Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Growing a Forest in our Backyard!



By Beverley Paine

In 1987, I watched a series on television about the threat of nuclear war and the polluting effects of nuclear energy and shortly afterwards read a book that detailed the horrors of chemical and biological warfare. The graphic images and disturbing statistics haunted me for weeks. This fear ran counter to my optimistic nature and I fought its depressive grip with a stronger weapon - the instinctive need to survive. What could I, an ordinary person with problems of my own, do to change situations decided by greedy and short-sighted governments?

I knew I had to do something, but that it had to be an affirmative action that supported life. I knew that, to remain sane, I needed to make a difference where I lived and set examples my family and friends could emulate.

An interstate holiday which included hundreds of kilometres of travelling through forested areas devastated by die-back from causes which were, at the time, unknown, convinced me that without trees life on our planet was fragile, if not doomed. Luckily, that year I was introduced to two wonderful organisations, Permaculture and Trees For Life. Both promoted life-affirming activities and operated at the grass roots level. Dedicated volunteers espoused sustainable visions and worked toward changing the way people think about the world. I became hooked, with enough positive action to keep my imaginative brain busy for years.

Permaculture is wonderful as a concept, but hard to achieve in practice. It demands a total change in perspective and challenges old values, beliefs and patterns of behaviour. I will never cease to learn about how to live sustainably! Trees For Life, on the other hand, gave me instant success and a feeling that I could, with minimal effort, make a real contribution.

Thus began our odyssey into tree growing as volunteer growers for Trees For Life. Over the summer months our backyard would turn into a miniature forest as thousands of trees germinated and grew, often as tall as two feet, in boxes of plastic tubes. Every day we would carefully water, prick out weeds and remove hungry bugs. One year, a box of wattles disliked the mains-water, as it came directly from the Murray River, and showed signs of dying. We watered them separately with our precious rainwater and watched them thrive.

Growing trees isn't a lot of work, but committing up to seven months of each year can be hard. If we left "our babies" with someone else for a week, we would worry. It doesn't take long for a forest to die at this stage of life. We've grown trees for farms in the south-east region, the Adelaide Hills, Fleurieu Peninsula, and Kangaroo Island and many hundreds for our own property.

In 1988, we purchased and began to revegetate a four and a half-acre property. We continue to plant trees and under-storey species about the property each year. As our forest grows taller and bushier, it begins to look healthier. Natural regeneration of ground-covers and small shrubs has begun. Our aim is to grow our own small piece of bush-land, which we can enjoy with friends, other forest enthusiasts and local wildlife. Although not yet mature, it is populated with many different species of birds, lizards and insects, as well as echidnas, possums and kangaroos.

When the fear rises strongly within me, and I begin to feel there is nothing that we, as a species, can do to repair or stop the global damage we are causing, I go for a short walk, breathe in the fragrant eucalypt air and listen to the wind in the forest in our backyard.