Farmers Postcard: Grass and Plant Identification

Learning to identify grass weeds, grasses and native plants was the focus of this event. Kris Nash and Fiona Leach, Agricultural Adviser with South East Local Land Services led a two hour walk and talk in Bungendore in April 2019.

Kris showed the participants how to use the morphology of a grass plant for identification, most importantly the ligule and auricle on the sheath of the grass stem.

Copies of Kris’s handouts explaining the different parts of grasses and identification of grass weeds and native grasses can be found here.

Key messages were:

  1. Clearing for agriculture, grazing and urban development has seen the decline of natural temperate grasslands in Australia. There is now only 0.5% of natural temperate grasslands left in Australia. Preserving and managing this declining valuable resource is very important.
  2. You need some disturbance regime to manage native grassland. Aboriginal people used traditional burning techniques to manage the diversity of species living in an area.

Fire on native grasslands

  • Grass weeds are like teenagers, they change their appearance with the season making them difficult to identify at different times of the year.
  • Some tips to maintain a healthy pasture;
    • Don’t over graze the pasture and do practice rotational grazing.
    • Cover bare soil where possible and carry around some seed to sow desirable species.
    • Create micro climates for seeds to collect and germinate.
    • If you want to collect seed heads try using old baskets or branches to protect the seed from livestock and kangaroos.
  • African Love Grass can be distinguished from Hairy Panic by looking at the seed. The seed head of the African Love Grass has one seed on the end of the pinnacle. Older plants often look messy at the base with old curly leaves in the centre of the thatch. African Love Grass has a higher feed value than Serrated Tussock but is very invasive.

African Love Grass fact sheet

Serrated Tussock fact sheet

Chilean Needle Grass fact sheet

Friends of Grasslands Website

Fencing for productivity and diversity

The purpose of this workshop was to demonstrate how to design and install electric fencing in ways that make a small farm more productive and increase the range of plants and animals living there. Dean Paton from Gallagher Fencing, Matt Chidgey from Southern Ag and David Hilhorst from Works for Water were the guest speakers at this workshop, sharing their fencing skills in practical and theory sessions.


Some key points from the workshop:

  • The best type of fence to install depends on many factors including land form, location and the purpose of the fence. Electric fencing is suited to managing livestock, predators and feral animals. An electric fence energiser converts mains or battery power to a high voltage pulse. Electric fences generally work by becoming a psychological barrier to animals – they learn about the ‘shock’ that is delivered when they touch the fence and start to avoid it.
  • Effective farm planning and observing animal behaviour can save you time and money. By observing your livestock and the movement patterns of wildlife, you could save money by slightly shifting the location of a fence or aligning it with existing animal tracks. Here are some questions to ask. Why are animals putting pressure on a fence? How can I use a fence to move and manage my livestock or wildlife better? The information sheet written by David Hilhorst (see below) outlines fencing design strategies including fencing for holistic grazing, fencing to land class and wildlife friendly design.
  • Permanent electric fencing can compare favourably to conventional fences in terms of cost. The cost of a fence is determined by many variables including the slope, recommended spacing of posts, dropper interval and the types of materials used. At the time of writing a standard fence will cost approximately $12 a metre for materials and labour. Permanent electric fencing will cost about $10.50 a metre for an 8 strand electric suspension fence such as the Weston Fence demonstrated in this video. The energiser for the electric fence is not included in this cost. For information and advice on pricing and design, contact a fencing supplier. It is wise to shop around and discuss options with other small farmers for the fence that you are building.
  • For fences in flood prone areas, the flood gates should be able to release from the posts if the pressure of water or debris gets too high. Some options for the materials used in flood areas include secondhand fencing materials and semi permanent movable electric fencing .
  • Choosing the correct energiser and earth return system for an electric fence is important. According to Dean Paton, the energiser should be located halfway along the fence. For an electric fence to be effective the electric circuit must be completed. This is achieved by grounding. In dry areas effective earthing can be achieved by using an earth return system or betonite to improve conductivity.
    More information about earthing systems can be found here.
David Hilhorst demonstrating how to tie a fencing knot

Useful resources and links

Free fencing handbook

Guidelines for fencing in flood prone areas

Wildlife friendly fencing design

Fencing how and where for small farms

Basic Information on Electric fencing

Gallegher Fencing Website

There are a range of fencing materials online. The product demonstrated at this workshop was from Gallagher but you could also try Waratah Fencing.


This project received grant funding from the Australian Government through the National Landcare Program.

Ngunawal Cultural Walk and Talk

Plant identification during the walk and talk lead by Traditional Custodian Tyronne Bell

About the walk and talk

This session was about building connections with people and the land: an opportunity to learn more about diversity, indigenous culture and the local area. The walk and talk was led by Tyronne Bell from Thunderstone Aboriginal Cultural and Land Management Services. Tyronne talked about his culture and traditional Ngunawal uses of plants and animals found at the site.

Key points from the workshop
  1. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a spiritual connection with the land, that can be expressed in some part through stories about plants, insects and animals in a particular location.
  2. By studying the behaviour of different species of insects, Aboriginal people used their traits to help them in their every day lives.  For example, Tyronne told us about the ability of ants to regulate the temperature of their nest by bring different coloured gravel to the surface of the nest. White in summer and black in winter. Meat ants were used by some Aboriginal people to clean the carcasses of fish so the bones could be used as needles.
  3. If you find Aboriginal artifacts, scar trees or other relics it is important to leave them intact and where you found them. These items hold great significance for Aboriginal people and are protected under NSW law. You can find out more information at the Office of Environment and Heritage website.
  4. Preserving Nungawal language is very important to local Aboriginal people. The language can be spoken by everyone and children especially should be encouraged to use it. Tyronne taught us how to say thank you in the Ngunawal language ‘djan yimaba’. You can find more information about Ngunawal language in the links section below.
  5. Some Aboriginal people used to bend over and weigh down trees in order to use the trunk as a structure to build a shelter on. In winter more permanent structures and caves were used as housing and remains of stone structures built by Aboriginal people have been found in our region.

Tyronne explaining how tree trunks were bent to make a support for a bark shelter.

5. Plant species commonly found in the Bungendore area had special uses for Aboriginal people. For example, the Cherry Ballart (Exocarpus cupressiformis) looks like a small cypress tree and the sweet, juicy fruit provide a spring time snack, the sap can be used for snake bite, the fresh leaves are used for headaches, the roots as clap sticks and it can also be used as a shade tree to camp under. The plant was is used as an indicator species for the coming season.

Hardenbergia violacea used as a tea and for rope.

Other plants that we learnt more about on the walk and talk were Hardenbergia violacea, Indigofera australis, Diannella species, Lomandra species, Acacia species, Cassinia quinquefaria, Microseris lanceolata and Bulbine bulbosa. Tyronne told us about  uses of these plants for food basket weaving and stunning fish. Some of them are poisonous and should not be eaten. Find out more about these plants and their uses by following the links below.

 

Australian National Botanic Gardens Aboriginal Trail

PDF Information Resources Aboriginal Plant Uses – Australian National Botanic Gardens

6. According to local Aboriginal culture there are six seasons in a calendar year and no autumn. The calendar includes two summers, two winters and two springs, each with their signature weather pattern and special traditions.

Other useful information and contacts

Protect and manage objects – Office of Environment and Heritage

Aboriginal Plant Uses in Southern Australia

https://www.anbg.gov.au/aborig.s.e.aust/exocarpus-cupressiformis.html

ACT Environment and Planning Website for indigenous NRM

Plant Net Flora online – http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/

Aboriginal Cultural Heritage ACT pdf brochure – includes pictures of plants

Ngunnawal Plant Use book

Ngunnawal language – simple list of words

Language revival project – https://aiatsis.gov.au/research/research-themes/ngunawal-language-revival-project

Indigenous Weather Calendar BOM

http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/calendars/gariwerd.shtml

Indigenous weather knowledge

http://www.bom.gov.au/iwk/calendars/gariwerd.shtml

Weeds in Waterways

We have a knack for bringing wet blustery conditions on our field days and Weeds in Waterways on the 14 April was no exception. Eighteen hardy souls donned their jackets and joined in for a day of information and demonstrations by expert presenters Rebecca Bradley – Senior NRM Manager from South East Local Land Services, Lori Gould – Grass Roots Environmental and John Franklin – Franklin Consulting.

Rebecca Bradley began by explaining the legal obligations of farmers with regard to weed management in NSW. The Biosecurity Act 2015 came into effect this year and has two key principles: biosecurity is everyone’s responsibility and all land managers have a general biosecurity duty.

All waterways are unique and behave differently depending the geology, soil type, river processes and energy level. You need to have a basic understanding of all aspects of stream behaviour before undertaking ground works. Something that works in one location may not be suitable on your property. Getting good local advice is a must. There are chemical, biological, physical and farm management factors that determine the behaviour of a watercourse. First and second order streams can have structures put in them to mitigate erosion, third order streams require a permit for structures and professional advice should be sought in this situation. See Tapping Into It: Water for Small Farms summary for an explanation about first, second and third order streams.

John Franklin and Lori Gould shared their expertise in managing weeds in waterways including a discussion about willows and managing a riparian restoration project.

Willows friend or foe?

Willows (Salix spp.) are currently identified as a weed of national significance (see weeds of national significance list). They are invasive and well adapted to Australian conditions. Key points about willows:

  1. Willows spread and propagate in different ways depending on the species. They can also form hybrids with each other. Some willows grow from seed, cuttings (that break off the plant and move in the water) and by suckers. Hybrid willows are very vigorous and can reproduce just two or three years after germination.
  2. The replacement of native vegetation by willows adversely affects biodiversity in waterways by reducing habitat and aquatic diversity. Willows create a flush of organic matter when they drop leaves in autumn. This reduces water quality by reducing available oxygen and releasing chemicals that harm small in stream herbivores that are adapted to living with evergreen plants (such as eucalypts).
  3. Willows use much more water than native vegetation in streams and willows in stream beds can divert stream flows, resulting in erosion.
  4. Any willow project should consider what other vegetation there is on the site and whether revegetation is required. Sometimes there is enough remnant vegetation to recolonise once willows are removed. Circumstances where willows shouldn’t be removed (or  removal should be staged) are on eroding outer bends of rivers and creeks and in places where it isn’t cost effective. For example, large infestations where willows are removed without any major environmental benefits, such as sites with willows upstream and downstream and little remnant vegetation. These sites really need a ‘whole of reach’ approach and actions need to be well coordinated. Often these sites become beyond the landholder’s capacity to manage. However, large projects can be a great success such as the Yass River Linkages Project.
  5. If you propose to remove or prune any existing trees or vegetation, you should contact your council first to make sure you don’t need approval for this – look in the Queanbeyan City Council Tree Guide

For more information on willows see the Rivers of Carbon website – What is the problem with Willows?

Some general principles for managing weeds in waterways:

  1. Understand what you have in terms of native vegetation and weeds and do a simple map.
  2. Cooperate with your neighbours where possible.
  3. Prioritise weed control in high asset areas and/or where the weeds are in low numbers, removing weeds by hand or targeted spraying. Start with weeds that are the highest environmental priority (e.g. Serrated Tussock, St Johns Wort and other noxious weeds) and then progress to managing lower priority weeds if appropriate. If weeds are extensive then control may need to be staged from the outside in or from upstream to downstream. The amount that can be achieved will depend on time and budget.
  4. It is generally considered better to poison willows in stream beds and leave them in place, rather than removing them manually using equipment. This reduces the risk of branches snapping off and plants establishing from the cuttings. The best option depends on what assets are downstream (e.g. fences, crossings, bridges).
  5. When planning your project think about what you want to replace the weeds with. Plant a diversity of plants including ground covers, grasses, shrubs and trees. This provides valuable habitat for animals. Use local plant lists and resources from Landcare and Greening Australia to find out what to plant in your area. For example ROC Native Revegetation Species List and Local Native Plant Guide – Molonglo Valley.
  6. Prepare tree planting sites by deep ripping and spraying in autumn and planting in winter and spring. Spraying with herbicide reduces grass competition or scalping is a chemical-free option.
  7. Always water plants in and use tree guards.
  8. Keep monitoring the site for new infestations of weeds and plant health.
  9. Fence off the watercourse and manage grazing to allow the plants to establish. Timed grazing can  be reintroduced once the revegetated trees and shrubs have grown to a suitable size.

Rivers of Carbon in partnership with Greening Australia and other organisations currently has funding for projects in the Burra, Goulburn and Yass areas to assist landholders with revegetation and stream rehabilitation (see Rivers of Carbon Funding Opportunities).

The following fact sheets may be helpful:

You might also like to read our workshop summary Working with Weeds .

This field day was made possible with funding from the Australian Government and in-kind support and funding from South East Local Land Services. Thank you to our sponsors of the network, the Palerang Local Action Network for Sustainability, and our host farm.

 

Small Farm Walk ‘n Talk

A group of new and prospective small farm owners gathered in November 2015 for the first field day for the Small Farms Network – Capital Region. The Small Farm Walk ‘n Talk was a friendly and information rich day held in Rossi on a small farm that has a mix of grazing land and native bush. Continue reading “Small Farm Walk ‘n Talk”

Fodder on farms – so much more than grass

Dr Dean Revell from Revell Science in Western Australia was the keynote speaker at the Fodder Trees and Shrubs for Grazing Systems field day hosted by the Small Farms Network – Capital Region in Bywong on 17 April. Over 35 farmers attended to learn about how native fodder trees and shrubs can be incorporated into livestock systems. Continue reading “Fodder on farms – so much more than grass”