Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Sandalwood: Part 2

 Sandalwood: Part 2

Having last reported on our sandalwood project back in July 2013, I thought it was probably time for an update. It seems to me to have proceeded very slowly, but looking back at all the work that's gone into getting our block to its current state - planted out with indigenous nitgrogen-fixing seedlings which are all about 80-1cm high - I'm not surprised.

Our sandalwood block - if you look hard enough, you'll see the seedlings, which are about 80cm to a metre high. We'll be sowing the sandalwood seed soon.

First of all, my long-suffering partner and father spent many months burning the massive piles of wood left over from clearing the block. We became the biggest carbon emitters in our neighbourhood sending plumes of smoke billowing up into the crisp, clear air all through of winter 2014. Some of the piles burnt for weeks, with huge, partially buried embers fuelling the burn. Not a good look.

Then, we quickly realised that the ground, riddled with roots and holes from removed stumps, was far too uneven to run our tractor over. Actually, it was too uneven to run pretty much anything but the biggest, hairiest machines over. Our ickle 'lifestyle' tractor is not such a beast. We knew we needed to be able to use our tractor to rip sowing lines in for the host seedlings, and also to control the interow grass while the trees become established.

So we brought in the big guns in the form of a local contractor and his array of ridiculously large earthmoving equipment. First a harrow with rakes to drag through the topsoil, bringing the roots to the surface, and dragging them to the remaining burn pile
Harrowing to bring roots to the surface
Then monster offset discs, cutting through remaining branches in the soil, and breaking up bigger clods of dirt. All I could think of as I watched his machines rumble over the ground was "no, the soil structure, the soil structure".

When this destruction was complete, we walked over the paddock, picking up remaining large sticks  and rocks to ensure our tractor wouldn't be waylaid by them.

Then summer came, and we watched as dry topsoil, no longer anchored by vegetation, blew off the block and down the street. D'oh. Should have seen that one coming.

Finally, in Autumn 2014 the rains came and it was time to plant our nitrogen-fixing hosts.  I picked up the seedlings I'd ordered to be grown out by our local nursery: Acacia myrtifolia, Bursaria spinosa, Acacia stricta, Coprosma quadrifida, Goodenia ovata and Indigofera australis. The A. myrtifolia has been the best performer.

Winter and spring turned out wet, and we noticed that many seedlings sat in waterlogged soil for weeks at a time, which may partly account for the roughly 30% attrition rate of the host seedlings. Over the next few months, I'll fill in the gaps with seedlings purchased on the fly from local nurseries, but staying with the same set of species.
Acacia myrtifolia in our sandalwood block, the best performer out of all the host species planted.

My partner, in his usual meticulous way, mapped out the rip lines for planting, curving them slightly to try to keep them partially on contour. It took quite a while for him to do the job - did I mention our tractor is small?

Making the rip lines - single green tine attached to the back of our tractor.

I've been in contact with a nurseryman in central Victoria, regarding his native sandalwood plantation, which my partner and I visited in 2011. He planted his sandalwood in 2006 and by December 2012 it, was showing an average annual stem diameter increase of 15 mm, with growth still accelerating.

This photo, taken in August 2013, shows the largest sandalwood tree in a plantation established in 2006 in central Victoria. The shovel is 1.5 metres, which puts the tree at around 5 metres high. 
And here is a long shot, showing the tree in the row of sandalwood and hosts

We're now waiting for our sandalwood seeds to arrive from Ben Boxshall, the ecologist who advised us on the project way back in 2012. Fingers crossed we can get them in with some rain to get them germinating.