Woodlot and Regen – AGM Farm Visit

The BSL 2011 AGM was preceded by a tour of three properties owned by BSL members Andy and Deidre Plummer. The properties have been the focus of intensive reforestation and woodlot activities under the management of furniture maker and cabinet timber plantation planner, Tony Kenway. After an introductory presentation at the AGM venue Tony led a convoy of vehicles on a guided tour. This is a edited transcript of the farm visit

Tony Kenway:  Thanks  everyone for coming. Firstly I would like to acknowledge that there are many very experienced North Coast rainforest regenerators present and it is an honour to show you and everyone here around this project.

I’d like to say from the beginning I don’t call myself an expert regenerator. My knowledge is more in cabinet timber timbers and rainforest regeneration in general. I have received help from different people: Martin Novak; Tony Parkes; Mike Delaney; Ralph Woodford; John Grant; Kevin Glencross; David Cameron and of course, the contractors, EnviTE, Ben Jennings, Humphrey Herrington – we certainly haven’t done it on our own, and I would like to think that we have taken the accumulated knowledge available and gone from there.

To give you a brief history of the project: the owners, Andy and Deidre, and I met through my furniture world. They commissioned some pieces and through that we developed a friendship. I remember one particular conversation, which was probably a turning point, when we were looking at my timber storage and Andy asked me where I got my timber. I explained that we used to get it from around here, from storm damage or clearing for orchards etc. But I now need to source timber from scavengers in Tasmania or North Queensland. Landowners would ring me to say there’s a silver ash, cedar or silky and we’d go and mill it. I grew up milling the local timber as a ‘scavenger’ to use for my furniture, and boatbuilding, so I developed knowledge of  local species that way.

This conversation led onto a discussion about the State Forest joint venture eucalypt plantations that were happening on the North Coast in the early ‘90s. At that time many of us here today thought that there had been a golden opportunity missed in the Big Scrub area when State Forest planted species that weren’t endemic nor of high value. From this, Andy and Deidre became interested in the concept of planting high value local rainforest cabinet timber species on Big Scrub land and, to their credit, they grabbed the concept and ran with it.

We found this property at Federal fairly early on; it was one of the first we saw. It was a degraded 100 acre beef farm that was over stocked and neglected for 30 years. It was camphor and privet infested with a 1 km stretch of Cooper’s Creek. Since 2007 we’ve purchased neighbouring properties so now in total we have 200 acres which, when finished, will have around 100,000 trees planted.

I had seen quite a few projects like Tony Parkes’ and Alan Jarvis’, which were some of the largest around, so I was aware from the beginning the amount of work needed. It was a daunting task that was made easier by deciding to divide the first 100 acres into three stages with 30 acres for each years planting. We now have two more years of planting to complete the 200 acres – six stages, and of course maintenance until that winds down.
Due to the size of the project we decided to bring in three separate contractors and attack it on all fronts at once – a regen contractor, Ben Jennings, a cabinet timber contractor Humphrey Herrington and EnviTE doing the creek riparian work. We’ve had a couple of different nurseries involved but we now use Mark Dunphy’s Firewheel Rainforest Nursery as our main tree supplier.

We’ve learned a great deal and our systems have evolved. Many call the project a plantation but really half of the expense and focus is on regeneration (with enrichment cabinet timber planting) and half on cabinet timber plantation (CTP). Although the property is loosely divided into these two categories, in my view, the line is grey. Particularly when the CTP forest ‘matures’, and we’ve achieved canopy cover, other species and undergrowth will start coming in to create a de facto rainforest.

So you can see that our focus is not just about forestry – we want to grow a rainforest, which is designed to have the potential to be sustainably logged forever. Future generations can have an income stream from this forest and there will be no need for replanting, as the forest will regenerate itself.

I would like to say that we’re fortunate to have neighbours who are also interested in regeneration. It’s a large project that will change the nature of this part of Kings Rd. Already there’s 50,000 to 60,000 trees planted and in total, around 20-30 contractors and 150 people employed. Of course this will reduce to a few maintenance workers once the rainforest and infrastructure are established.

There you have the overview. Andy and Deidre basically wanted to grow a rainforest that will be here forever. Obviously, there are tax incentives. It’s a registered plantation, with harvesting rights. The long-term vision is to definitely retain the forest, which can potentially be selectively and sustainably harvested. It would be madness to go to this much effort and damage the integrity of the ecosystem created, by insensitive harvesting.

Over the last four years I have developed a model for the CTP. It has been planted with a matrix of species that has fast growing species, or fast maturing species, that can be selectively logged in a thinning process after 20 years, then again in 30 and 40 years, leaving slower to mature species with plenty of space to grow.

Potentially, when thinning occurs, there will be enough work here for a small spot-mill with around 10,000 logs in year 20, 30 and 40 and so on.

The areas are basically divided into two categories. We decided in Stage 2, from lessons learnt in Stage 1, that it was cheaper to maintain plantings by mowing between the rows. This system was suitable in areas that weren’t too steep and where we could clear the rock easily. We set up contour rows across the hill and, by clearing a few rocks, we were able to slash economically and efficiently. The slashed areas are therefore more manageable with larger spacings, access tracks etc; we call these areas the CTP, with a more managed plantation focus. In other areas, where it was too steep, rocky and/or camphor ridden we avoided using machinery and applied the ‘regen’ approach. We still had a predominant cabinet timber mix in these areas but with a larger range of species with closer spacings, probably 100-150 species, including riparian, understorey and lomandra for erosion control.

In order to establish the rainforest we had to deal with the camphor. To do this a variety of approaches and methods have been used. We pre-poison before removal and use a feller-buncher attachment on an excavator (see picture below) which will leave the butt in the ground. In other areas if not easily accessible we leave the trees standing to die and eventually fall. In other areas we have left some smaller camphor alive for short-term cover and wind protection. We have a ‘no fire’ policy and have used all the camphor biomass for mulch as red soil needs as much organic matter as possible. We’ve had a variety of different machines mulching and that’s now evolved into big chippers in some areas and in other areas we simply sheer-up the camphor and leave piles in the bush to rot. The organized piles help us to gain access to plant and maintain.

Preparation for Stage 1 started in October 2007 and was planted in June 2008. It’s now basically maintenance free with a canopy formed. We’ve done two bottom prunings so far and it has been a very successful planting. We are aware that we have had some luck in that we’ve had three years of great weather and we just missed out on the worst frost in 30 years by six months – we have been blessed.

I’d be happy to answer any questions.

Q: How many species did you use in the CTP?

Tony:  There’s about 20-30 core species and some are definite favourites.

Q: What are your favourite species?

Tony: White beech is a strong tree with good form – it’s a proven performer. Silver ash (Flindersia shottiannia) is fantastic. Quandong is our backbone species and we’re using a lot of them. We have also planted silky oak, cedar, rosewood.

In Stage 1 20% of the trees we planted were wattles. We had seen Alan Jarvis’ planting down the road where he was using wattles to minimize maintenance; his philosophy was that the wattles formed a quick cover that the trees could grow through. So, I thought, in the back of my mind, if we turn our back on the planting the wattles will assist with maintenance, but Andy and Deidre, to their credit, have stuck at it, kept the vision alive and have carried through with the initial vision and funded the maintenance.

We have now replaced wattles with quandongs as we’ve had trouble with wattles dying. I think the whole north coast has had this trouble with wattles in the last three years, and I’m open to any ideas as to why this has happened. We’ve learnt things from nature; we’ve had different issues in different species each season. We’ve had rats ring-barking, crickets and storms blowing trees over – all sorts of things.

Q: Have you planted many teaks?

Tony: Yes. The species selection was made based on my timber knowledge and knowledge of the local trees. Teak is a great timber so we have certainly put in quite a few. But in terms of the future market it’s not that marketable as a wood. It’s not a cabinet timber; however, it’s certainly a valuable timber for durability. It was very popular in the boat building days, but it is not used that much today.

Q: Are the cedars getting attacked by tip moth?

Tony: Yes, and we’ve done a fair few experiments with that. I’ve read several papers on the subject and tried several remedies. Some of my guys tried a little patch with chemical control but that proved to be useless. David Cameron and I tried extensive pruning, thinking that we could prune the moth out at a certain part of the year; we burnt the contaminated prunings and waiting for a more healthy flush but that hasn’t really worked. I still believe that it was the right decision to plant lots of cedars; because of the obvious value of the timber, the conclusion is to just let them do their thing and bottom prune. If you plant them in a year or two after the rest of the trees they can be ‘pushed up’ by the competition and form a straighter trunk with less attack under canopy.

We’ve planted 3,000 – 3,500 cedars so far.

Q: Any brushbox?

Tony: No, we didn’t have any rhyolite sections and brushbox is a better performer in that sort of ground. We wanted to keep to the subtropical species. Kevin Glencross suggested Gympie messmate (Eucalyptus cloeziana) and a few different species for purely timber purposes but we’ve tried to keep it as indigenous as we could and as varied as we could; mix it up as much as possible to emulate our local rainforest.

Q: So, wallabies? A big problem for most people these days that wasn’t when we started 20 or 30 years ago.

Tony: Yes, they’ve been daunting. We had Martin, Mike and Ralph out initially and I think Ralph said the biggest paddock that he’s heard of that was fenced was 10 acres and we were looking at 100 acres so, the questions were: What type of fence?; How much money do you spend on it?; Do you put internal fences in?; How do you construct creek crossings?; What is the cost of guarding verses fences? These were all unclear. People warned that if the area fenced is too big you can lose the wallabies in the paddock and you can’t find them – that’s an issue too.

Q: What have you done in terms of wallaby fencing?

Tony: Here we have fenced the entire boundary and divided it into three sections. However, I’m also managing another property at the moment and, in terms of economics, I’m pushing towards doing just the boundary – it may not keep out 100% of the wallabies but if you’re planting 100 acres of trees, I’ve learnt that the damage is spread out as there’s only so much a few wallabies can eat. I think that the fence has changed the movement of wallabies in the valley and there are not as many trying to get in now. You’ll see the fences later, and may notice we already have started to take some down; the fences were always used as a temporary but necessary measure.

Stage 1 Inspection

Tony: Stage 1 is about 3 1/2 years old – planted in June 2008.

Q: How big were the trees when you planted them?

Tony: About 300 mm, in tubes – some of them were smaller. We leave the grass between rows and spot-spray; eventually the trees shade out the grass.

Q: Are you going to cut the quandong out at 15 years?

Tony: Just some. There’s a balance between thinning when trees are large enough for useable wood and spacing close enough for weed control. This is an opportunity to experiment with different ways of doing things, on a large scale, which is exciting.

Q: Is there’s already pruning going on?

Tony: Yes. We prune in winter and leave the mulch on the contour to help control erosion. We bottom prune and form prune with poll secateurs, chainsaws, pruning saws etc.

The rule of thumb is that we bottom prune anything below 90-100 mm stem diameter to achieve clear-wood (see Clear-wood next page). Some species we have a slightly different approach. The pruning is a good winter job for the guys plus it’s a better time to prune – less fungus attack in winter.

Q: So something like this blue quandong, you’re about to hammer that, are you?

Tony: Some quandongs have bigger branches than others; there are quandongs in Stage 2 that appear to have smaller lateral branches – perhaps a different seed source. These quandong branches will be pruned off next year. We don’t want to take too much of the tree – you don’t want to take off more than 30%.

Q: So you’re not pruning the wattles at all? They get pretty difficult, and they start spreading out into the others, don’t they?

Tony: We do prune some of them to possibly get some good stems out of them for timber.

In Stage 1 the contractor wanted to rip, which was his practice, and I agreed as an experiment; we ripped approximately a quarter of  Stage 1. I think we’ve proven that the ripping makes no difference at all – we have the same slope, the same nursery, the same timing at the other end and the trees are doing just as well at this end. It has actually caused a little bit of erosion, not much, but it stirred up rocks and it opened the ground up more than is needed. I think it depends on the soil; if it’s really tough then maybe a rip might be worth thinking about.

Q: How are you digging your tree holes?

Tony: The planting is easier when it’s ripped – but it’s not needed. We use a Stihl power auger to drill a hole which has a tip on it to rough up the sides to stop glazing. We also use a slow release fertilizer.

We had a lot of camphor chip spread on this site – four inches thick is maximum. We prepare the site starting July-August for the following April planting so the chip has been on the ground a good six months before planting. We’ve done a lot of experiments, and seen the results, we pull the chip back from where we plant the tree and use straw closer to the stem – we figure the chip is a little too fresh. Ideally, I’d say a year would be better if you could plan that far in advance. We also pile some chip and, after it’s been sitting for about 12 months, we use it for our landscape gardens – we have created a massive amount of chip from camphor and it has all been used.

Q: Were the camphor just pushed over by heavy vehicles or poisoned first?

Tony: Pre-drilled and poisoned – we drill three weeks minimum prior to the machinery arriving. That gives 3-6 weeks for the poison to work right through the system, suckers and all. We don’t push them over, we have a machine that sheers them off ready for chipping. We leave the stump because removing stumps is almost double the work of just getting rid of the upper tree.

You’ll see some large stumps. We use a fantastic machine, called a feller-buncher, which has a vertical grab and a sheer at the bottom. With its 8 m boom it can place the tree up to 16 m from the stump, ready for chipping. It’s incredibly quick – there was a remnant up on the hill, covered in camphor; the camphor was out in 3-4 hours with no damage to natives. Also track machines do minimal compaction and with a skilled driver it is an excellent tool.
A track machine can go on quite steep areas but you have to work around weather and know when to draw the line with machinery. It’s uneconomical and unwise to go into steeper areas. In these areas we poison, let the trees stand to die slowly and do enrichment plantings.

Q: Will those trees fall down on your new plantings?

Tony: Sometimes, but as the branches die they become lighter. There are many different views on this – some people don’t like the look of all the dead camphors for five or more years until they fall. It can also be difficult and dangerous for the workers as they have to work around the camphor branches coming down. In regen areas with natives, which are too steep and rocky, to easily remove camphor, the economical equation definitely leans toward leaving the camphor standing. In these areas, if you plant with close spacings, do your basic maintenance and keep out, then fairly quickly you will form canopy.

But in the CTP areas with easy gradient and few rocks, and not many camphors, the equation favoured removing the rocks and mowing between the trees. We learnt a valuable lesson here in Stage 1. We had months of wet weather and  didn’t get back to do the maintenance in time – it was very expensive to go through the 30 acres hand weeding and spraying because the weeds were higher than the trees. Maintenance is expensive; that’s why we now are mowing between the rows. And we have found that spending the bit of extra time on initial de-rocking has paid off.

Q: What is the machinery costs then when you incorporate the chipping?

Tony: For the 750 horse power chipper, including the excavator feeding it, $750 an hour – the operation has to be a well planned to make it efficient and economical. I also use smaller chippers, groomers and sheer machines, depending on terrain. We also mill the larger camphor over 500 mm diameter.
Q: Are you using glyphosate (Roundup)?

Tony: Yes, frog-friendly. And we have a policy of minimal poison use and we’re trying to design the plantings so that they are dense enough for quick canopy with maintenance. Mowing between rows reduces the amount of glyphosate as well.

Q: Is this your typical spacing, it looks like about two by three metres?

Tony: Yes. Stage 1 planting was done randomly, so we didn’t organise where the trees were in the rows, nor did we organise alternate species in every second row, which is what we’ve done in Stage 2.

We had a lot of trouble here with silky oaks. We put silkies in because it’s not only a great cabinet timber but it is also a tree that can be thinned out – half of the silkies may be gone in 40 years, also in 15 years 30% of the quandongs could be gone. This means that you may put more of these species in the original planting.

Martin Novak: Are you aware of the provenance of those silkies?

Tony: They were from CSIRO.

Martin Novak: Well there you go – maybe our own provenance is better!

Tony: Well that’s probably right but it’s difficult to prove 100% because each season’s different. I’d never heard of this before but we were getting rats climbing the silkies and ringbarking them by chewing the bark. And in the Stage 3 planting, it was incredibly wet and the crickets were nipping our seedlings in half – but not all the species. We simply pulled the mulch back from the tree a little bit further than our normal practice of mulching right to the tree stem.

Martin Novak: Piling mulch can work. Rainforest seedlings don’t get collar-rot like the eucalypts.

Tony: That’s right, we usually like it close. However in Stage 3 we simply moved the mulch away from the quandongs and other trees affected – it solved the problem.

Mulch close to the tree is best in terms of maintenance. The weeds don’t grow close to your tree and, although you think you’re smothering the tree, they poke through – and they’re protected a little while they’re young.

The maintenance staff and the contractors are well versed in all the native ground covers. When it’s wet we go around with our quad-bikes and trailers and chip out ground covers from patches that we have on the property and move it around. The ground covers have worked fantastically well for erosion control. As the spray line goes out from the tree and the circle gets bigger, the ground cover follows it.

In Stage 1 we had quite a few storms and wet weather which led to hundreds of trees getting quite a lean on them – wet soil and the ripping probably didn’t help but it also happened where we didn’t rip. We took advice from David, from his experience in north Queensland, which was to simply stand them up, stomp a shovel full of soil around the base – we did that a couple of times for almost a thousand trees. We didn’t stake.

Stage 2 had a very different season. We had a good planting season in April but the following spring was very dry. But we could sense that it was OK because the trees were established enough to handle it – you could sense that the trees weren’t growing much on top but they were getting tougher in the ground. We therefore only had a dozen or so trees lean over in Stage 2. In Stage 3 CTP we had another wet spring with a lots of trees leaning over once again; the trees seem most vulnerable in year 1-2 when they’re trunk diameter is 1-2 inches. My theory is that a dry spring after autumn planting is ideal to help the trees handle strong winds and … don’t over fertilize!

Q: Do you plant Queensland maple?

Tony: Yes, we did in the CTP 1, 2, & 3  but none in the regen sections. I have seen the issues relating to the seed spread and have decided against planting in Stages 5 and 6. They’ve done well, but they tend to lean over in wet weather because of their large foliage.

Martin Novak: The belief is that they’re going to be a problem under canopy doesn’t seem to be right because in the Gibbergunyah NR there were 32 planted in 1961 and there’s about six left – and they’re struggling. They’ve died off, and there’s nothing coming up in that canopy. In plantings at Rocky Creek dam there are hundreds of little seedlings but most of them are canopy shy.

Mike Delaney: I planted Queensland maples 33 years ago, along with everything else. I’ve harvested one. I haven’t used the timber but it looks very good; I got about 2.5 m3 from one tree.

The maples started to fruit at around 15 years of age – they have pods and winged seeds like the local Flindersia, so they can drift a fair distance from the parent tree. Last year I used around 25 backpacks spraying the seedlings – a 50:1 glyphosate mix that is commonly used in regen work to spray seedlings. There is an area of camphor forest that I haven’t sprayed yet, and I’ve watched develop over the years, and ur5uoli they are growing through the camphors like I can’t believe.

Tony: I’ve got a theory that they can go berserk in the beautiful red soil and that we will have to keep our eye on them. We have brought in non-north coast species like Queensland maple – it’s a fantastic timber and it grows fast. We even thought that with climate change it may come down here anyway. We’ve also put in a few Queensland kauri and bunya pines.

In Stage 1 we mixed it up a bit with a few experiments, Stage 2 was a bit different and, as I say, we’ve gone away from the wattle concept and gone more into quandongs, particularly since I’ve found that the quandong sapwood is usable.

Stage 1 has a canopy now and we only do one maintenance pass through here each year.

Q: Where are all the buttresses on these quandongs? My quandongs have huge buttress roots.

Tony: You’ll probably find these will all buttress eventually – maybe they haven’t because of the ripping, I don’t know. The buttressing is great for erosion control; this is something that Mark Dumphy and I have talked about, that there is a phase in plantings between year 1 and 4 where there’s potential for soil erosion in the gullies – once the grass has gone and there’s not much undergrowth or woody matter. Therefore, you’ll notice in the gulleys, we’ve put in strips of lomandra and  lot of palms.

Stage 2

This is Stage 2, planted in March 2009. We became a little more scientific about what we did with our tree matrix. In every second row we planted fairly fast maturing species and then in the alternative row, species like white beech, red cedar and rosewood – the slower maturing species that need at least 40 years before you’d even think about cutting. It may not happen exactly like this but technically the fast maturing row here could go in 20 or 30 years and then in the row that’s left every second tree could be harvested so you’re left with one tree every six metres in the mature forest.

You’d have to make decisions on the ground. If there are big trees around crowding out a red cedar or white beech you’d obviously take some out, leaving the best trees. I’m fully aware that the best intentions may change but at least we did have a plan. It all starts to make a bit more sense rather than just randomly planting – you don’t want a red cedar, a white beach and a rosewood within three metres of each other – it just doesn’t work. So you put each slow maturing tree, like a white beech, amongst some fairly quick maturing trees. The proportion of species is all worked out on that matrix – so this is my matrix and model for CTPs (see Tony’s Species for Managed CTP Areas, page 12).

We obviously mow here – it has 3.5 m spacings. We encourage the native ground covers and we’re careful not to spray them – so as the shade increases the ground cover returns naturally,

Q: The silk oaks here seem to be performing poorly.

Tony: They’ve been a bit marginal. Not as good as I expected.

David Cameron: They’re very sensitive to Roundup, a little bit of drift … you wouldn’t even know.

CSIRO found that the silky oak coastal provenances were generally better performing than the inland provenance, but I’m not too sure how much. They use to have a seed orchard around Gympie and that would’ve had their collection from way back when there was a division of forest researchers in CSIRO, but of course the government’s decided that we don’t need that anymore, so it’s gone.

Tony: It takes a while to develop relationships with the nursery and seed suppliers. I talk to the Firewheel Nursery seed collectors about where they get seed and make sure it’s got good form etc.. They certainly are an interesting and knowledgeable crew. We do care where the seed is coming from.

Andy was keen for us to have our own nursery but I said, “Look, this is a whole world on it’s own and there’s gurus out there doing a better job than we would.”

You will notice our regen sections around the creeks, and steeper land, where natives were regenerating amongst the camphor. Some creek areas were not wallaby fenced, as we initially didn’t attempt to cross-creeks with fences; it has been difficult to achieve quick cover in some sections due to wallaby damage and poor ground. We have interplanted several times and eventually had success by using more wallaby guards, ‘wallaby proof’ species and tough pioneers.

We have a kilometre of Keystone Ck running through the property that is being regenerated and planted. EnviTE have done a kilometre of Cooper’s Ck. that has been quite a challenge with erosion issues and madeira infestation. They are probably the most experienced at this sort of work.

We’ve also had lots of camphor, cherry guava and privet in this steep and rocky area; we’ve done enrichment plantings with predominantly rainforest cabinet timber species. In these regen sections we have planted up to 200 different species and we mix it up as much as we can – including lots of palms and riparian species

The Meadow

This meadow area has been left as an open field which will be a nice contrast to the mature forest around it – it could also be a future local cricket ground!

You will notice the access tracks are mostly cut on the contour, which eliminates the need for gravel, reduces storm water speed and therefore erosion. I’ve gone for cross-fall on the roads so there are no drains on the upside of the road – they’re problematic with water congregating. All weather access on a project this size needs to be addressed for logistical reasons such as planting maintenance and also for future enjoyment. A forest that is easily seen tends to be well maintained!

This is our boundary wallaby fence. It’s fairly expensive but you’ll notice some internal fences where we use star pickets – these internal fences cost about $13 a metre. We have had a few wallabies in but the odd one doesn’t create a big problem. We’ve seen them jump the fence and can burrow under; that’s a big issue. The mesh needs to be on the ground.

The wallaby fence isn’t needed after year 3 – after that the wallabies may ringbark some trees, and that’s been a minor problem but, even in our creek areas where we guarded our trees, the wallabies seem to have given up – I don’t fully understand but they might just have enough feed from everything else now. Up on Kings we don’t have fences on the road, because there’s just no wallaby movement there – I hesitate to say, but you can do a three sided fence if a busy public road’s on one side and therefore you may not get wallaby movement from that side.

Q: What a fantastic project. So you’ve start off with a degraded farm, then plan all the planting, the buildings and the landscaping?

Tony: Well, all that has evolved. I picked the best house site and made sure the forest didn’t block the northern views or sun. I then set out the native landscaping and screens to blend into the forest keeping a subtropical theme. There was lots of planning with the forest and ring -roads etc – you’ve got to identify your creek crossings and work out how to put a ring-road in without erosion. Also, fencing, camphor clearing, plant orders, planting, timing, maintenance etc – it’s a huge project; it takes more than an hour to just drive around and inspect the property.

I have learnt a great deal in the process. I have certainly needed all the knowledge gained from my 50 years living in the Big Scrub land.

I’d like to thank many here, and others, who have generously shared their knowledge and especially Andy and Deirdre who have followed through with the vision.

Tony Parkes: Thank you, Tony, for showing us around. It has been a great day and I will write to Andy to thank and congratulate him.

 

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