An 11-year planting project on the Wells family’s 420-hectare Oxford dairy farm has uncovered plenty of practical tips on how to establish thriving areas of biodiversity.
The Carleton Dairies project initially began with the aim of beautifying a dairy shed area when the family converted the farm from sheep to dairy over a decade ago. Helen Wells and her children Julie and Phil quickly discovered many other areas suitable for planting and now have over 15 planting projects on the go.
Helen says they didn’t want to spend a huge amount on plants for the dairy shed project, so she called on family and friends for help.
“I’ve always been a keen gardener. We were able to source seedlings and cuttings from family and friends for the first project and then we purchased smaller plants to fill in the gaps. You don’t have to go out and spend a fortune on plants as you’ll often find people around you have plenty to give away.”
Julie says after the dairy shed project, they mapped out some other sites around the farm that weren’t as productive and also looked at the sides of laneways and waterways. She says it’s important not to try to do too much all at once.
“We had to pick plants that were hardy and would survive our weather extremes. When you do buy plants it’s vital to choose them from a nursery located nearby so you know that the plants are suited to the local climate.
“The other thing to keep in mind is that you need to maintain the planted area and that will happen around November which coincides with a busy time for farmers so don’t try to do too much all at once.
“I would recommend starting with a small area and not thinking that you have to do a whole roadside. You could even look at a small patch of land that is too wet for you to use for farming and start there.”
Getting a planting plan from your local nursery is another good piece of advice, says Phil.
“Most nurseries provide these for free if you’re buying a decent amount of plants. The plans help you figure out all the small details like the correct spacing for your plants and which plants go next to each other.
“Keep in mind too, that it takes around four years for a planting area to become self-sustaining so there will be quite a bit of work required up to that point. You’ve got to make sure that you get the weeds before they get away on you.
“Plant guards are also vital to protect your young plants from all the hares and rabbits we have around here.”
The family have planted mostly natives and now plant up to 1000 trees and plants per year. They often make planting days into fun events for their extended family and staff. Julie says her children are delighted to be part of the planting efforts.
“We had three generations of our family there and some of our staff also joined in. We made it a fun day with pizza at the end to celebrate. It was also a chance to revisit our original dairy shed site and look at how much progress we’ve made over the last decade.”
An increase in biodiversity and native birds around the planted areas is another important reason behind the planting projects. Helen has noticed more birds around the farm as the plants have grown.
“We have fantails back here now which is great and more skinks. Being able to provide more biodiversity and a better habitat for native birds is meaningful for us.”
Reusing resources around the farm for planting projects is a priority for the family. Julie says they have reused various materials throughout the planting projects.
“We’ve used old wool carpets for weed matting and silage covers to smother weeds before planting a new area. Cardboard and sawdust also provide effective mulch.”
Helen’s husband Kevin has been on the farm for 68 years and she hopes the generations to come will continue to expand upon their passion for planting and biodiversity.
“We want to care for and retain this land for generations. The quality of the land and the environment is important to us.”