Guest Post: Kelly on Planting Trees to Stabilise Slopes

Greetings everyone, this is our first blog post as interns at the Eco School. We hail from Portland, Oregon USA and just started our 1 year New Zealand working/learning/traveling experience. The main goal of our trip is to learn more about permaculture, sustainable living and to learn about, and give back to the local communities we visit.

Before arriving in Wanganui we heard there had recently been some flooding. We had no idea of the severity of this flood. When we arrived, about 6 weeks after the major flood, it looked like the river was still way above normal level. There were still traces of silt on the streets and in the grass of the parks. We walked into the i-Site, or tourist info center, and saw a red line on the pillar above our waist height marking that this was the highest flood level ever recorded in Wanganui history. As we drove up the hill to our new home for the next six weeks, it looked like a hungry giant had taken multiple bites out of them. There were slips and erosion occurring everywhere we looked.  Screen Shot 2015-08-20 at 6.12.07 am

Slips far and wide. 

There is no doubt that climate change and many other factors have led to this disaster. The hills are wasting away and sometimes taking a couple of sheep with them. Some homes that were built too close to the edge looked like the Titanic going down. You can see the vast difference in the soil quality before and after the slip. Needless to say, there’s lots of work to do!

One of our tasks has been planting poplar trees. We planted 20 trees in various spots along the hillside near slip areas to help with erosion control. They also serve as wind breaks, moisture and flood control, and they can be used for animal fodder in drought season. Permaculture design rule: everything must serve at least three purposes, check.

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Poles above a slip. 

They were a cheap, easy to plant, low maintenance variety that was recommended by the council. At only $7 each, you get a 3 meter high tree. To plant them we dug out as small of a hole as possible that was about 60 cm deep. This sounds easier than it was, with the clay and moisture in the soil, we had to get down on hands and knees and stick our arms in up to our elbows to pull out the dirt. It would stick to the shovel so you’d have to kick it off with your boot. By the time we were done our boots were 5 kilos heavier! We stuck the tree in on one side of the rectangular hole so that the soil only had to be tamped on one side.

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Patrick tamping away. 

We then used top soil that was collected from the some of the slips to fill the holes. Most of the soil we dug out was clay, so the top soil will give the tree more organic material and a better chance at taking root. Then we tamped, stamped, tamped and packed some more. Got to make sure these guys don’t move until they’re roots are established.

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Poles in the ground.

One and a half days later, they’re in and ready to start growing, soaking up the extra moisture, rooting down the hillsides and protecting the beautiful land and animals at the farm. It feels good to be putting something back into nature.

Until next time, thanks for reading.