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Completing the Landscape
LANGUAGE, like landscape, must change and grow, and men who work among trees call them "timber". Although this word originally belonged to the tree that would make a good log or to the sawn-up wood of the log, the Australian land folk at least will find the word timber as familiar as "trees".
Once the main timber pulling is completed on "Yonaroo", with the timber for fences already taken out, the remainder is pushed up for the first burn. Pushing up for the burn and burning is almost invariably a bigger task than roping the timber or pushing the timber down. On this job sound reasoning, planning and supervision pay good dividends, through greatly reduced time and money costs. It is important, by providing ground helpers continuously, to keep tractor operators on the tractor driving the tractor all the time. If a tractor is worth seven pounds an hour someone is paying seven pounds an hour for labour whenever the operator has to climb down from his machine to do something a ground man should be doing.
In the operation of pulling down timber with rope or chain and two large tractors, two men should usually be employed on the ground. On "Yonaroo" big stumps will on many occasions resist the combined power of the two tractors when the rope is close to the bottom of a tree stump. The ground man is the first to see the hold-up and can signal the tractors to back-up a few feet when the ground man lifts the rope to a higher position on the stump. With the greater leverage now exerted by the tractors the stump may be moved readily. Even so, stumps will on occasion defeat the pull of the tractors and then the ground man, after signalling the tractor operators to again back-up, moves the rope to a position where it will ride over the stump. An occasional big stump left is not serious. The heaping of timber over the stump may cause it to be burned out later.
I have had experience in the clearing of country similar to that described, where, in dry earth conditions, there were many large stumps and enough large trees to cause real hold-ups. A third tractor was then used to follow the rope behind the two tractors that were pulling down, and the third tractor pushed the tight trees and stumps while the two others pulled. It was well worthwhile. Still, ground men were needed more than ever to supervise and co-ordinate the three power units.
To get back to pushing up for the first burn. A roughly or haphazardly pushed-up heap of timber does not necessarily, or even generally, make for a satisfactory first burn. A good fire must be built. The first point is to burn only what should be burned. The heaps of timber therefore are kept at a suitable distance from the now very valuable standing tree belts.
There are two general patterns to pushing up for a burn. The timber may be pushed into a series of many suitably-sized heaps or it may be pushed into long windrows. Well built windrows, when the timber is of a type which burns well, may be the better of the two methods, but if the windrows are poorly made or the timber is difficult to burn there is then a lot more pushing-up time needed before the second burn than there is for suitably-sized heaps. Windrows should follow the land on the keyline or tree belt pattern with the first push made from the standing timber line in a downhill direction for seventy or eighty feet. The distance of the bulldozer movement is influenced by the thickness of the timber.
Big trees will burn only if their trunks are parallel and close together. It is then always necessary to preserve the main trees in line along the line of the windrow. "Magpies' nests" of big logs do not burn well.
The second push is from a distance of sixty to eighty feet below the partially-built windrow and pushes the timber together to form the complete windrow. The next windrow should be made similarly but by first pushing uphill from the lower tree belt a distance of sixty to seventy feet, and then pushing from above this line of the new partly-made windrow downhill from seventy to eighty feet above. If the windrows are too small they do not burn well.
Timber should not be pushed into the bottom of a valley. Heavy rain, before burning, may cause difficulties in slow drying-out, and after burning may wash out some of the soil which was killed below the fire area.
Pushing into heaps is done to a design based on the principle that the shorter and more consistent the length of the push the more efficient the operation. The push is to a selected spot for each heap, keeping the heap the full distance of the push from the tree belts. The area around each heap should be represented by a square with sides equal to twice the length of the push. The push distance is kept down to sixty to ninety feet if the timber is thick enough to make a good burning fire. All heaps should be as near as possible of the same size.
One of the very important rules in any burning operation is "burn the difficult one first"; therefore the area of fallen timber is examined for the difficult-to-burn stumps or trees, and these, preferably, are pushed up on top of the heaps. Burning is not a matter of throwing a match into a part of the heap or windrow and forgetting it. If done wrongly all the easy-to-burn material, which should be burning the hard-to-burn pieces, burns itself out. The tendency in unplanned and unsupervised work is for costs to be considerably increased by the loss of the easy-to-burn material, leaving only hard-to-burn pieces with nothing to help burn them right out.
When conditions are suitable and the equipment, bulldozers, etc., are available, all the heaps should be lighted from one end of the area, in turn, through to the finish. The fires are left to burn down to a point where, while there are still red-hot pieces in them, the main blaze and most of the heat are gone. This burning time may occupy anything from four to twelve or more hours, when the equipment should be ready for the second push-up. Although care is taken there will always be some soil and earth in the dying fire from the pushing-up operation. It is preferable then to push the unburned but still alight material to form a new heap just off the original heap. Ground men at this stage should place the unburned ends of logs and sticks where they will help burn the awkward pieces. Attention should always be concentrated on the big pieces.
There will be unburned material remaining after the second push-up and burn, but it does not usually pay to use a large bulldozer in a third push-up of this material. It is usually a hand job now and should be done before the fires of the second burn are dead. Again, the ground men concentrate on burning the bigger pieces. A big log can be simply burned in half with smaller wood piled under it. The two halves dragged together will then burn well. Small stuff should not be heaped and burned to "tidy up" while there are larger pieces unburned. Light material is always easy to burn, but once it is gone the bigger pieces may prevent the work from ever looking tidy. How, often does one see evidence of the point of this advice, in partly-burned big stumps and tree trunks lying around paddocks spoiling the appearance and reducing the usefulness of cleared land and with no small stuff in sight that would make a fire to burn them? Supervision of such work in land clearing will pay, as does the proper supervision of other types of work.
After the burning-off cultivation begins, and the land of the secondary valley area with its several primary valleys is now made ready for seeding. As the land is poor the method of quickest soil improvement is through a pasture stage. The final "picking-up", or "sticking", as it is often called, of the area may be designed to get rid of only those pieces remaining that are large enough to handicap cultivation and sowing operations. It is advisable to keyline cultivate the whole area with the chisel plow as soon as possible, so as to put the soil into a condition when it will absorb evenly a suitable rainfall. Newly-cleared land may need two and sometimes three cultivations to put it in shape for further work. The final of these cultivations--which are completed one after the other with no delay between--follows the Keyline pattern as discussed in Chapter II, "The Aims of Keyline", and mentioned in other references. As the soil is poor with less than an inch of the "colour" of fertility, the cultivation is kept shallow, perhaps two inches, or a little deeper if it is to help clean the land.
The irrigation area has the highest potential of the cleared area and should be cleared and cleaned to the extent necessary for this type of land. More complete cleaning is necessary if crops are to be harvested. Once the first irrigation dam is filled the irrigation paddock alone will often support the start of the new farming and grazing enterprise.
The final cleaning of a cleared paddock can be time-consuming and a suitable mechanical aid is a big advantage. I generally use a Graham plow with all the clamps and shanks placed on the back beam of the plow, as an effective power rake. Again the procedure is to examine the paddock for the larger unburned pieces and rake the smaller rubbish up to these to burn the big pieces first. Paddocks need to be well cleaned for such operations as mowing, and odd stumps or pieces may be thrown into a tree belt.
The water supply is designed from the factors of climate and land shape. Tree clearing, to leave standing timber in the most suitable place, is designed from the more permanent factors of the scale of permanence--climate, land shape, water supply and main farm roads. The first permanent building site, usually for a home, is selected. The subdivision fencing proceeds and follows the general pattern set by the other work.
The irrigation paddock, whether adequate run-off rain occurs early or not, is suitable for the first sowing of seed. The paddock is fenced as an island paddock after the necessary boundary fencing is finished. If any stock can be carried on the property during the early clearing they must be excluded now from the irrigation land until it is grassed with the most suitable pastures for the particular climate of "Yonaroo".
Sowing methods can follow any of the orthodox means according to the equipment available. The Keyline development of the soil of irrigation paddocks is discussed in detail elsewhere.
The course of the operations may now follow lines that suit the farmer. The clearing of the rest of the area or yet a second dam in the first main subdivision may follow. The second main subdivision of "Yonaroo", the number two secondary valley area, follows the lines of the first work.
The third and smaller secondary valley area is developed to a similar pattern by similar means. The remaining area, which comprises a series of primary valleys flowing to the creek which forms part of the property boundary, is examined and planned as was done on the one side of the first of the two secondary valley areas or secondary land units.
All the features of the land planning of "Yonaroo" have their effect on the ultimate aim of all planned land work--that of improving the fertility of the soil and adding stability and permanence to the developing landscape. The planned water supply and farm roads, trees, buildings and subdivision fences all are aids to these aims, and so now the next stage of the development is through methods and techniques concerned directly with the soil itself.
Keyline soil techniques for "Yonaroo" are employed to develop the soil to carry the best pastures for sheep and cattle. It is to be understood that the essential difference between the various orthodox methods of pasture improvement and those of Keyline is first of all one of approach. Keyline aims at the development of the highest fertility in the soil that is possible and practical in the particular climatic environment and on the relevant land shape and the type of earth on which the soil is based. It may be a good soil or a poor soil, or a subsoil of various types such as light, medium or heavy, but it is to be converted into a fertile soil.
The soil is improved in Keyline by exploiting the most appropriate means of improving the soil climate within the natural or general climate that affects it. The improved and improving soil climate is maintained until such time as the soil is improved far beyond its best natural state. Its new higher fertility then will maintain a greatly improved soil climate to further improve the fertility of the soil. While every technique of Keyline planning powerfully affects soil climate, the direct and particular means to discuss now are those of cultivation. Cultivation is done with suitable implements on the Keyline pattern for the optimum uniformity of moisture distribution and at the depth that is most suited to the soil's particular class or stage of development, and at the time of the year or the season when, following the cultivation, the best association of the factors of moisture, warmth, and air are likely to obtain in the soil. All the other means of improving pasture growth which are employed in general agriculture, and there are many valuable aids, are used only in such a way as to directly improve the soil. The natural fertility factors that are influenced in the improving soil climate are mainly those which promote the more efficient use in the soil of the organic matter available to the soil. The factor of prime importance in the development of high-fertility soil for the growing of crops and pastures, is to ensure the rapid incorporation into the soil of the newly dead roots of the pasture plants themselves and in such a manner that they become part of the soil itself.
This process, together with the resultant more efficient absorption by the soil of the droppings of stock, constitutes the permanent base of the new fertility.
The time that is required to improve and consolidate the improved soil climate is generally three years. The soil and with it the pasture will continue to improve for some, as yet, indefinite period of time beyond the three years with no further treatment beyond reasonably good management practices.
The soil and pasture of my own first Keyline-developed areas improved very satisfactorily during the three years of the development period, and on land where the orthodox methods of pasture improvement had never been successful. During the next three years, with no further work, soil deepened at a more rapid rate than during the three years of Keyline treatment. On some of this land a deliberate attempt was made over a second three-year period to ruin the fertility produced earlier by using cultivations at the wrong time and in wrong weather conditions. There resulted a noticeable deterioration in the light soils of sandstone base. There was also a definite loss of pasture production in the heavy soil, but a continued improvement in its structure and depth. The light soil, after the soil-destroying treatment, was still better than it had ever been before Keyline treatment. It appears that when soil has had three years of Keyline soil treatment it has greater stability than the best natural similar soil in its climatic area.
To start off the pasture of the irrigation area of "Yonaroo", the selection of the various species of the pasture for irrigation is of special import. Grasses that may be unsatisfactory on a larger grazing paddock basis for sheep, such as cocksfoot, which is sometimes killed out by sheep heavily grazing the crown, may be an outstanding species in the better-controlled stocking conditions applicable on the irrigation land. Special high-value types of white clover which will not grow at all, at least not until the soil is greatly improved in moisture holding capacity, in the rain-only area will be of maximum value in the irrigation land. Grasses in quantities that may be too expensive for the initial pasture sowing in the poor soil of the rain-only pasture paddocks may be a good proposition in irrigation. Once the irrigation water is available the expenditure warranted for the rapid establishment of irrigation pasture may be many times that which is reasonable and economical for the rain pasture.
The irrigation drain which was pegged in the planning, should be completely constructed before the cultivation and sowing of the irrigation paddock. In the circumstances applying on the property, the irrigation drain is below the surface of the land and water is flowed over the land below by controlled "stops" placed in the irrigation drain which cause the water to rise and spill over the lower lip of the drain.
There are many methods of sowing pasture seed that are suitable for the rain-only pasture area. In the soil conditions on "Yonaroo" it will be necessary to suitably inoculate the various clover and other legume species with their appropriate rhizobium and also to sow the seed into the soil with a neutralised artificial fertiliser, such as a half and half lime/superphosphate mixture. On poorer soil the sowing is much more critical than on good soil. The factor on which success or failure largely depends is the contact in the soil of the neutralised fertiliser with the seed mixture. Methods as broadcasting seed and fertiliser are not likely to be so satisfactory on the poor soil.
It is not a particular province of this book to go into all the details of pasture establishment and management, which may vary as widely as there are different soils and climate, but the general relationship of Keyline and orthodox views are set out throughout the book so that they may be applied in the way that will best suit the farmer's own conditions, and which he will probably understand as well or better than anyone else.
As already stated, the Keyline approach to pasture improvement is aimed primarily at rapidly improving the soil so that pasture is better under all conditions and will remain in a condition of high productiveness and continuous improvement. Keyline pastures, therefore, do not tend to run out as do most of the present improved pastures. The Keyline methods generally involve a special cultivation of the pasture area at a suitable time once each year for three years.
In the condition on "Yonaroo" the rain pasture may be sown in the early to late autumn. As soon as the growth is well enough established to resist the pull of the stock it should be grazed with a sufficient number to graze it to a stage when there is still about 20% of the leaf remaining. The paddock is best grazed on the all-on-all-off principle during the whole of the first twelve months, but to obtain best results, attention is required to prevent over grazing.
After the first year and assuming that autumn is the time of the year most suitable for the keyline cultivation, the cultivation should follow shortly after the pasture has been eaten off. The depth for the cultivation is ascertained by direct examination with a spade of the soil below the pasture. The depth of cultivation is then determined from the disclosed depth of the active soil. It may slightly exceed in its depth the depth of the main pasture root zone. If the root zone of any pasture is only two inches down, a very common depth, cultivation is limited generally to three inches. Only tined implements are used with a maximum tine width of two inches and with the spacing of the tines set generally at twelve inches apart. Soil conditions at the time of cultivation may be moist but never wet. Dry conditions are not generally a disadvantage, and when the right time of the year has arrived cultivation need not wait on rain. Stock are excluded from each area after it is keyline cultivated for at least fourteen days and a period of twenty-one to twenty-eight days without stock may be advisable where it is practical. Part of a paddock should not be cultivated and have stock left in the paddock to graze the remainder, since there is always such a quick response in improved palletability in the keyline-cultivated area that stock will mostly concentrate on to it within two days, and by avoiding the uncultivated area probably damage the pasture of the new work by their intense grazing.
Keyline cultivation at the end of the first year is designed to promote the best association of moisture, warmth and air in the soil to the full depth of the pasture rooting system so that a rapid climax development of the beneficial soil life takes place. All of the available vegetable matter including the valuable dead pasture root mass is quickly incorporated into the soil and so forms part of the soil itself. If the first-year keyline cultivation is affected by drought conditions preceding and following the work, there will be little, if any, apparent improvement in the soil, and pasture will be temporarily reduced. The nett result could be an actual loss of pasture growth for a period depending on the duration of the drought. The benefit would then be obtained later in the rapid response of both the soil, in the improvement of its fertility, and the pasture when moisture and warmth are again present. This condition was experienced in 1957 on our new properties. Where the second or third of the three yearly keyline cultivations were done there was a very noticeably lessened loss of pasture, the worst results being only on the first keyline cultivation--the one-year-old soil--and in 1956 the soil condition, at the time set for the keyline cultivation of some areas, was very wet, and in the new areas, soil asphyxiation was evident. It would probably have been better to cancel the keyline cultivation for all the areas but as our work is continuously experimental, the cultivation proceeded. Rain persisted and kept all the soil overwet right through to and past the middle of winter. Under these conditions, air which is so obviously essential, is excluded by excess water. The desirable balance of moisture, warmth and air in the soil had been destroyed.
"Yonaroo" may be left now since all the further work, such as the siting, the design and construction of the dams, including the details of the lockpipe installation, the design and making of the water conservation and irrigation drains, the cultivation and development of the soil and the place of artificial fertilisers in this work, all are dealt with elsewhere in this book.
As "Yonaroo" is a ficticious property perhaps the imagination could be called on further, and projected into the future some three or four years hence, the property would be seen as a rich grazing area carrying its large flocks of sheep and smaller numbers of cattle. The trees of the tree belts, which would have within two years started to show the effects of the Keyline-developed soil above them, have made remarkable growth and have greatly increased foliage. The dams would have been filled and used for irrigation and filled again. So the walls of the dams are well grassed and the drains are grassed. There is no raw earth to be seen, and the soil below the pasture is dark and deep. Though the homestead and buildings are new, trees which were left standing when the land was cleared, add to the landscape a vista of the beauty that grows from age.
A visitor to "Yonaroo", when told of the age of the property, would then point out that it could not be so, because the trees of the wide timber belts must have been planted forty years ago at least. This part of the story has been one of my experiences on "Nevallan", and it may soon repeat itself on our newer property, "Kencarley", at Orange.