Recreating the Country blog
Setting the scene - the bush cafe
It had been a long exhausting drive and seeing the sign to ‘The bush café’ was as welcome as stumbling into a shady oasis in a sun scorched desert.
The gravel drive wound through the woodland trees until the vegetation opened on a tranquil scene. Here in this out-of-the-way place was a beautiful mud brick café perched on a hillside overlooking a meandering tree-lined creek below.
The Greys wearily climbed out of their dust coated SUV, stretched and walked through the garden into the cafe. They were soon to discover that this was a café like no other.
The beautiful coffee/hazelnut aromas emanating from the country kitchen were coming from roasted acacia seeds.
Putting a value on nature’s gifts
There are not many things in life that are free except for perhaps the air that we breathe and bounty of seeds provided by the plants in our parks and gardens.
Each year plants flower and set seed but most of this precious commodity just falls to the ground where it either decomposes or becomes food for small mammals, birds and insects. Far less than 1% germinates and grows into new plants.
Two creative thinking Victorian families have begun to harvest some of this natural abundance. One is turning it into delicious food while the other has recognised its scarcity and value to landscapers restoring natural environments.
But first some science - building income into biodiversity
One of the key ways of mimicking nature in landscape design is group planting of the same species. This enhances pollination by insects and birds and native fauna just can’t resist coming in to explore and to have an east feed. A big clump of plants in flower looks beautiful to both wildlife and humans. Group planting also creates very important vegetation layers in woodlands and forests
In a large plantation same-species clumps can include these sorts of plant numbers;
Grouping makes harvesting and management easy
In biorich planting we use nature’s pattern of same species grouping to add 'useful' plants.
These useful plants can be either local indigenous plants or Australian native plants (not local to the area) with a potential to provide products for personal use or to generate income.
These useful plants are limited to 20% of the total planting to protect the plantations biodiversity values.
April’s blog explores two indigenous plant products with significant incomes generating potential that can be conveniently included into biorich plantings.
“Wattleseeds are the next macadamias”.
Anthony Leddin, a qualified plant breeder, is pushing the boundaries with wattle seed production at 'Eumerella Run Wattle Seeds'. Anthony has applied his training and practical skills to set up a commercial production area of 12 hectares at Yambuk, 20 km northwest of Port Fairy, Victoria. He predicts that wattleseeds will be the next macadamias, an Australian success story which is now a worldwide sensation.
Roasted and ground wattleseed is well known for its nutty flavour in icecream, but it is also becoming more popular as a gluten free and protein rich additive to biscuits, cakes and breads. Its delicious rich flavour is suited to pancake batter and muffins as well as desserts like mousse, crème brulee and anglaise. Did you know that there are now thirteen boutique beers that boast wattleseed as an ingredient?
Barons Black Wattle Original Ale (embellished description alert)
is flavoured by native Australian roasted wattle seed. This ale is described as having a rich amber colour and a base malt flavour of toffee and caramel. The roasted wattle seed rounds out the offering with a unique taste that hints of hazelnut, chocolate and mocha. It is described as a full bodied, full flavoured beer that is surprisingly smooth with an amazingly silky finish.
Beyond The Black Stump Wattle Seed Limited Release Beer
(embellished description alert)
is described as a traditional strong ale brewed with native Black Wattle seed, giving it ‘sweet hazelnut notes with a hint of vanilla’. It is reported to be easy-drinking with a subtle sourness
Swamp Wattle and Coastal Wattle
Anthony has focused on two species of wattle, Swamp Wattle, Acacia retinodes, from the Halls Gap area and Coastal Wattle, A. sophorae, a salt wind tolerant local species that was eaten by the Gunditjmara people, the traditional owners of southwestern Victoria.
Wattleseed as well has being protein rich, also is a good source of Vitamin D, selenium, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. Of the almost 1000 named Australian wattle species, the seeds of over 20 were used as food by Indigenous Australians and over 100 species were harvested for their edible gum, roots, witchetty grubs and manna - produced by lurps living on the wattle leaves. The bark, leaves and wood of some species were used as medicinal remedies. To read more about wattle uses and ecology you could read 'Acacias - the cafes of the bush'
See also this link to a pdf ‘Aboriginal use of Wattles’ by Norman Morrison
Income from wattle seeds
Anthony has planted 5,000 trees, alternating the two species as a strategy to reduce salt wind damage to the Swamp Wattles. His planting layout and pruning is designed to enable mechanical harvesting with a modified grape harvester, though most commercial harvesting of wattle seed is presently done by hand.
He estimates that the wattle harvest will yield a conservative 250kg/ha, though 1 tonne/ha has been suggested as possible. The current value of one kilogram of wattle seed is $45 or a conservative $11,250/ha. This scales back to 0.5kg/tree or $22.50/tree.
The value of this seed can be enhanced by roasting and grinding to a flour. The flour can also be turned into wattleseed paste for added convenience and to develop the maximum strength of flavour.
These very drought hardy wattles fix their own nitrogen, so they don’t need to be fertilised, mulched or watered, which makes them a very low maintenance and a low cost food crop. At 'Eumerella Run Wattle Seeds' the wattles are organically grown so there is no use of herbicides or pesticides.
To read more about the commercial potential of wattle seeds click here
Anthony is happy to take orders for acacia seed and can be contacted directly at email@example.com
Wattle Seeds Australia's website provides practical information about growing and producing wattle seed as a nutritious food.
Other Australian native foods being grown for food are ;
Anise Myrtle, Bush Tomato, Davidson Plum, Desert Lime, Finger Lime, Kakadu Plum, Lemon Aspen, Lemon Myrtle, Muntries, Mountain Pepper, Quandong and Riberry.
Click here to read more about them and their potential on this informative website
Victorian Native Seed
Converting an open paddock into a woodland or forest is a wonderfully satisfying process. Particularly when it mimics patterns seen in nature that make a woodland irresistible to wildlife. Click here to read how its done
Two Victorian visionaries have taken this process an important step further. They set out to revegetate a 5 ha paddock to attract wildlife and to supply the local community with a precious commodity that was in short supply – indigenous seed. Click here to visit the 'Victorian Native Seed' website
Libby, a Botanist with 30 years experience in Natural Resource Management and Steve a Geographer/Historian with 20 years practical experience in land management have combined their skills to plant an open landscape with an extraordinary diversity of local plants. These plants range from canopy trees like gums (four species), through understorey trees (Silver Banksia & Drooping Sheoak), an assorted mix of indigenous shrubs, grasses and herbs.
They now have 83 species in their seed production area and have identified a further 128 species in their adjoining bush block. Some of these are rare and threatened.
Their motivation for this unique enterprise was as much to protect the local remnant bush as it was to generate an income. They focused on species that were difficult to collect in the wild or that were fragmented, a fate that has affected many of our plant species that were once part of a broad and connected landscape.
Putting in enough plants to provide a solid genetic foundation for their product meant they had to plant large numbers of the same species in clumps. Botanists recommend a minimum of 50 plants to provide an adequate gene pool
For example the now rare Yarra Gum, Eucalyptus yarraensis has 74 trees in its plant community. The rare tree form of the Silver Banksia, Banksia marginata has 311 plants in various clumps. These now produce reliable quantities of seed every year. A locally rare shrubby hakea called Bushy Needlewood, Hakea decurrens has 95 plants in clumps to create plant communities. Some of the beautiful rare and endangered herbs they have planted are Pussy tails, Ptilotus spathulatus, Swamp Billy-buttons, Craspedia paludicola, Matted Flax-lily, Dianella amoena and Hoary Sunray, Leucochrysum albicans.
‘All plantings (apart from the Eucalypts) were done by mixing up groups of the same species. This is to give a natural look to the planting while still making the seed collection easier because the same species are in groups together’ (Libby pers.com)
Because eucalypts, banksias and hakeas are pollinated by birds and insects their clumps can be spaced by hundreds of meters, allowing for the long distances these pollinators will fly when they get a taste for a particular flower.
A new wetland system
The seed production area also includes a newly created creek that drains the house garden in wet weather and feeds into a new wetland. This project provides the ideal environment for riparian plants that are usually found along waterways. Here they have planted River Bottlebrush, Callistemon sieberi (279), River Tea-tree, Leptospermum obovatum (202), Australian Buttercup, Ranunculus lappaceus (100) plus Spiny-headed Mat-rush, Lomandra longifolia and a local Flax-lily, Dianella sp.
Overlooked and undervalued - maintenance
One critical job that’s often overlooked in revegetation is maintenance. Newly planted trees and shrubs have to be protected from invading weeds for up to two years until they fully establish. To quote Libby from her website;
‘The seed production area requires constant maintenance. Initially the plants were sprayed around with glyphosate every year to control the long weed grasses. Now to avoid potential harm to frogs and native grasses, leaf litter is collected when we do fire control work around the house area. This is spread thickly around the small plants. Large plants now produce enough of their own litter to reduce weed growth.'
Libby and Steve took the precaution to rabbit proof fence the whole property, though kangaroos remain a constant challenge. Just a few species have needed added protection from Roo damage – Silver Banksia, Drooping Sheoak and Flax-lilies. Swamp Wallabies, usually difficult to manage on revegetation sites, have fortunately kept to the denser cover of the nearby forests and woodlands.
Reaping the rewards – lots more birds.
One of the most appreciated ‘ticks of approval’ for revegetation projects comes from visiting wildlife. At Victorian Native Seed there has been at least a doubling of family groups of Blue Wrens and many species of honeyeater which are also staying longer than before. Interestingly the Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos are really enjoying the seeds on the hakeas and banksias. Individual cones are now bagged to save enough for seed sales.
Victorian Native Seed has an enlightening website full of resources about the plants they grow and how to germinate the seed. They have also set up some creative bird survey sites at ponds on their properties - Click here to be enchanted by film footage from their hidden cameras
More on Biodiversity and profit will be posted in May
Setting the scene - a little piece of heaven
The Grey family set off late one morning with a packed picnic lunch. Their rattly old mustard coloured Landrover ute carried them to their favourite place to picnic and it was on their own farm. It was a natural area of about 15ha fringed by an ephemeral creek that passed through the bottom corner of their 500 acre property. Their picnic spot was on a permanent spring fed water hole. Here they could sit in the shade, swim on hot days or simply lay back and listen to the wonderful variety of birdsong. It was their own private piece of heaven.
After the picnic lunch their dad said,
“Hey kids, I’m going to cut some firewood, why don’t you pick some of those beautiful banksia flowers for tomorrows farmers market”.
Tristan and Nicola were twelve and fourteen now and they could only vaguely remember helping to plant the bush block when they were toddlers. Their dad would dig a hole for them to plant their very own trees to care for. These days they were secretly very proud of how big their trees had grown.
One year they helped their parents plant several big patches of different Banksias in the bush block. Now the flowers from these shrubs were in demand at the local farmers market. They would bunch the different flowers together with some Silver-leaved Mountain Gum leaves (Eucalyptus pulverulenta) and sell them for $5. People would be waiting for them to arrive at the market so their fifty bunches of banksias would sell in no time.
Why build income streams into biodiversity plantings?
In Revegetation – mimicking nature (February 2019 blog) I outlined a simple design system that imitates patterns in nature and recreates rich and biodiverse ecosystems (biorich).
A critical feature of biorich systems is that their dimensions are larger. Ecologists agree that to support a diversity of wildlife, including rare and endangered species, corridors and revegetation plots have to be at least 50m wide and more than 10ha in area. Linking up these areas to allow species movement and migration is also critical to their long term survival.
With so many of our wildlife drifting toward extinction, how can we create these necessary significant landscape transformations in the shortest time possible? It’s already a few seconds to midnight and the clock is ticking.
A key first step in resolving this dilemma is convincing landowners across the country to participate.
We need to provide the motivation for landowners to allocate large parcels of land to native grasslands, woodlands and forests. To become part of a radical shift in direction for land development and land management.
Stewardships funded by governments could be part of the answer. This system pays farmers to preserve natural areas and not to farm. It’s a great way to ensure that remnant vegetation stays healthy and sustainable. The catch is it will cost the taxpayer a lot of money, though I think it would be money well spent. This solution also needs the political will in Canberra to adopt this promising solution on an Australia wide scale. Read more about stewardship here>
Another solution is to add real income earning opportunities into biodiversity plantings. This will provide tangible incentives at the grass roots level. My view is that including up to 20% income generating plants with 80% biodiverse indigenous plantings would provide a good income to landowners as well as excellent wildlife habitat.
How to make income from biodiversity plantings
Adding ‘useful’ plants to biodiversity plantings makes a lot of sense. These plants can provide products for the landowner for personal use or an alternative income stream. These same ‘useful’ plants will also provide excellent habitat and food for wildlife.
A well designed biodiversity planting will support diverse and numerous wildlife including local endangered species of birds. It would also regenerate and self-perpetuate like the natural bush. The perfect biodiversity planting mimics natural bush in composition and form. It is diverse, layered, connected and importantly planted in clumps/groups of the same species. Read more in Revegetation – mimicking nature
Adding up to 20% as ‘useful’ plants (that may be either indigenous, introduced natives or exotics) doesn’t compromise these fundamental biorich design principles.
In our story, the banksias species in the Grey family’s bush block were selected for the cut flower market and would provide both income and habitat. Wildlife would benefit from their dense shrub layer, their delicious nectar and the protected nesting sites that they provide.
Thinning is a natural process
Also Tristan and Nicola’s dad was thinning clumps of tall indigenous eucalypts for firewood. This process mimics a natural event in woodlands. Canopy trees are regularly blown down or damaged by strong winds. What looks a destructive event actually stimulates diversity and new life. Soil disturbance germinates seeds giving life to new plants. Opening the tree canopy lets in more light, accelerating the growth of germinating seedlings and other smaller plants.
The 15ha revegetation site in our story has 80% indigenous plants. Because it mimics nature, there would be at least 20 species selected from 10 genera and importantly 7 families. Many of these indigenous plants have uses and income potential.
For example ‘box’ eucalypts, stringybarks, ironbarks, produce valuable timbers. These can be thinned for personal uses like firewood, fence posts, and craft wood production. Some mixed farms now have small mobile timber mills for slabbing logs into planks for weatherboards, flooring and furniture. This is also a very effective way of taking carbon out of the atmosphere for many decades. Have a look at Agroforestry guru, Rowans Reid’s information site on milling timber>
Some indigenous plants are becoming very rare and can be planted as seed orchards of rare and endangered plants. These plantings will be a critical (and potentially profitable) source of seed for future revegetation works. Same species grouping ensures good pollination and maximises seed production. It also makes harvesting convenient for man and ‘beast’.
At the biorich demonstration site at Lal Lal, rare and endangered local forms of Silver Banksia, Banksia marginata and Bushy Needlewood, Hakea decurrens were planted in 2015. Seeds from these plants could be collected and sold to the Landcare community for use in revegetation. Though in this example the Ballarat Region Treegrowers, who manage the Lal Lal site, would likely donate the seeds.
Historic uses of indigenous plants
Many indigenous plants have been historically harvested for their leaves, flowers, fruit, seeds/nuts and even roots.
The First Australians knew and cultivated these resources and made sustainable use of them for more than 2,000 generations. To them every plant and animal had an ecological purpose, a use and a spiritual significance.
Early settlers observed how the local indigenous people used plants and experimented themselves.
Some examples of these in coastal areas are;
agreeable……the fruit is rich, juicy and sweet.”
Profitable Australian native plants
The other 20% of non-indigenous plants can be added for personal use or for their commercial potential. These trees, shrubs and herbs are also planted in same species clumps for ecological and convenience reasons.
Growing Australian hardwoods
For example, a traditional forestry timber species like Spotted Gum, Corymbia maculata, can be planted in clumps of 10 to 50 trees. These trees will provide food and habitat for wildlife and could return up to $400/20 year old saw log at current prices. They would need to be thinned and form pruned for maximum returns, so convenient vehicle access is important. See this introduction to form pruning here>
Many other Australian hardwoods are in demand for building, furniture and craft use.
See this site for Australian timbers, uses and to see examples of their beautiful wood>
Other examples of economic uses for native plants include;
The commercial opportunities for these plants and many others like them are still being explored and developed. They can be easily incorporated into biorich plantations as large clumps which make them convenient to access for maintenance and harvest. I have written more on the topic of biodiversity and profit here>
The amazing Native Peach and Sandlewood
The Quandong or native peach, Santalum acuminatum, grows on a small tree and is valued for making chutneys, tarts and pies. It is now mostly found in the dryer inland parts of Victoria and South Australia but there is evidence that it grew as far south as Geelong and Melbourne before white settlement.
The Quandong was being trialled by the CSIRO at Quorn in SA in the 1970’s for its commercial potential. Of the 200 trees in the trial, two had exceptional flavour and commercial potential. There are now 25 commercial orchards in Australia growing Quandong fruit for sale. Read more about quandongs here>
A close relative of the Quandong is the Sandlewood, Santalum spicatum. This small tree is highly valued for its aromatic wood that is prized for the production of incense and perfumes. It played a pivotal role in the survival of the infant Western Australian Colony in 1844.
It also produces delicious edible fruit and nuts. The nuts produce a fine oil, traditionally used by indigenous Australians as a liniment for body aches. Click here to read more about its history and commercial production in Australia. Read more about sandlewood here>
Both the quandong and the sandlewood are parasitic trees that attach their roots to other nearby plants. The quandongs at Quorn were happily growing on couch grass, but usually they are associated with acacias which gives them a remarkable drought resistance. A mixed planting incorporating sandlewood at Echuca included both shrub and tall wattles as host plants (see images below - click to enlarge and read the full caption).
Australian wildlife need landscape reform
Larger, wider, connected biodiversity plantings that mimic nature are what our wildlife desperately need. When we consider that most of Australia’s land is privately owned it’s clear that incentives are needed to drive a fundamental attitude change about revegetation. A change that accepts that biodiversity and profit are compatible, desirable and necessary to achieve significant landscape reform.
Farmers are small business managers who need to make their enterprises pay. Diversifying into sustainable biorich shelter belts will protect farms from extreme weather events and return significant incomes. It will also make an important contribution to the environmental reforms that Australian wildlife desperately need to survive into the next decade.
Biodiversity and profit - creative thinkers pushing the boundaries
Two Victorian families turning the bounty of seeds from native plants into income
Stephen Murphy is qualified in Geology and Environmental Management and has been a nurseryman and a designer of natural landscapes for over 30 years. He loves the bush, supports Landcare and is a volunteer helping to conserve local reserves.