After three months, our tree planting activities are finally finished for 2015. The pattern is always the same. Sophie does her best to moderate my impulses, but when the opening rains come I always seem to get a rush of chlorophyll to the head and end up with boxes of seedlings more than we could ever reasonably plant. That said, with the support of our community of family and friends, this year we planted 1000-odd trees, shrubs and ground covers, 300 grasses propagated from seed collected on the property, and still had a few boxes to give to neighbours.
Excitingly, it feels as if much of the major infrastructure for the farm is now in place, including the largest chunk of revegetation. Now we’re up to watching, tweaking, filling in the gaps, and beginning to think about utility plantings for food, timber and forage. This year, we’ve planted trial woodlots in three awkward areas with soil that’s been hostile to the local indigenous species planted in previous years (we’re trialling Acacia salicina, Eucalyptus occidentalis and Casuarina cunninghamiana). We’ve also put in a handful of the iconic Bunya-Bunya Pines (Araucaria bidwilli). They’re a long way from their subtropical home in southeastern Queensland, but we’re hopeful! (David Holmgren has recently written an interesting article on the Bunya-Bunya available here).
With the last plants in the ground, we’re now also weeding and auditing survivors from previous years, rearranging tree guards to beef up their security and documenting which species have survived best to identify patterns for future plantings. As we pat this year final plants into position, the seedlings for the 2016 season and beyond are already emerging from the ground: Like upturned green squids, Stone pines (Pinus pinea) have been the first to reach beyond the soil surface in our nursery.
I think one of the things I find most alluring about the process of propagating and planting trees is the way it places us within time. There’s the annual cycle of seed collection and germination and planting out, but also the much vaster time frame of the tree’s own life: sometimes stretching beyond many human lives. Our most consistent survivors, the river red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), can live to 1000 years, while it may be our grandchildren that see the first harvests from some of our food plants. The Stone Pines may not fruit for 30 years, the Bunya-Bunyas for 50, while our experiment in growing the desert-adapted Colorado piñon (Pinus edulis) may not offer nuts before the year 2115.
In planting trees that may wait a century before their first harvest, we’re also reminded of our place in a changing climate. As we refine our planting list to favour those plants that have thrived in our particular soils and landscape, we’re also trying to select those indigenous and other species that stand the best chance of surviving in an unpredictable future. It’s a reminder of our unofficial motto from The Land Institute’s Wes Jackson, “If your life’s work can be accomplished in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough!”