Giving breathing room for two of our fruit trees

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It always amazes me to see trees planted by themselves in a sea of grass.

Not only does the grass compete fearsomely with the trees, but the grass encourages a bacteria-dominated ecosystem in the soil rather than a fugal ecosystem, which trees require. Trees also prefer to live in a tightly-bound forest of their peers, where their roots are interconnected, making it possible for them to share resources.

This is one very sad fruit tree!

No wonder then that the two lonely fruit trees planted at Lewisham Farm have been struggling. We think they might be peaches, but we won’t know until we’re able to get them to a point of being healthy enough to fruit!

The grass is easy to lift up around the tree

The starting point is to cut away all the grass directly around the tree. We then sheet mulched with cardboard, and then weighed down with wombat poos (which we have many of, which is another story!).

Sheet mulching, with left-over moving boxes. Recycling in action!

(As a side note, there is a danger that the sheet mulching could stop water getting to the roots of the tree. In our case, the farm gets heaps of rain, the ground is well and truly moist.)

The trees will need much more help than this, and they’re also heading into winter dormancy. Still, it will hopefully give them some breathing room, while we find them a better home on the farm…

Saving the environment, one pavement at a time

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Poor tree! For that matter, poor pavement!
Poor tree! For that matter, poor pavement!

The photo above underscores what street trees often have to suffer through.

With the trunk surrounded by concrete on all sides, the results are lifted pavements for pedestrians, and too little water for the tree. Amazingly, some people call for the offending trees to be cut down, but there’s a better solution.

Why not give the trees more space?

Plenty of space, with less concrete and happier trees.
Plenty of space, with less concrete and happier trees.

Marrickville Council is one council pursuing this policy. When a pavement comes up for renewal as part of the regular maintenance (planned five years ahead), a bigger opening is left for trees.

This gives the trees more space, and allows more rain to absorb into the ground, rather than into the stormwater system. I imagine it also saves a small (but measurable) amount of concrete.

Residents can't wait to plant underneath their trees.
Residents can’t wait to plant underneath their trees.

Biodiversity is also increased when low plants, such as lomandras and dianellas, are planted around the base of the trees. With an even larger space, it becomes possible to establish a true verge garden.

Marrickville Council also goes beyond this. At the time of writing, the Sustainable Streets program enables residents to cut spaces out of their concrete verge for a small fee. If the majority of a street requests street gardens then the council will cut out the concrete, provide some extra soil, and even throw in some plants for free.

The pavement running alongside Petersham Park: half concrete, half gravel.
The pavement running alongside Petersham Park: half concrete, half gravel.

As a final note, this pavement work next to Petersham Park is another small but elegant example of the principle at work. Instead of re-laying the whole pavement with concrete, gravel was laid down for half the width. When I talked to the Council about this, they highlighted the benefits of less run-off, as well as providing more rain for the avenue of trees.

Councils have a big role to play in the sustainability of our local environment. If we can keep changing default policies to encompass environmental thinking, we’re well on our way to saving the planet!

Giving street trees more space

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Dianellas planted around the base of a Council street tree
Dianellas planted around the base of a Council street tree

One of the topics that came up at my first Marrickville Council Environment Committee meeting was the Council’s recent (?) policy of widening the cut-out around street trees, as shown in the photo above (taken a block away from our house on Old Canterbury Rd).

Hardy natives, such as Lomandras and Dianellas are then planted around the base of the tree.

This is a great idea, for a whole pile of reasons:

  • the trees get more space to grow, including better access to rainwater
  • damage to the pavement is reduced
  • the arrangement looks great
  • it increases the biodiversity of the area
  • plants such as lomandra and dianella both produce berries much liked by birds

Of course, it’s not a new idea. In the streets around us, hundreds of trees have had  plants guerrilla gardened in underneath them. The variety is the great bit, from natives to exotics, grasses and flowers. Perhaps the Council is just catching up with the local residents!

Gardening around the base of street trees -- have residents been leading the way?
Gardening around the base of street trees — have residents been leading the way?

Lots of limes

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The first real harvest of citrus: 45 limes!

We’ve been pretty quiet about our citrus growing on this blog so far, despite having a lemon, lime, two oranges and a grapefruit in the ground. Why? Let’s just say, they didn’t prosper in their first 18 months.

What turned things around was some reading about their hungry nature. We’d been giving them regular handfuls of citrus fertiliser, but they were still struggling, barely growing, and not fruiting.

Then I read the following from two different sources:

Citrus trees need 0.5kg of fertiliser for each year of age … per year.

Eeek! That’s a lot of fertiliser, certainly a lot more than the handfuls I was applying.

Ramping up the feeding quickly showed the value of this advice, however. All the trees starting growing strongly, with the yellow vanishing from the leaves, and flowers sprouting. They’re now well on their way, and I’m expecting good things from them over the next few years.

The photo above shows our first real harvest of citrus. Noting that the lime tree was weighed down by fruit, I harvested a bucket’s worth. This turned out to be 45 limes, from a tree not as high as my shoulder. That’s more like it 🙂

Lemons, limes and oranges

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Orange, lime, orange and lemon
Orange, lime, orange and lemon

The last major task for the front garden this season was getting in the citrus trees.

Two weekends ago, I started by marking out a garden bed 5.5m x 1.2m, and then dug that down to a depth of a foot-and-a-half (a back-breaking job!). I then constructed a treated pine frame to build the bed up.

I hadn’t quite done the numbers first, and discovered that I’d need an extra 2 tonnes of soil, or thereabouts. So another call to the bulk supplier, and a lot of shovel work later, and the bed was full.

The local Bunnings had a reasonable range of fruit trees, and this is what we ended up putting in:

  • Orange, Lane’s Late Navel (full size)
  • Lime,Tahitian (full size)
  • Orange, Valencia (dwarf)
  • Lemon, Meyer (dwarf)

Now to wait a season (or two) for a full crop…