Knockalong has quite an abundance of trees for a farming enterprise. This is mainly due to my grandfathers and my fathers understanding of trees and their value.
In the early pioneering days, trees were seen by many as the “enemy” of the grazier as they restricted the growth of grasses. Large areas of land were cleared of nearly all trees for the development of the grazing land. With the loss of the trees went the ecosystems and before too long we saw the negative effect of our actions. There was no shade nor shelter for stock or plants, and combined with the excessive stocking rates and presence of introduced rabbits, so too went the soil.
As described on the Property Development page, our land was originally cleared leaving contour belts of trees. The width of these belts were supposedly wide enough to enable regeneration within them. Unfortunately many of them have thinned with time and the recently purchased block of land has been over cleared by the early settlers, now a site for tree re-establishment.
Single trees of giant majestic proportions were left in the open spaces as monuments of beauty. These were often Eucalyptus Rubida with their white branches reaching high and wide. It was these old trees that offered nesting places for native birds and supported micro ecosystems for insects. Unfortunately the sheep found the young Rubida tree seedlings very palatable and so there were no new generations of trees to replace the old. This was most noticeable after the bush fire of 1985 where the whole property was totally burnt out. The old trees, with their hollows burn out, fell to the ground to reveal a “flattened” landscape.
As a child I remember ridge lines of bushy eucalyptus forests that sheltered the hillsides. Now depleted of trees as the sheep camps poison their soils, the landscape transformed.
What are we to leave the next generation?
When the next generation arrived in the midst of the drought we began with a number of actions. The first was to have paddocks free of stock for extended periods to allow the regrowth to develop. Once the seedlings appeared we placed tree guards on them to allow them to gain some height and then allow stock back into the paddocks.
We fenced off ridge lines and planted trees. We installed water infrastructure to ensure a high survival rate and we reduced the grazing pressure on the land by moving stock out before they consumed the seedlings. Unfortunately the drought initiative backfired as the drought broke in 2010 and we lost 90% of the 2000 trees planted, too wet, (See link to reports below).
We have now begun to harvest tree seed from our own trees. By doing this we maintain the local genetics of the trees. It is our intention to prepare the failed plantation areas for direct seeding (broadcast) and accept a slower but more natural tree regeneration site offering a greatly reduced labour cost.
An example of a direct seeded plot can be seen in the adjacent photograph. The site was mounded on the contour and the seed spread randomly around. The plot did not germinate until the second year and now it stands quite tall after 20 years.
One of the projects was “Self-watering – tree establishment” and the Final Report can be viewed here. The project carried out to re-establish trees on a sheep camp has been documented in the report “Tree re-establishment – sheep camp”. A sample of the Funding Application for this project can also be viewed.
There are a number of publications with information on seed harvesting. These include papers available at the Flora Bank website where among other things you can learn about seed harvesting, drying, storage and more. Also attached is a document on “Germinating Eucalyptus Seed” and “Direct seeding of trees and shrubs” by the Department of Natural Resources and Environment, State of Victoria.
The “normal” seasons have been with us for a while now and the results of our de-stocking is now noticeable. The Silver & Black wattles have risen above the reach of hungry sheep and there is a dense “forest” of regeneration. This may look as though we have lost the grazing country to the trees but that is not the case. Wattles offer shelter to the grasslands and fix nitrogen in the soil through their roots. These are relatively short-lived trees that are part of a larger cycle of natural regeneration.
We now have the opportunity of clearing the regrowth in a planned manner to give us remnant trees on ridge-lines and wind shelter areas while we can clear the lower fertile areas sheltered by the remaining trees. It is a matter of “reading” the landscape and creating “open” sheltered grazing areas.