So in between our long dry periods, only the hardiest of weeds survived. It's overgrown and I don't really mind that, but its the fact we haven't improved the soil structure which is the most disappointing.
A level strip of land on a slope
This is the Swale presently. We haven't had a good drop of rain for several months, only the occasional drizzle. This is on a north facing slope, so without adequate tree cover, is subject to continual evaporation when the sun is out. The soil is a combination of red clay and sandstone, which we learned while digging the swale by hand.
To give an indication of what it looks like in wet weather, I have to refer back to late 2010, a few weeks before the 2011 Queensland floods.
As you can see, the area is quite effective at retaining water when it *does* rain, but our incomplete design didn't cater for better resilience in the opposite conditions of dry. To give an indication how important shade is, there's another part of the swale, directly behind me, where I was taking the pictures above.
This picture was taken on the same day as the first image, but the difference here is, where the canna lilies cast shade onto the grass, it retains moisture longer than the grass exposed to full sunlight: hence the visible green strip of grass. This image is taken in winter, so the canna lilies are capable of casting a long enough shadow to effect the growing conditions of the grass underneath. This is despite the lack of rainfall.
So this living example proves the importance of shade in this particular area. If we want to retain moisture to change the soil structure, we need trees.
Packham pear with falling leafs
We did end up planting trees at the same time we dug the swale, but several have since been removed or died. The grapefruit died, the kumquat was transplanted to a completely different area to save its life. The pineapple quava was removed and put in a pot on the verandah this year. The only two remaining trees were two pear trees (one shown above). Just to show how inexperienced we were in the beginning, we chose two pears of the same variety, with no pollinator. No surprises why we've seen no buds, apart from the abysmal conditions we've raised them in.
Pigeon pea stumps, pear at rear (4 years old)
Pigeon peas did really well here though, self-seeding and then successfully protecting the pear trees. The pigeon peas also became a food source for the kangaroo mamas and their various offspring. Which is why it was very difficult to cut down the trees from this area recently. It had to be done though. I left some stumps in hope they would re-shoot and give them some nourishment. I did plant extra pigeon peas lower down the slope, in anticipation I would remove this lot from the swale.
I laid down all the pigeon pea branches on the walkway, and then David and I carted bark mulch over the top. In the wet season this will break down, then we will have to add more mulch. We anticipate having to do this for several seasons.
What's all this in aid of though, but to bring in a better design to connect the areas which are slowly degrading. You'll have to forgive my rough paint skills in utilising GIMP, but this is the design we are hoping to aim for.
A green corridor - click to enlarge
This image is taken at the opposite end, to the very first image. We've got room for a pollinator pear on the berm (closest to the swale) and we'll be planting a row of hardy natives along the walkway, which we've already begun. In winter the natives should cast a shadow towards the pear trees, preserving moisture on the walkway. Which is important, as we seem to be missing the early spring rain more often than not.
Behind me, in the image above, is a carob tree. I didn't choose the best spot for it, but I thought it was hardy, so plopped it in the ground. Obviously, it requires more TLC so while I was dealing with branches and the like, I decided to give it a hugelkultur mulch treatment - small broken twigs, followed by bark mulch. It got a good drink and the leafs look less dull now.
Behind the carob is a mixture of natives and ornamental shrubs we've planted to help shield us from the street, and from south, south-westerly winds. To give an indication why its so important to tackle this slope, I need to demonstrate the existing degradation.
A poorly landscape
This is the north facing slope, above the swale. At the skyline is the street. It gets sprayed once a year by Council. to control the grass near the road. But it's also a sheer drop, so has perfect drainage. Without regular rain, this area becomes brittle and lifeless...
Water repellent clay
This is the red clay which needs some work. We haven't had any rain, so the grass is dying back. It's very susceptible to erosion. Sticking mulch on top isn't the answer, we've found - it just rolls down the hill eventually. It requires a living network of connected systems, to turn this balding red patch into a layer of brown hummus.
I look forward to updating our progress as it happens. I've already got three quick-growing natives on the edge of the walkway. Hopefully we'll get a decent amount of rain in spring and summer too. At the moment, they're predicting an El Nino, which means dryer than normal conditions. But I'm still ever the optimist, and will keep working on this area.
Do you have any land degradation issues to tackle, and do you have a plan?