron roofing sheets looking like they wanted to lift off.   The shed is of unknown vintage, and in the fine tradition of most Australian farms, it has been made of second hand recycled iron and fencing wire.   It gives it a certain charm, but would be a huge inconvenience if it was actually destroyed.  A little bit of preventative maintenance was in order.

The advantage of so much sunny weather meant that I was able to replace some of the very loose nails with new roofing screws, without the risk of rain making the roof treacherous. I fabricated some brackets and purchased a harness to provide some comfort whilst working aloft.

And then there was the garden.  Neglected and in need of a bit (lot) of work, it was time to get the chain saw out for some ‘pruning’.  With a garden that is around 2.5 acres, there are always trees to prune.  The black wheelbarrow made the carting of the firewood size pieces a lot more manageable.

All the other branches and lighter sticks and twigs were thrown on the back of Myrtle – the big red truck, and taken down to the paddocks.  We found a remarkable sight.  Under similar tree prunings, deposited in the paddock six months earlier, we found growing lush, green grass and clover.

I think there are three possible reasons for this (or a combination of all three).

  1. As the branches break down, they release nutrient into the soil,
  2. The branches provide a physical barrier stopping kangaroos from eating the grass (this paddock has no other stock in it), or
  3. The branches provide shade to the grass, making what little moisture there is more effective.

Thus encouraged, we will keep putting our prunings into the gullies and over bare soil.  It is great to see positive results for our efforts.

On the Rock Farm, the only place where the grass has been most prolific in its growth is the garden.  With the current season being so dry, it feels such a crime to simply cut the grass with a mower.  But, the grass was getting long, and the snakes are coming out.  So I got right onto my next job, and brought in the one horse power self propelled mower model.  Best part is, you don’t have to sit on it as it gets to work – but that can be the best bit!

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Spring – The grass is growing and so are the weeds!

Spring is a wonderful time on the Rock Farm. The warmer weather, coupled with the little bit of rain has caused a dramatic turn around on the Rock Farm.  Grass that was basically dormant over winter has started to grow.  Whilst the soil remains terribly dry, the grass is optimistically hoping to shoot up and set seed before the summer dries it out completely.  The garden is even starting to look a little unkempt, and I have put the battery charger on the mower, in the hope that it will get a run in the next few weeks.

But it isn’t just grass that is growing.  So are the weeds, and one of the most persistent and troublesome in our area is serrated tussock (nassella trichotoma).

Over winter the stock have grazed the paddocks thoroughly.  This makes the unpalatable tussock easy to locate and target.  It is hard work to manually chip out – and whilst it is our intention to use this method in the future, we need to reduce the amount on our property to manageable levels.

The most effective control of the tussock is a good permanent pasture.  Competition from healthy plants keeps the tussock in check. However once tussock is established, it is very difficult to get rid of.  It sets a large seed bank, and the seeds are dispersed by the wind, allowing the seed to travel a long way before settling.

Whilst I am generally loathe to use chemicals on our property, in the race against serrated tussock, it is the most cost effective method.  It is far quicker and easier than chipping out individual plants, and we hope to get on top of our tussock in the next few years.  Once we have it under control, we hope that aggressive chipping of identified plants will maintain our paddocks tussock free.

Our spray ‘rig’ is an interesting mixture of apparatus cobbled together.  A 12 volt pump provides the chemical / water mix through a jet spray nozzle.  A trigger on the nozzle allows control of the spray to spot on individual plants.

The chemical we use is a mixture of Flupropanate and Glyphosate.  This is mixed with water, dye and a surfactant. In the photo, you can see the red dye.  The surfactant breaks the surface tension of the water like a detergent, allowing the chemical to cover the leaves of the targeted plant for maximum effectiveness.  These chemicals are not great at all for the soil, or the microbes and earthworms that live in it.  This is why I really try to just spot spray the tussock, and minimise overspray as much as possible.

The boy’s buggy provides the 12 volt power, and the means to pull the little trailer around.  With 120 litres of spray onboard when full, it helps to make sure you start pointing down hill, as it is hard work on the clutch starting out!

After 12 months of sitting, my nozzle had seized up.  After pulling it apart, and cleaning and lubricating it, it worked a lot better, however had a small leak when the pump was running.  I decided that the easiest fix would be to install a switch near the steering wheel allowing me to turn the pump off from the drivers seat.  I found an old driving lights wiring harness, complete with relay, in the shed and soon had my ‘in seat switch’ in operation.

I also needed to lower the hitch height of the trailer in order to bring it to a more level ride.  I had a few ideas in my head, but eventually found an old steel post of around the right size.  Thankfully I also found a couple of long bolts in the shed, and soon had re-fitted the hitch.  The trailer isn’t level, but it is a lot closer than it was.

It takes me between two and three hours to spray out all the chemical in a tank.  I find it easiest to park the buggy and walk around when the tussock is thick.  For dispersed plants, I am able to wiz around and squirt from the comfort of the driver’s seat.  Who said weed control couldn’t be fun!

Whilst the weeds are slowly being brought under control, the rest of the Rock Farm residents are enjoying the warmer weather.  The cattle are getting quieter, however the sheep haven’t forgiven me yet for being vaccinated and the lambs marked last week.  But it sure is fun watching them all 🙂

More information on serrated tussock can be found here:  http://weeds.dpi.nsw.gov.au/Weeds/Details/123

Life and death on the Rock Farm

Last weekend the family gave me an extremely valuable gift for Father’s Day… a certificate entitling me to a precious two hours of their time.  Two hours to get something done on the Rock Farm.  It was a wonderful gift, in the hectic mayhem of juggling school, sport, work and family time.

I figured two hours would be perfect to complete the most pressing requirement on the Rock Farm.  Marking our lambs.

Marking involves many steps.  We vaccinate the lambs, put in ear tags with our unique property code (colour coded for 2018), and put rubber rings around their tails and testicles.  Our yards are not ideal for this – being mainly set up to handle cattle – and we soon found some of the younger lambs were able to slip out the yards back into the paddock.

Our two hours passed quickly and we soon had marked most of the lambs.  I will need to catch up with the stragglers and sort them out soon.

This year we counted 20 lambs out of 11 ewes.  As one ewe was dry, this means that all of the lambs born were twins.  When we brought in the sheep, one poor little lamb was very weak, having either got separated or rejected by his mother.  I was hoping we wouldn’t have any poddy lambs this year, but we brought the little fellow up to the house and found the re-purposed baby bottle kept especially for occasions such as this.

The little fellow enthusiastically enjoyed his first warm drink in a long time, and we thought that we had saved him from the worst.

As cute as lambs are, the last thing you want is to keep them inside any longer than you need to get them dry and warm.  The Little Fisherman and I collected some old iron from the ‘resource centre’ and soon put together  a shelter in a little holding paddock adjoining the shed.  It was far more substantial than the old tarpaulin I had used to shelter our sick ewes a couple of weeks earlier – and I figured it would hopefully last a little longer too!

Back at the box in front of the fire, the Dachshund was only interested in licking any spilt milk off the lamb.  On the other hand, the Border Collie, Sapphire, wouldn’t let the lamb out of her sight.  She was adorable nursing the little fellow as we kept our fingers crossed.

Sadly the lamb never recovered his strength and passed away the following morning.  I don’t know why he was separated from his mother, but sometimes nature does these things for a reason.  Other times there are no reasons, and we just have to learn to accept them and move on.

They might not be easy lessons, but they are extremely valuable ones to share with our growing family.

Rainy day

The past few weeks I have been concentrating on fixing up my fences.  As the Rock Farm was originally set up for horses, there are lots of little paddocks, all fenced with plain wire.  These fences have been mostly cattle proof, but the sheep can (and do) wander where they like.

The small paddocks means I have been able to rotate the cattle with short bursts of intense grazing with long spells, inspired by Allan Savory.  The initial results are promising, with the pasture responding really well to being rested between short bursts of grazing.

The problem has been that many of the fences have been in such poor state of repair that the cattle have been able to push through to other paddocks, undoing any gains made.

Many of the wires were broken where kangaroos have pushed their way through over the years.  In repairing and straining these wires, I found I needed to improve my fencing skills.  I learnt an excellent knot which I have put to good use.  As I am no expert, you’re best watching the video by Time Thompson yourself:

My fencing has been going well, getting a little bit done here and there when I had the time, until last Friday when we had the unexpected pleasure of 10mm of glorious rain.  Light showers fell on-and-off during the day, making the wire extremely slippery.  After slipping and having a piece of wire flick up and cut my cheek, I looked at the dog, and decided to follow her lead.  It was time to do something else.

Inside jobs are many and varied.  I contemplated sorting out the shed… for just a bit.

 

And then decided that I really needed to sit down with a hot cup of coffee by the fire inside and take a Naval “Make and Mend” day…  It was quite pleasant to sit and repair my favourite oilskin vest.

The fences are still there, and I am still working away at getting them back in order.  The cattle are mostly contained now, with a few paddocks still to go.  Of course it is a never ending task, and I am sure I will still be working on fences as long as we have livestock, kangaroos and wombats…  but there are fewer more satisfying things than spending a day outside working on the Rock Farm 🙂

The Rock Farm Herds

With the days starting to feel a little longer and slightly warmer, we have continued to watch the Bureau of Meteorology website closely for any hint of rain.  Last weekend some areas of New South Wales received their first decent rainfalls in months, however we only felt a couple of drops.

I moved the cattle to our river flat paddock.  I have saved this paddock all winter, in the hope we could possibly cut some hay this spring.  Without enough subsoil moisture, this is extremely unlikely this year.  That said, it has the best grass on the Rock Farm, and the cattle gratefully put their heads down as soon as they walked through the gate.

This spring we sadly put down a couple of ewes with Pregnancy Toxaemia (lambing sickness).  When a third ewe started showing symptoms, we took immediate action.  After making the most ungainly tackle in sheep catching history, we moved the ewe to the house paddock.  The ewe seemed to know we were trying to help her, as she sat quietly in the ute with the Little Fisherman keeping her company for the short run back to the house paddock.

Thankfully the ewe responded to injections of glucose, and a few days later gave birth to twin male lambs.  It always seems that these moments of crisis coincide with periods when I am at work, and this was no different.  Jo calmly caught the ewe and administered the injections daily.

The poor little fellows arrived late in the afternoon with a bitter cold wind blowing.  They are only a matter of minutes old in the photo above.  We have kept a close eye on the three of them.  The ewe continues to improve and the lambs are now a bundle of fun.  We hope to put her back with the rest of the sheep in the next few days.

Pregnancy Toxaemia is often associated with fat ewes and twin lambs.  Wiltipolls are bred to respond well to feed, and our ewes could well have been described as fat.  Wiltipolls also are known to produce lots of twins, and the birth of these twin lambs brings our total lambs to 20, from 11 ewes.   We won’t make an official count until we mark the lambs.

This season we have learnt a lot of lessons, that we will put in place moving forward.  We will manage the ewes a little more closely, especially mid way through their pregnancy, to prevent them getting lambing sickness next year.

The weather breaks

The Rock Farm has been fortunate to receive a little bit of rain over the past couple of days.  A cold front that blasted the South West has made its way across the country, bringing cold moisture bearing westerly winds.  A steady 20mm of rain over two days followed up on 7mm received a week ago.  It is amazing to see how quickly things change.  Hills that were a lifeless brown a week ago now have a green tint.

I now have the delightful problem of having to put the car into 4WD to get up the driveway!

If there is one thing that cold wet weather brings on, it is lambing.  And no one summed it up better than Dog, in Murray Ball’s timeless Footrot Flats.

I knew our girls were close to lambing, but it must be a cruel twist of nature to lamb in the worst possible weather.  I took the opportunity of a short burst of sunshine and went for a little walk around the paddock.  I was delighted to find five new lambs to three very proud ewes.  I hope these little lambs, and their yet-to-be-born brothers and sisters find enough shelter in the paddocks to pull through the last few weeks of winter.

The cattle are curious animals, and we love having them on the property.  This photo was taken a day or two before the rain, and you can see how happy they are to see me with a couple of bales of old pasture hay.  This morning I moved them to a laneway.  They must have been hungry, as they stuck their heads down and started eating as soon as they walked out of the gate.  They’re still in pretty good condition all things considered and are pretty happy to see me – especially if I come bearing gifts!

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Whilst the grass now has a green tint, it is still too cold for it to grow.  Like everyone in the district, I hope we get follow up rainfall to build moisture in the soil.  It is the deep soil moisture that will be the difference between a good spring, and some difficult decisions.

The little bit of moisture has been a good thing.  It has allowed us to plant a stack of acorns.  We planted acorns from locally sourced Daimyo Oaks (Quercus dentata) and Californian Valley Oaks (Quercus lobata).  The Hamilton Tree Planter was the perfect tool for the job – however it was abundantly clear that only the top 5 centimetres of the soil was damp.  Underneath it was bone dry.  This is part of our plan to use deciduous trees to enhance the soil health on The Rock Farm.

We have also planted some native seedlings.  Our local real estate agent donated some seedlings to members of the community for National Tree Day.  We gratefully received a Yellow Box (eucalyptus melliodora) and my favourite tree, a Drooping Sheoak (allocasuarina verticillata).

The Yellow Box is a magnificent slow growing tree, considered the best native tree for honey production.  It prefers areas of better soil hence, in this area, large areas of yellow box woodland were cleared to make way for pastures.   The timber is dense and resistant to decay, and was used for railway sleepers, posts, poles and for timber bridges.  It is great to be re-introducing this tree to our property.

The Drooping Sheoak prefers dry shale slopes.  It is just about the sole food source for the glossy black cockatoo, which is rare in our area.  We had seven of these trees on our last property, but I haven’t found any on the new Rock Farm.  Kangaroos find this little tree irresistible, hence we made tree guards to give it a fighting chance.

Special thanks to Chris and Gin from McGrath Real Estate for their generous donation to the community for National Tree Day.

A cold winter

Winter is a lovely time on the Rock Farm.  The frosty mornings are an absolute delight to behold, and curling up with a good book in front of a slow combustion fire is a wonderful way to end the day.  It is also usually a chance for the soil moisture to rebuild and provide a good basis for spring growth.  Sadly thus far, this winter has been far drier than normal.

The drier weather has seen our night time temperatures plummet, with consecutive nights down below minus 5 degrees.  Very cold, especially when our new home doesn’t have any insulation!  So our best management plan was to take a lead from nature and migrate north… well at least for the school holidays! After a couple of lovely weeks catching up with family, it was great to come home to the Rock Farm.

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We have been doing better than most, but the Rock Farm is now officially in drought (Source: https://edis.dpi.nsw.gov.au/) .  The long range forecast is also looking grim, with the Bureau of Meteorology predicting that we have an 80 percent chance of a drier than average season  (Source: http://www.bom.gov.au/climate/outlooks/#/rainfall/summary).  We will soon need to make some hard decisions as to our stock, especially as we want to maintain a good ground cover of grasses.

DPI Drought Areas 31 Jul 18

That doesn’t mean we have been without water entirely!  We came home from our holidays to several new ‘freshwater springs’ around the Rock Farm.  The cold mornings, coupled with old pipes had caused several fittings to fail.  The water might have made the ground a little softer and easier digging, but it was so cold!  We cleaned and replaced the old fittings with new good quality fittings.  Hopefully they will last longer than the old ones did!

The stock have been slowly making their way through our remaining grass.  We have a little bit of old hay in the shed that they consider a treat.  It is great for keeping them quiet and happy to see me, but has little nutritional value.  Fodder prices are soaring in NSW as the drought hits, and we hope to have enough rain to give strong spring growth.

The ewes have been taking the pick of the grass.  Unfortunately a couple of them have come down with Lambing Sickness or Pregnancy Toxaemia.  I have since learnt (from the excellent NSW DPI web page: https://www.dpi.nsw.gov.au/animals-and-livestock/sheep/health/other/pregnancy-toxaemia-in-breeding-ewes) that this is likely to have been caused by the ewes carrying twins, and being over-fat.  We are nursing these girls through, and whilst I don’t hold much hope we can save their lambs, hopefully we can get them through.  I will make sure they’re not so heavy next year.

In other happenings, the Little Fisherman has been at me for a while to teach him how to weld.  After a couple of You-Tube videos, he figured he had enough of an idea to hit the tools.  A couple of bits of scrap metal and some clamps and he was away.  I explained to him that welding is one of those skills that anyone can do, but it takes a lifetime to master.  He now understands why – and I freely admit he has already surpassed my skills!

And so life continues on the Rock Farm.  It is great to be back 🙂

New (kind of) Stock Yards

Owners of livestock must be able to handle their animals safely, and one of the most effective ways to do this is with a set of stock yards.

Yards typically used to be made with whatever material was at hand.  We visited these old yards in northern South Australia a couple of years ago.  The yards were made with Cypress Pine hauled from the Flinders Ranges, and the wires were old telegraph line.  The cattle were mustered into a square yard. If stock were to be handled, horsemen would rope the cattle and they would be brought to the Bronco Rail for marking.

The steel yards on the Rock Farm might be much more modern, however due to a number of reasons, they were in need of a major overhaul.  Before the cattle arrived, it had taken me several hours, lots of grease and much motivation with a hammer to get the crush to operate.  The yards had been placed on the ground with little consideration to levels, and whilst the basic layout was sound, I wanted to update the yards to ensure many more years of safe and low stress cattle handling.

With a short notice visit from my parents announced, the time to re-design the cattle yards arrived.  My father has years of experience in the beef industry, including designing cattle yards.  It was the perfect opportunity to harness his experience and my brawn… well the tractor’s brawn.

We had a good look at the existing layout.  My proposed design sketches were quickly discarded as I hadn’t taken into account the simple fact the crush is worked from the left hand side.  I had designed yards with a clockwise movement that made it difficult to operate the crush.  We agreed that an anti-clockwise movement of the cattle was far more suitable.  I also studied the NSW DPI page on Cattle Yard Design, but ultimately it came down to a simple examination of the materials at hand, and the site available.

The first stage was dismantling the existing yards.  This involved removing a few pins and many cobb and co wire hitches.  With a collection of mis-matched panels and various old gates, it was an interesting exercise.

Once we had removed the old yards, we spend a long time digging out and leveling the ground, appreciative of the tractor doing most of the heavy work.  Cattle will naturally run uphill, so the slope on this site isn’t a problem.  What we needed to do was make the slope consistent through the length of the crush and race.  With the slope consistent, we started re-assembly, again using the heavy lifting ability of the tractor.

Reassembly took a lot longer than I thought.  We have managed to get most of the panels to line up, but the hard work is getting the sleeves for the pins to align.  We had to grind off a couple of the sleeves to make the panels fit, all made slower due to a few hours lost fixing the pull-starter on the generator.

We concentrated on getting the drafting gates, crush, race and forcing yard all aligned and in-situ.  We found an old balustrade in the ‘resource centre’ which we cut up to manufacture new pins and anchor pegs in lieu of too many cobb and co hitches.  The main section of the yards are pretty much fixed now, and are much more solid that the previous version.

We still have work to do on the holding yard, and I hope to get onto this in the near future.  The final component will be to put a sight barrier on the yards.  This will remove distractions and help move the cattle around the yards.  I also hope it will make the yards sheep proof, so I don’t need to build a second set of yards for the sheep.

And what do the stock think of all this effort?  At present I am still a few weeks away from getting the yards ready for stock work.  The cattle are busy mowing and mulching our small horse paddocks.  The sheep seem to hang around in this area too, happily making their way around the farm as they seek the sweetest grass.  Some of the ewes are getting quite heavy with lamb, and I will need to have the yards ready to vaccinate the ewes soon.  Nothing like a bit of time pressure to finish a project!

Happenings on and above the Rock Farm

The dry autumn has allowed us to get on with a few necessary jobs on the Rock Farm.  One of the most pressing was to get on top of our Tree of Heaven (ailanthus altissima).  This tree forms dense thickets that out compete desirable trees.  I initially thought we had just a few trees, until I started cutting them down. I soon realised that I needed a comprehensive strategy to remove them.

I cut the majority of the taller trees down a couple of months ago, see here.  The follow up treatment was to spray the suckers.  This is not a treatment I enjoy or take lightly.  The NSW Weedwise app provided good advice  and I followed their recommended dose.

A few weeks later, the plants had the decency to look very sick.  I hope this wasn’t due to the cracking frost we had a few days earlier!  The chemical was applied using a backpack spray unit to the leaves of the suckers.  As I was only spraying the odd suckers, the chemical burden was far less than it would have been if I was spraying the entire trees.  I hope this is effective.

Another of those little challenges that comes from living on tank water popped up a couple of weeks ago.  Our potable water situation is a little complicated.  The house supply is gravity fed from a couple of 22 000 litre tanks that harvest water from our shed.  Water harvested from our house roof is stored in another 22 000 litre tank in our garden. There is a fall of some 15 metres between the garden and shed tanks, and I had no pump to transfer water from the garden tank up to the shed (house supply) tanks.

With little significant rain since Christmas, the inevitable happened, and one of our supply tanks ran dry.  Whilst swinging to the other tank was as simple as opening a valve, it was time to transfer some water from the full house tank in the garden to the supply tanks from the shed.

Whilst this is a pump I won’t use often, it was worth getting one that will start reliably.  Our last place had an ancient Honda pump that lived out in the weather and copped years of abuse without affecting its ability to start first pull.  I figured it was worth getting a genuine Honda engine driving a Davey pump to perform our duties of water transfer.  A little pump house made out of scrap timber and iron soon completed the task.

The other problem with the garden tank was the surrounding vegetation.  The tank was essentially smothered in a range of plants that made access difficult and contaminated the water supply with dead leaves.  It took three loads on the back of the old Merc, Myrtle to clear the space.  The prunings, along with some rotten hay bales, were put to good use in stabilising some gullies.

The cattle have settled in well.  We have continued to move them from paddock to paddock, and they seem to understand the game now, and appreciate moving to greener pastures.  I think the trick is to wait until they are hungry before moving them.  This means that they are far more likely to stick their heads down and start grazing as soon as they move out of their paddock, rather than disappearing over the furthest hill!

The paddocks where they have been ‘working’ are much cleaner, and the weeds are easy to find and pull out.  Now the growing season is well and truly over, the grass will remain dormant over winter.  I hope we have enough feed to get them through the cold weather,  and we will keep our fingers crossed for strong spring rainfall.

And for something completely different, the Little Helper has just completed a school project on the future of transport, in particular flying cars.  This was the perfect opportunity to make the most of the glorious weather and call up an old friend and take to the skies.

The young fellow was so excited to sit in the right hand seat and experience the thrill of flying.  Greg, our pilot made sure the Little Helper had an amazing experience, patiently explaining what he was doing and how the aircraft worked.

I really enjoyed doing a couple of circuits around the Rock Farm.  It was such a brilliant way to get a perspective of our property.  We could easily see the greener areas where moisture settles, and the effect of the shelter belts.

Even the Little Fisherman admitted he was excited for his younger brother, stating that The Little Helper’s flight was “legit cool”.

It was a whole heap of fun.  And sometimes that is the point. 🙂

 

Acorn Planting – The first experiment commences

Several people have asked me why we are planting non native deciduous trees on our property.  I have a complicated answer, and it largely comes from a recognition that our landscape has changed.    The Rock Farm is not native bush.  Even the native forests north of our property are different from when Europeans first saw them.  The land the Rock Farm is in was managed with fire by the Ngunnawal people over thousands of years.  It is our responsibility as custodians of this beautiful property to manage it and set it up for our future.  Our aims by planting non native deciduous trees are to:

  • Protect our property from bushfire,
  • Improve our soil health, and
  • Provide sustainable agriculture in a woodland like setting.

A friend of my father, John, has spent all his life planting trees on his property in the southern highlands.  He estimates that he has planted around 35 000 trees of all types on his farm that produces top quality beef cattle.  John has planted stands of native eucalyptus, pines and oaks, and has been able to watch the trees grow and observe the effects on the soil.

Now in his eighties, John is convinced that deciduous trees are best suited for improving the soil and reducing fire risk.  One of John’s favourite oaks is the Daimyo Oak (quercus dentata).  This is also known as the Korean Oak or Japanese Emperor Oak, and is known as a fast growing specimen tree.  John has observed this to be the case, with lines of Daimyo Oaks out pacing several supposedly fast growing native species planted nearby at the same time.  We filled many paper bags with acorns from some of John’s trees.

John also directed us to collect acorns of the Californian Swamp Oak (quercus lobata) from Mouat Street in Lyneham.  This is the largest of the north american oak trees, and does well with hot dry summers and cool wet winters.  This magnificent tree can live for 600 years.  This is just around the corner from where our boys play hockey, so with a few of their team mates pressed into service, we soon had filled several more bags with acorns.

Armed with plenty of acorns, we started to put some in the ground.

We are trying a mix of strategies.  The first one is direct seeding.  I am trialing planting a bunch of acorns in the ground where I want the trees to grow.  The acorns were planted in late autumn, just below the surface, the majority in small gullies like below.   I am planting the trees well away from established natives such as the eucalyptus growing in the far right of this photo.  The observant will notice many young trees growing around this tree, and these will also be preserved to protect the headwaters of this gully and provide native habitat.

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As you can see above, we have been putting a lot of garden prunings into our gullies. These prunings from pin oaks and peppermint gums will provide mulch and protection for the young oak trees to grow.  I selected a small flatter area where soil had been deposited and placed the seeds in the ground.  I repeated this in several sites over several small gullies.

The plant below is a sweet briar (rosa rubiginosa).  It is a weed, but like weeds it is fulfilling a niche that was once carried out by native plants.  It is spread by birds that eat its berries as their native food supplies are no longer abundant.  I am slashing and chipping out these weeds, but am also conscious I need to ensure habitat for these birds.  I thought I would also use some of them as part of my experiment.

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This paddock has only been grazed by Kangaroos for the past 18 months.  The grass under the sweet briar is thicker, and more lush that the surrounding areas. So what I have done is plant some acorns at the base of these plants.   I hope that as the young oaks establish, the sweet briar will afford them some protection from grazing.

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What I didn’t expect to find as I planted some of my acorns was this beautiful frog also using the sweet briar to shelter in.  I am not sure, but I think it is a Green and Golden Bell Frog (litoria aurea).  I was extremely pleased to find this little fellow, and relieved that I hadn’t sprayed the sweet briar to kill it.

Some of the other acorns we have placed in moist potting mix and put in the fridge.  We are waiting for some rain to increase our soil moisture before we plant these acorns out.

People have asked me why I haven’t grown the seed in a garden bed and then planted out the seedlings?  There is a couple of reasons.

  1. Research suggests that trees planted in their final site respond better than those that are transplanted.  There is no stress on the fragile root system of the plant that sometimes happens when plants are moved.  We have observed this ourselves at our last property where trees planted from seed did far better than young seedlings that we nurtured and watered over a long hot summer.
  2. Plants that are transplanted require watering to establish.  This is difficult and time consuming, especially on a rural property where we have to hook up a water trailer in order to bring water to the plants.
  3. Hares.  The European Hare is extremely territorial and will cut off any plant that appears in its patch with a trunk as thick as a finger or less.  For some reason if the plant grows from seed, it is far less likely to see the young tree as a threat or incursion on its territory and is far more likely to leave it alone.
  4. We are lazy and haven’t set up a suitable garden bed yet.  This is a work in progress (we currently have our chooks working on our first garden bed – see below)

That said, we will try transplanting seedlings.  There is nothing like experimenting with a range of strategies to determine which is the most effective way to establish trees to improve soil.  It is all part of the adventure, and I love it 🙂