Next weekend I’ll have mixed feelings when I deliver my trees to a farmer in Yellingbo, marking the end of my first growing season with TreeProject.
A nervous beginning
The excitement of handing over my plants feels like when I picked up my kit. I’d just completed Certificate III in Horticulture, so I was probably more prepared than most. Having learnt (and seen firsthand) that some native plants have a very low germination rate, I was therefore nervous as I’d had little experience growing from seed. I definitely felt more confident after attending the TreeProject training though, as there’s nothing like hands-on practice.
While I initially fretted about the setup, it was pretty simple. Finding an outdoor table (without its glass top) on hard rubbish, I laid boards across it, giving the plants plenty of airflow and keeping the boxes off the ground.
Sowing – lots of metho!
The next stage, sowing, was predictably time-consuming. The suggestion to sow a box (i.e. 48 tubes) a day proved great advice – especially in hindsight when I was trying to catch up some lost time and do three boxes a day!
My course had emphasised plant hygiene to prevent pests and diseases, so I disinfected everything with a metho/water spray – boxes, working surfaces, tools, and tubs for potting mix. It was tedious but certainly paid off, and the manual took me through every step. I had virtually no pest or disease issues throughout the whole growing season. Good hygiene or good luck??
The first months
The first few months were a little stressful. It was really hot, including a week of temperatures over 35°! I spent much time watering, covering the tubes with a sheet for protection, and staring anxiously at tubes of soil.
My biggest mistake
During one of these hot periods I made my biggest mistake. I was going camping for five days, so I packed the tubes into plastic tubs and filled them with water to just below the top of the tubes. The weather forecast was a light shower on the last day of my trip, so I decided not to put holes in the sides of the tubs. (These holes ensure any rain doesn’t drown seedlings.)
And I went camping to a beautiful remote area with no mobile reception.
When I got home, I discovered that the tubes were well underwater, with a bright green layer of algae on top. The “light rain” had been a deluge – and my plants were drowning!
I gently emptied the water out of each tube and left them in the sun to dry off the algae. Amazingly, some seeds had even germinated while underwater, but most tubes were still bare.
I now think some seeds washed away in the flooding, as two species produced only about six plants each. Most other species recovered, especially the eucalyptus and allocausuarina.
My other mistake
I’d made my second mistake by packing the tubes in tubs of varying sizes. Inadvertently, I mixed up some species, and could only identify them after they’d grown. Luckily they were different enough that I could easily identify them, an impossible task if they’d been eucalypts.
It gets much easier
Once the weather cooled and the seedlings got bigger, they were much easier to maintain. I simply checked every few days for bugs or disease, and watered when required. I also turned the boxes every few days to prevent them growing at weird angles (or even horizontally!), especially my eucalypts.
What I learnt
My experience taught me a few useful tips for next time, as follows:
- If you are away for holidays, plan early. Use tubs (with holes!); check the weather while you’re away; have a trusted, plant-smart person check them regularly; and/or set up a reliable watering system.
- Don’t mix up your species! Keep each box separate, especially before germination.
- Use the information provided. The TreeProject website, grower’s manual and WhatsApp group contain so much information.
- Hygiene, hygiene, hygiene! It’s tedious but so worth it.
- Don’t give up too early on germination for some species. I gave up on my grass (Poa labilliardieri) after six weeks of watering bare soil, only for it to germinate the very next day.
Give it a go
While the first few months are a little challenging, being a grower is such a fantastic experience. Seeing your first seeds germinate is so exciting, and I’m very proud of my boxes stuffed with healthy plants, ready for planting out. In terms of helping our environment, nothing is more tangible than growing the plants that will regenerate our landscape.
Thanks so much Rebecca being an incredible volunteer grower with TreeProject.
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