The establishment of a ribbonwood and mountain lacebark shelterbelt
We haven’t had any decent rain for a couple of months. What was left of top soil moisture sucked out by wind: the Canterbury nor’wester, hot and dry, gusting up to 130 km/hr.
And we desperately want a shelterbelt’s spring planted ribbonwood and mountain lacebark seedlings to survive. Too many hours, no, days of toil, have gone into the plantings.
A brown circle of earth a metre across for each tree, using spades to slice off the turf – no ‘Roundup’ (glyphosate) used here. Holes a spade width across and about fifty centimetres deep. The base of the holes cut into by the spade to loosen the hard clay pan. Soil returned, watered and left to settle before the plantings. Once in, the seedlings themselves watered and enclosed by plastic tree protectors.
A few weeks in and they were in competition – more a losing battle – with a flourishing regrowth of pasture species and weeds. Most we sliced by spade, but those coming up around and inside the protectors had to be pulled out by hand.
Come late April of our autumn and we needed to get water down to the roots and lingering long enough to do some good. June, by handheld hose, got it to them in the nick of time – fitting it in amongst a myriad of other tasks in the days before we went away for five days.
A holiday visiting friends from way back. Travelling by air to Auckland, and bus and ferry to Waiheke Island.
You don’t want the trees or garden or livestock, on your return, to punish you for neglect. You want to leave on good terms with your place. You want to return rewarded for your diligence – the place in good heart.
That way, ‘back home’, when utterly ‘away’, will give you barely a troublesome thought. And you can throw yourselves into enjoying time out.
In the company of Toni and Chester we certainly did – such good friends.
Now we’re back, and the vulnerable young lacebarks and ribbonwoods are looking just fine. But still no rain. At this rate, they’ll need another soak from the hose in a couple of weeks – sufficient to percolate down to the roots.
Drought and competition but two threats to their survival.
We’ve got electric fencing round the shelterbelt, which June switched off when she was in there watering the trees. Ten minutes later and she had two goats in with her! Luckily she spotted them before they’d started browsing the seedlings. Got them out and put the line back on.
Some of the goat areas have the shelterbelt as a boundary. The goats quickly sense the absence of an electric current. They’ll put their head under a low wire and push themselves through.
June’s presence, coinciding with the herd being due to be moved onto a new area in their pasture rotation, had proved too much for a couple of does with their eye on the main chance.
Anyway, before we left for Auckland, June put them on fresh pasture and I reassured myself that the fence had a pulsing presence. My tester is a broad grass blade: held a couple of centimetres from where I had it resting on the wire I felt the fingers tingle and throb. All’s well.
But you need the protection provided by the thirty to forty centimetre high plastic cylinders encasing them.
(I carefully replaced the plastic sleeves after taking the photos!)
Yesterday I startled a rabbit (we startled each other!) as I took photos of the seedlings. They’ll nibble juicy shoots.
Get in the way of a hare and it’ll fell a slender stem with a clean cut at a tidy forty-five degree angle. We’ve spotted one out there big as they get – with its spurt of speed and loping gait your eyes want you to imagine it the size of a half-grown goat.
Years ago we lost several freshly planted, slender poplar poles to hares. Sticks poking out of deep snow. They scissor-incisored them down, not to eat but because they got in the way of a hare intent on going about its business along familiar routes.
Possum’s love a variety of leaves, but there’s always plenty around, especially in the vegetable garden. I’m pretty sure it won’t be possums that threaten the seedlings’ chances of survival.
The three row shelterbelt, running north-south down what’s roughly the middle of our ten acres, and at some fifteen metres across and hundred metres long, will be a substantial wildlife corridor. Including the animals, birds, plants and insects we actually want to have in there!
It’s already got an established two metre high middle row of flaxes and toi toi. Good plants to help nurse along the lacebarks and ribbonwoods. Planted almost thirty years ago when the two outside rows were in Eucalyptus nitens (shining gum) – trees grown for firewood and shelter.
Rain, wind and snow joined forces, twenty years on, to destroy what they could of the gums and shelterbelt fences. Rain in torrents, and close on its heels, a foot of snow that melted and seeped into the already water-logged ground. Weather gods grooming those towering trees – trees that were spread-rooted but not deep-rooted. Groomed them for the wind god that came in like a hurricane from the nor’west and toppled sixteen giants.
“Never again,” I vowed. As a member of the Fairlie Lions Club, I knew selling firewood was a major fundraiser. About seven years ago they took out all the remaining shelterbelt gums. Only recently has the re-establishment of trees in the shelterbelt got to the top of the priority list. Small native trees – planted for shelter, wildlife, and to please the eye.
The sodden, softened ground, howling gales, and men with growling chainsaws, all conspired to take out the gums. In contrast, there’ll be no saw taken to the natives, we’re having a run of calm weather, and the ground’s hard, dust-dry.
Looks like we’ll be getting out that handheld hose again – the survival of the ribbonwoods and mountain lacebarks might well depend on it.
That’s all on modern-day homesteading at Little Owl Gully till next Monday. Thanks for your company. Bye for now.