Six years ago we first invited friends and family to come and plant trees at Yarnauwi. They came, dug holes in a windswept paddock, hunched their shoulders against the cold and ate lunch beneath one of the property’s two big old red gums. That first year most of the plants were devoured by kangaroos and deer. Amazingly, our friends and family came back the following year and every year since, with the tree-planting weekend growing into an annual celebration of moist ground and hope for the future.
One of the most persistent challenges in our work to revegetate areas of the farm has been managing kangaroos. Despite its previous status as woodland, for decades the farm has been an enforced grassland as hay paddock and pasture, the preferred environment of Western Grey Kangaroos. While early accounts of the region describe the southwestern Fleurieu as “kangaroo country”, land clearing, the elimination of predators such as dingoes, reduced hunting pressure, and in our case, the provision of year-round green pick in the form of a nearby irrigated golf course has contributed to a steady increase of kangaroo numbers.
We’ve observed that the kangaroos follow a seasonal rhythm of converging on our property in numbers during the cooler, wetter months, before dispersing into smaller family groups as the weather warms and dries. During this time, they typically move into the neighbouring golf course, and because of the constant availability of fresh feed it is rare to see a female kangaroo without a joey. While most species of kangaroos typically prefer grass, the Western Grey is also noted as a browser of shrubs and seedlings. Continue reading
Impatient as we are, we’ve become slightly obsessive about “before-and-after” photos in an effort to stay inspired about the possibilities for landscape transformation. About 15 minutes down the road from Yarnauwi, our friends David and Gillian have been gradually revegetating a former grazing property in the hills above Cape Jervis. Perhaps because of its steepness, the property has retained a good number of big old pink gums, together with the occasional ancient sheoak, offering the beginnings of a canopy for regeneration. Seven years ago we helped out with one of their first planting weekends, and I recently unearthed some photos taken at that time. With David, we recently walked around the property to admire the last seven years of growth.
David and Gillian have been philosophical about kangaroo grazing, with plants getting no more protection than korflute guards. Some plants have been repeatedly mowed down, reaching no higher than the tree guard after seven years, while others have finally stretched above mouth height and are now heading skywards. David notes that no plants were about adult should height for the first five years – something we can relate to at Yarnauwi. Continue reading
This year is our fifth on Yarnauwi, and this June saw our fifth annual tree-planting extravaganza. Over the last five years, our amazing community of tree planters and supporters have planted 5000 trees and other plants on Yarnauwi as we work to restore woodland, stabilise and repair erosion and plant trees for future timber, forage and food. Following the last four years of observation and experimentation, in 2017 our main focus was planting carefully selected species into some of the more challenging areas of the property. Each year we’ve propagated and planted trees sourced from both Trees for Life and our own seed collection. In addition to their generous labour and time, we’re honoured that Yarnauwi regulars Richard and Marg have now immortalised the annual tree-planting tradition in a musical saga, published below and sung to the tune of Loudon Wainwright’s The Swimming Song. The lyricists also pre-emptively apologise for any character assassination contained within.
A week or two following the tree-planting extravaganza, we were delighted to host the Permaculture Association of South Australia for a walking tour and lunch, sharing our property planning process and how we’ve approached the landscape restoration through a permaculture lens – of which these plantings are a central element. Thank you to Tree Team 2017: Anthony, Pete, Shani, Arlo, Freya, Jeremy, Claire, Innis, Sal, Mary, Branny, Richard, Marg, Nat, Jess, Oliver, Gillian, David, Geoff and Andrew.
On a balmy autumn afternoon, we celebrated the new shed with sixty of Yarnauwi Farm’s friends and supporters. Following a tour of the farm, we settled into a shared dinner and drinks by the campfire.
To mark the occasion we also produced a self-guided tour map of important developments and points of interest on the property, hard copies of which were gifted to our guests to be stuck on fridges and toilet doors.
The changes that have occurred at Yarnauwi over the last four-and-a-half-years have only been possible through the encouragement, support and labour of our community of friends, neighbours and family. We hope that this celebration went some way towards expressing how grateful we are.
In birthday cards I often wish the recipient a coming year of “the right kind of challenge”, optimistically suggesting it will herald positive growth and empowerment through problem-solving and negotiation. This year, I got a taste of my own medicine, with a winter of biblical proportions just the beginning of the challenges.
November marks four years since we began the Yarnauwi project. Four years of attempting to regenerate the property to our optimistic standards on the weekends, of packing and unpacking the car, of ferrying and entertaining one, then two, small children, of revegetating, managing erosion, managing pasture, managing water, managing livestock, managing weeds and managing the legacy of past land managers. These are all admirable, ambitious intentions, and what we’ve achieved has only been possible through the support and enthusiasm of our community of neighbours, friends and family. Continue reading
The first big storm saw the dam fill and rivers broaden to ten times their normal size for an afternoon. A neighbour’s creek crossing dissolved in the flow, the rock and rubble broadcast along the river bottom. The second big storm saw our rainwater tank, still awaiting a shed to fill it, lifted vertically from its nest of stardroppers, vaulting a tractor and four or five fences before being swept off in the swollen waters of the Anacotilla River, carried across two properties and wedged under a red gum. The third storm came with days of warnings, threats of winds over 120km/h and rainfall to rival all of the previous deluges. It left all of South Australia without electricity, the farm a sucking, gurgling swamp, and me walking home through a darkened, scrambling city.
It’s been a demanding few months on the farm. The persistent moisture has made the ground unworkable, most of the farm inaccessible except on foot and the weather generally hostile to both our motivation and ability to do anything useful. The vast quantities of rain we’ve received however, have meant that moisture has permeated deep into the subsoil, so we console ourselves with the hope that as the weather warms, our tree plantings (including those from earlier this winter) will rocket skywards. Continue reading
For the first couple of years of tree planting, we adopted a pretty haphazard approach, planting a bit of everything everywhere, and waiting to see what would stick. It took only a couple of months to highlight which areas offered the conditions for revegetation at a respectable pace, and which did not. Some patches only appeared to support certain species, others seemed to support nothing at all. The challenge has been to work out why. For enthusiastic amateurs like us, the working out comes through plenty of observation, plenty of reading and plenty of research.
For some areas on our farm, vegetation is a valuable indicator, plants like sea barley grass (Hordeum marinum) suggests mild salinity, and, in our case, seasonal waterlogging. In others, aspect and soil type present challenges. Three years of tree planting and walks through local bushland have also given us a sense of which local species might suit which locations. We keep trying new configurations in the same places, and also try to mimic the natural process of succession by planting hardy pioneers first, then waiting for them to establish shelter and canopy before adding others. As the balance of the landscape has changed through clearing, cultivation and the associated effects of erosion, shifting water tables and changes in nutrients and soil biology, many of the species that may have dominated a couple of centuries ago no longer tolerate certain areas of the block. Likewise, some areas that may have been conducive to vegetation when woodland was already present, once cleared, they seem to be hostile to its re-establishment: for example, a north-facing corridor of grey, cracking clay that has resisted our affections for two years now. Continue reading
Over the June long weekend, once again our loyal crew of tree-planters descended on Yarnauwi for the fourth year of tree planting. This year we planted 600 plants, local species associated with pink and red gum woodlands.
After 3 years of planting, many patches of seedlings are now well established, and on rainfall only they’re slowly growing into the landscape. Our mission for this year was to fill in some unplanted spaces, trace windbreaks and corridors between islands of vegetation, replant tricky spots with specially selected vegetation and to expand some of our successful woodlots. Spots that we cleared junk from earlier in the year were planted out, and areas of erosion control will also be planted with sedges and reeds this season. Continue reading
Before Yarnauwi, we never really appreciated winter. Now, through the long dry season, we find ourselves yearning for a chill edge to the wind, the moisture in the grass, and skies of dark clouds. We’ve tried to plan our year to mimic the lives of so many of the organisms that occupy our landscape: in the hot, dry times, we go into maintenance mode, watching and waiting for the first rains before we spring into action again. With the greening of the landscape, it’s all on: tree-planting has begun, shed sites are levelled, the grass grows. In winter, the kangaroos converge in clans numbering hundreds, displaced from the pasture, they lounge among the seedlings in the reveg areas while we look on nervously.