What happens to a steep clay bank that has been cooking under the sun for the whole summer when the first heavy rain comes? We are talking about NZ conditions, a harsh, relentless sun in summer and rainfalls with water pouring from the sky as if a giant tap was open right above your head. Well yes it all crumbles away and follows the laws of gravity with everything up there ending further down, more or less far away depending on how lucky you are.
Everyone who knows the famous NZ comic strip Footrot Flats will remember The Dog’s most invaluable advice: ‘Plant some more trees!’ to avoid landslips. With this wealth of precious kiwi knowledge, we have undertaken an extensive native and re-vegetation planting project. That’s over 100m of driveway to be planted on both sides in 2 to 4 rows, the whole bank behind the shed (more than 300sqm) and the one behind the house plus a steep slope behind the solar panels. There is also the septic fields to be planted, some shade for all the water tanks, a drain to stabilize, some wind shelter for the veggie garden, the house and the orchard (300sqm of shelter belt in total). With on average 1 plant per sqm that gives around 1200 plants to put in the ground. A third of them being a delicacy for rabbits, they also require a plastic sleeve maintained by 3 stakes to protect them until they are established. Yes that’s 400 sleeves and 1200 stakes!
In most places, we also had to bring some topsoil back onto the slopes (and find a way to keep it there even in case of heavy rains). To save our fruit trees from root rot in winter, we have had to mound up some topsoil and now our orchard looks like a sea of little Taranakis. To face the opposite problem in summer, Ben is planning an ingenious grey water irrigation system of our fruit trees as our house is quite a bit higher than our orchard. How great can it be to enjoy a 20min shower thinking you are ‘actively’ taking care of your trees rather than having bad feelings about wasting water ? Let’s predict an interesting ‘grey water use’ post in the future.
Back to our natives. Choosing the plants was quite a bit of fun with a lot of knowledge to be accumulated in a short time. What helps against erosion and doesn’t mind all together poor and poorly drained soils, our crazy winds, crazy droughts, crazy winters with weeks of boggy soils? These native plants are just amazing. And on top they are beautiful. Some even look funny (a lancewood or a cabbage tree). Once you have selected the suitable types, you also need to know how tall and how wide they will grow so that you place them right. I’m sure we’ll have some surprises on the way but one thing is certain, it will be fascinating to see them establish and grow. With about 45 different natives we also hope to create a bees and native birds haven.
In between the winter storms, we have had days with amazing weather when our very efficient team of helpers (Loic and Bruno) achieved with Ben figures of up to 100 plants per person per day. We are now approaching the end of our planting venture with the only big area remaining being the bank behind the house. Even though most of the plants are less than 30cm high, it already looks great!
The orchard has had its first fruit trees planted too, mostly the citrus. Most of the other trees were not available yet (pip and stone fruits) and the subtropical trees need to be planted in spring. A nice supply all year round with lemon, grapefruit, mandarin, orange, kumquat, keffir lime, tamarillo, guava, cherimoya, loquat, banana, elderberry, apple, crab apple, pear, quince, plum, peach, grapes, passion fruit… It will take a few years to produce and we can’t wait! But the possums can wait at the door because ZZZZAP!!! The electric fence will keep them out (see our post ‘fencing’).
Now that the plants are in the ground we can start to worry about keeping the kikuyu at bay (a very smothering tropical grass with fast-growing, powerful stolons that needs very little water and a lot of sun to proliferate – in heaven in Northland). Check out this summer for a ‘Kikuyu’ post :-/