Once our wattles were established in the front and back paddocks I began to wonder what could be added that would complement them. I’m originally from Western Australia and I noticed that farmers in the South West of that state were beginning to plant out Sandalwood after planting wattles. It raised the question; would Sandalwood grow in the middle of New South Wales, near Canberra?
A chance encounter
I was preparing breakfast at an Easter camp and spoke with someone from W.A. She took 10 minutes from her busy schedule to talk about her brother-in-law who was growing Sandalwood near Brookton in Western Australia. To make a long story short, I visited with her brother-in-law later that year and came back with 1 Kg of Australian sandalwood seeds, (Santalum spicatum). In addition to selling me the seeds, my friend’s brother-in-law held what amounted to a field day, so I got the low-down and how to grow them.
So why bother?
Now that the pilot has proven successful, I’m mindful that others may wish to explore ways to improve the environment and add the potential for high value crops. In areas such as this, current laws force farmers to bear the cost of owing land that must be allowed to revert to Eucalypt Forest. Given a chance I believe farmers would be willing to plant local trees that in turn support Sandalwood, thus ensuring trees stabilise the ‘hungry country’ hills. Santalum spicatum can be harvested after a minimum of 20 years. Ideally they should be left for 30 years, and they have been harvested at 100 years of age. What we need now is a local industry and a processing plant.
The idea is to establish a complex system that increases the monetary value along with the stabilising effect on the environment. It must also be worth the grower’s effort or no one will do this. Beginning with a suitable local pioneer plant raises the likelihood that the initial vegetation will survive the harsh conditions. For instance, a Master Tree Grower advised me on wattle that would not sucker up under stress.
Once established the pioneer vegetation provides shelter for, or is symbiotic towards, the high-value crop. In some cases the pioneer vegetation must be replanted several times over the life-cycle of this system. The bonus is that carefully selected wattle may be used as firewood or cabinet timber.
Wattle has grown on our block for about 12 years, some of it wild. We planted other varieties quite deliberately viz, A. decurrens and A. mearnsii. In an effort to use the existing eco-niche we introduced Sandalwood that was grown from seeds domestically and planted amongst the mature Acacia mearnsii two or so years ago from now 7 June 2018. The pilot continues and we are hopeful that it will thrive with the current protections in place.
When we took possession of our block we would come out and, just look at it. There was a great tree for climbing at the back but mostly, thanks to the 10 year drought, it was very bare. One of the first things I did was consider what water was needed in terms of wildlife and stock.
There is a limit to how much water may be held in dams – books on the subject suggest that enough is left to allow storage of drinking water.
While the bulldozer was on the property I asked the operator to rip horizontally across the slopes with the tines on the back of his machine.
Once the rips were in I spoke with the local council about recycled rubbish. As it happened the council was keen to promote their refuse recycling program so before long they delivered 14 truckloads of recycled mulch with a massive transport discount. The drivers dropped a load at the end of each rip. So all we needed to do was spread the mulch over the rips, with a wheelbarrow. My neighbour felt sorry for me and offered the use of his tractor! Thank you Phil. 🙂
As I was finishing the mulching by hand, my other neighbour came over and commented that I had solved the runoff problem, (sheep have been compacting the soil for decades in this area) so what was next?
It was one of those moments; he expected me to go from the micro to broader tactical or (heavens to Betsy) a strategic conversation. I felt a bit blank and must have looked it because he started suggesting different things.
In the end the trees are the things which have became really important. Australian farmers are rediscovering trees. Now our previous focus on the grass model has its history. In days gone by, in order to obtain permission to purchase Commonwealth land or take up a grant for farming purposes, the landholder was required to show they were a worthy recipient of the grant by cutting down all the trees on the property – thus preparing the land for cropping. My larger vision involved trees, hence the rips and the mulch.
More about why trees are so valuable and what has been planted in later blogs.
The intention of this blog is to describe our journey with a lifestyle block from purchase to the present. Why should others miss out on the fun we had wresting a barren drought ravaged block to its current state. 🙂
Recent: This is Frank. He’s a visitor here until his owner can establish a permanent home for him. These are the trees we grow to establish diversity and introduce more organic matter into the soil.