Tag Archives: poplar poles

Guest Post — Holes and Poles or: How I Learned to Start Worrying and Read the Landscape

I grew up north of Chicago in the suburbs, far from the daily struggles and concerns that are encountered daily on the farm. At home I had been in the fortunate and privileged position of not worrying much about how much it rained or how little it didn’t, or where water was flowing or where it wasn’t.

But these effects are devastatingly consequential on the farm. Waterlogged soil is devoid of too much oxygen, which causes the plant to die. Prolonged exposure to soggy soil can cause nasty infections and rot on the hoofs of most livestock. One of Nelson’s many tenants of is to be constantly observing what is happening around you with all your senses, and this is keenly important in order to keep the land running smoothly. For example after one particular rain heavy evening Nelson had noticed that the soil in one of the orchard had become too overly saturated, so we worked to dig drains that directed the excess water into swales on the lower parts of the soil. A small issue that could have caused much trouble later on was not only preemptively avoided, but that excess water via the swale would now be stored for future use. A liability was turned into an asset.

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                                       The drain we dug in the orchard

A few days later we also planted coprosma robusta into that same paddock as well as on a couple of other places on the property. Not only do these trees serve as windbreakers when they mature, but they act as another way of absorbing excess water in the soil.

This is important concerning a much bigger incident and the project I have spent the most time on with Nelson during my time on the farm. Last April, a massive slip occurred on the hillside in the back of the property due to runoff water from a neighbor. For Nelson, who had noticed the influx before the slip and was worried about this issue occurring, this was a good lesson on diligently reading the landscape and taking preventive action. (He spoke to the neighbours about it but they refused to do anything to prevent their water from running onto the farm illegally.)

But since it did occur we have been working to prevent it from ever happening again. This is where poles and holes come in — poplar poles to be exact. Like the coprasma robusta that we planted in the paddock, the trees help to absorb excess water. But more importantly, poplar trees have an extensive and deep root system that dig into the hillside and effectively hold it to help prevent future slips.

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The slip as pictured here. You can see two poplar poles planted just off to the left.

            Planting the trees themselves is where the challenge comes in. First comes scouting the location to plant the tress — another important instance of being able to read the landscape. Depressions and low spots on the hillside are the areas where water is going to flow and pool, and hence likely to cause erosion, so that’s where the trees should be planted.

Once the spot to plant the trees is scouted its times to plant the trees themselves. A spade is used to initially create the hole, with the excess soil being placed above the hole. (Later the soil is going to be placed back in. So it is easily scooped back into the hole through keeping it above the hole.) Next we used a hand auger to create a hole with the size and depth we wanted. We dug the hole 70 to 80 centimetres deep, which was about halfway between the bottom tip of the auger and the top of the handle.

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Nelson digging the hole with auger and ramming the planted poplar pole into place

            Once the hole is dug in the pole are placed into the corner of the hole. The poles are then rammed into place from the top. We then spooned back a third of the dirt into the hole and used a tamper to pack it down, rinse and repeat until the hole was filled back up. Finally a protective sleeve went around the poles to prevent the livestock from eating them. And there you have it! But the poles take another 7 years to mature and effectively work to hold the hillside. So while they are an effective preventive long term measure, the best defense in the interim is to continuing to use our eyes and ears to protect the environment from further damage.

 

– Emily

 

 

 

 

 

Permaculture Plants

All plants are created equal – some are just more equal than others.

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For those who practice permaculture, certain plants are key elements for regenerative design, serving to: build soils; provide wind breaks as well as fodder for stock and bees; protect other plants from frost and excess sun; hold stream banks and hillsides; serve as firewood; and of course provide food.

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Tree lucerne (tagasaste) is a prime example of a permaculture plant. We use it on our farm to: fix nitrogen in the soil; protect young avocado trees from frost and sunburn; provide wind protection for the market gardens; feed bees and hungry mama goats.

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We plant hundreds each year so we propagate them ourselves on a regular basis.

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Another example that many farmers in our hilly region use is poplar in the form of 3 metre poles. They are used in slip-prone areas to stabilise slopes while stock is still present. Cows should be excluded for 3 to 4 years. The regional council subsidises the cost of them and offer free advice and which varieties to plant for different conditions.

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Poplars can also be used as wind breaks. We planted these just over a year ago between two paddocks. Those are willow wands planted around the duck pond.

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Along our stream we are planting  sheoak (casaurina), also called river oak in Australia because of its extensive root system.

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Cabbage trees are a NZ native that also help stabilise stream banks. We’ve planted hundreds over the last 18 months.

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We have found hawthorn growing on our hillsides. It has a number of useful traits.

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And finally, Jerusalem artichoke is another great permaculture plant. It’s an edible perennial that also produces a lot of organic matter above ground each year, which dies off in the winter. The tuber is the bit that’s eaten.

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Favouring perennials over annuals is central to permaculture design. While we also have market gardens, I find it more fulfilling these days to be working with perennials.

 

Peace, Estwing

Triage Permaculture: Healing the Land

Sustainability is not enough. We need regenerative approaches to taking on the challenges facing humanity and all life on earth. As with all of the permaculture principles, regenerative design thinking can be applied to every aspect of modern human existence. Bringing land back to health is just one example.

On Kaitiaki Farm we have been bringing a worn-out horse property back to health for the last three years. For the most part the results have been incredible so far. This area was mostly bare soil with a light covering of thistles three years ago. Now it has a complete blanket of grass and not a thistle in sight.

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On the slope just below it we’ve planted manuka and poplars.

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Below that we planted tagasaste.

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And further down there are now olives and then avocados.

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And finally – at the bottom of the valley – we’ve fenced the stream and planted 1,500 native trees, shrubs and grasses.

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Elsewhere on the farm we’re also seeing great recovery. The slope below suffered a major slip during the floods of 2015. We have worked hard to protect and restore the hillside since then.

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All of this planting means lots of propagation. Here are 4 trays of tagasaste grown from seed.

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Additionally we buy in and have donated hundreds of native plants.

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On this farm we’re taking the long view. Investing in erosion control, soil health, and water management now will pay dividends in the future. I call this “triage permaculture.” Vegetable gardens can come later.

 

Peace, Estwing

Going to the Poles

Our Australian neighbours have recently gone to the polls, and the UK’s infamous Brexit referendum is still playing out post voting. And of course the American polls open on 8th November for a historic decision whichever way it goes.

At Kaitiaki Farm we have gone to the poles in a very different way: poplar poles.

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For the second year in a row we have planted poplar poles to hold vulnerable slopes and prevent slips. Here are our interns, Kelly and Patrick, ramming poles last year.

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Poles are planted 600 mm to 700 mm deep and it is critical to pack the soil tightly around the base of each one.

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Here is a slip that occurred last winter during especially heavy rains. We had been on the land less than a year at that time. The slips were a wake up call. This slip now has 18 poplar poles in and around it.

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At the time of the slips we had ordered poles from Horizons Regional Council but had not planted them yet as the storm occurred in early winter. Kelly and Patrick and I planted the first 20 poles in late August. They take about seven years to develop a sufficient root mass to hold slopes, so the sooner they are in the ground the better.

Below is this year’s order of 30 poles that were delivered by Horizons a month ago. The three metre poles cost $7 each.

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They need to be soaked for a week first to ensure they take up plenty of water before planting.

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We planted nine poles as a wind break between two paddocks at the top of the property where it is relatively flat. Our intern, Weis, dug the holes by hand relatively easily. I put the poles in the ground last week.

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This weekend I hired a post hole borer to put in some new fences for our wetland restoration project, and took the opportunity to drill another 21 holes for the rest of the poplars.

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On Saturday I drilled 35 holes into heavy clay soil. I have not been so bone tired in a decade.

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It is not an easy thing to carry up and down hill all afternoon, but the borer got the job done and was back at the hire shop fully cleaned before 5:00 pm.

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Fifty poles and counting.

Peace, Estwing

Ecological Farming is the Most Affordable Option

Editor’s Note: This is another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.

I could not agree more with Wanganui provincial president of Federated Farmers, Brian Doughty, and his recent thoughts on the damage caused to vulnerable slopes due to outdated management practices and June’s weather bomb: “We need, at least, to think outside the square in an attempt to minimise the effects from an ever-increasing number of these storm events because it will happen again.” Screen Shot 2015-11-06 at 9.45.38 am

A difficult and costly repair job after the flood.

From my reading of Brian’s Conservation Comment, he makes two main points in the second half of the piece: 1) climate change will bring more frequent extreme weather events; 2) redesigning our farms to work more closely with nature will save farmers money in the long run. As any regular reader of this column recognises, these are two of the central tenants of eco-thrifty renovation.

When eco-thrifty thinking is applied to the land it can be called “holistic land management” or “permaculture” or “ecological farming.” Whatever you call it, it relies heavily on pattern recognition. Specifically, the patterns that Brian addresses are ridges and gulleys and the best locations to place tracks and fences within the landscape to minimise damage from slips. This is sage advice, and we wish Brian could have been on the committee that chose to move the Sargent Gallery into a floodplain.

Designing with recognition for the patterns in nature has two clear advantages for farmers: 1) higher productivity; 2) greater resilience. In the day-to-day workings of a farm, holistically managed farms are more profitable, and during extreme weather events – either storm or extended drought – are more resilient.

And who would have guessed that ex-farmer and current Letters writer G.R. Scown was an eco-farmer long before it was fashionable?!? I admit to pleasant surprise as he waxed eloquently (Letters, 22-10-15) about worms, soil bacteria, humus, moisture retention and seaweed.

Similarly, I have experienced great results in pasture quality using some of the methods Scown describes along with rotational grazing. The result is a win-win-win situation that includes a healthier mix of pasture species, healthier animals (from eating better plants), and a resilient farm better able to weather both ends of predicted weather extremes.

A recent study by researchers at Stanford and Berkeley published in the journal Nature concludes that, “Climate change could cause 10 times as much damage to the global economy as previously estimated, slashing output as much as 23 percent by the end of the century” (Bloomberg News). Another recent report identifies that “Land degradation is costing the world as much as $10.6 trillion every year, equivalent to 17% of global gross domestic product” (Guardian, 15-09-15).

But none of this would be news to our outstanding regional council. For a long time, Horizons has taken a holistic, proactive and hands-on approach to land management and working with farmers. I have nothing but respect and admiration for the leadership shown by Horizons and the high quality advice and support offered by expert professionals.

I have been impressed with more than one regional councillor’s understanding and advocacy for holistic perspectives on issues ranging from watershed management to environmental education. Getting rid of the “Green Rig”, for example, was an excellent decision.

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Poplar poles planted this winter on a vulnerable hillside. 

I have also worked with a number of Horizon’s staff on issues of soils, slopes and tree planting. The advice was top notch and the customer service outstanding. I actually enjoy paying my rates because I know my dollars are doing great work. Speaking of which, I seem to recall reading that the regional rates bill was going to increase by $2 per household to buy more poplar poles for farmers. I reckon that should be doubled because decades down the track we’ll all be better off for it.

– Estwing