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Sustainable design

How growing trees can help avert climate change

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While many farmers are opting to install more equipment that use less power, not enough are growing trees as a way to create sustainability.

This may be because traditionally, broad-acre farming, and even small crop growing, requires a certain expanse of acreage without any trees. However, farming isn’t always about planting crops. Graziers who grow cattle, sheep, horses or any other animals realise the necessity of growing trees on their farms.

These benefits of trees are they:

  • Provide essential shade for animals when the temperatures soar.
  • Give birds and insects a place to rest and breed
  • Provide food for native birds, insects and animals
  • Release oxygen as a by-product of their photosynthesis
  • Absorb carbon dioxide
  • Have roots that help to hold soil in place and prevent erosion
  • Can form a windbreak to shelter farm animals from cold wind in the winter
  • Provide valuable timber for building, fuel and crafts
  • Replace nitrogen in poor soils in some countries, such as Africa

So what happened to all the trees?

When Australia was first settled and for many years afterwards, trees were plentiful. However, they were cut down in order to grow food and for space to build homes. Logging was also a major source of income for many people, as it was hard work and slow without the use of mechanical aids.

Once chainsaws and bulldozers were invented trees could be cut down much faster, so they were. In the last 60 years it’s been estimated more trees have been cut down than ever before in Australia, especially along the coastal regions. It’s not only human intervention that has decimated the tree population; trees are also lost from bushfires that are often caused by lightning. They can also be lost due to floods or disease. If a region is left almost treeless, the surviving trees are often wiped out by the many insects that feed off them.

Tree loss linked to climate change and environmental damage

According to SinksWatch – a not-for-profit organisation that tracks and scrutinises carbon sequestration projects – tree loss has led to numerous problems. SinksWatch explores how tree loss contributes to climate change, soil erosion, the depletion of the ozone layer and loss of habitat for many native species: placing them in danger of extinction. Without the mulch provided by dead leaves and twigs that fall from trees, soil quality is poor and lacking in nitrogen. Tree loss has affected just about every country in the world. With the constant need for more food, they are still being cut down at a high rate.

Cutting down deeply rooted trees is also a major factor in causing secondary salinity of the soil, making it unsuitable for agriculture and even the grazing of stock in many areas.

What is being done to alleviate the problem

Many countries are now realising and addressing the problems caused by cutting down trees. In Australia, some farmers can obtain grants to help with replanting trees lost by bushfires or other disasters.

People in some developing nations in Africa are now being taught how to grow food using Fertiliser Tree Systems (FTS). This ensures that the soil is fertilised by the trees making the crops more bountiful. It also makes up for the loss of soil used up by the trees.

Volunteers that are interested in sustainability and climate change offer their time and efforts to help plant trees, which reduces the cost of replacement even further. Volunteers also help out in tree nurseries so there are plenty of small trees ready to plant at the right time.

How long will it take to fix things?

It’s going to take a long time to undo the damage already done; how long exactly it’s hard to know. We know that trees are a necessary part of life for humans and for the environment. Years ago, this wasn’t known; which is why so many trees were cut down without question in the first place.

As scientists find out even more about our environment – and how it’s essential to create a balance for every animal and human to survive – it’s hoped even more tree-planting projects will come into fruition. Other things, including an increase in solar power, wind power and hybrid vehicles, will also help reverse or at least minimise the effects of climate change.

How farmers are helping

Meanwhile, farmers continue their efforts to make their farms sustainable so ecosystems aren’t destroyed. Doing this also helps them cut costs, sometimes unexpectedly. For instance, fitting a variable speed drive to a vacuum pump in the dairy farm reduces the amount of both power and oil needed to run it, which in this case, saved over a thousand dollars a quarter.

As more people realise the financial and health benefits of trees, perhaps one day climate change will go into the history books as a disaster that was successfully averted.

At Home

Surviving Summer: 10 top water saving tips

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Use these water saving tips to help you and your garden survive dry times with less stress. It may also help you save on cost, given watering the garden can account for up to 50% of your water bill in the summer months.

Gardening is a therapeutic hobby that refreshes the mind and the body. The only trouble is when a lack of rain leads to drought or water restrictions, all your hard work can seem wasted as grass turns brown and flowers wilt.

  1. Water the garden in a way that optimises intake. That is, avoid frequent, short watering. Instead, water for longer, but less frequently – once a week should be enough, depending on the weather conditions. Soaring temperatures and hot wind will dry the ground out more quickly. The extra water will soak in more deeply and encourage roots to grow down deep. They will then be protected from the dryness and heat in the top layers of soil. And when it comes to the lawn, short, sharp bursts from the hose increase penetration.
  2. Mulch the garden to prevent evaporation and keep those roots cool and damp. Mulching can be as simple as spreading your lawn clippings over the garden, but make sure you don’t spread them too thickly, as this can prevent water from penetrating at all. Mulches can be organic material such as leaves and straw, or non-organic such as pebbles, black plastic or landscape material. Plastic should be avoided as a permanent addition as it prevents water from soaking in and the heat from it kills the good bacteria in the soil. It’s only good for annuals and should be removed at the end of the growing season to allow the soil to recover. Organic matter is best, as this gradually decomposes and provides good nutrients for your plants.
  3. Install drip irrigation. This delivers a small amount of water directly to the roots of the plants where it’s needed most. There’s very little evaporation and no run-off, so water doesn’t go to waste. If you use spray irrigation, try to situate it so water doesn’t run off into the gutter. You can set a timer so you don’t forget to turn off the water.
  4. Wash your car on the lawn, rather than the driveway. This will give the lawn a good drink. It’s also a good idea to use a bucket for the wash and a hose just for the rinse off. Much less water is wasted when you use a bucket.
  5. Make use of your grey water. You can get a special attachment that reroutes your laundry and bath water into a holding tank, which can then be used for the garden. If you go this route, make sure you choose detergents that are earth-friendly and don’t have high levels of sodium. Water from the toilet is not included in grey water. A rainwater tank can also be used to harvest storm run-off from your roof. Rather than letting it run away down the gutter, pipe it into the tank and save it for a dry day.
  6. Choose plants carefully. Many of our garden flowers were imported from Britain, where they have a much higher rainfall. That means those flowers need more water than we get as rainfall in Australia. By choosing Australian native plants, succulents or plants from other countries that are naturally drought hardy, you will have a better looking garden and minimise your water usage. Also, find out what kind of roots perennials have before purchasing them. Those with a strong tap root that grows down deep will often survive with very little water. Plants with shallow surface roots are much more likely to require copious amounts of water.
  7. When planting, combine plants with similar needs so you don’t waste water on those who don’t need it. If you live in a hot, dry area, plant trees or shrubs that will create dappled shade over your garden to reduce the heat and water evaporation.
  8. Take note of the weather forecast. If rain is due in a few days, hold off on watering your garden. If you have an automatic sprinkler system, make sure it does not come on during rain. Let nature take its course and water the garden for you. Some systems have a rain sensor that does this automatically.
  9. Make sure your watering is done during the coolest part of the day so there’s less evaporation. Watering in the evening is best because there are many hours for plants to absorb water before the sun rises to dry it all up.
  10. Choose your pot plants carefully, as hot weather dries up any water quickly. Choose light coloured pots, or paint black ones a light colour as black absorbs even more heat. Water saving crystals in the potting media will help retain water in the mix. Keeping pot plants in dappled shade during the hot summer months will also help. Use a drip tray underneath the pot to catch the run-off. This will be absorbed back into the pot where the plant can make use of it. However, not all plants like wet roots, so make sure it’s not there all the time. Again, drought hardy plants are best for pots. Clustering pots together helps to shade the outside of the pots, so they don’t get as hot. Many people overwater pot plants because the top of potting mix dries quickly and you think the whole lot is dry. Dig down a little way and see if that pot plant really does need watering.

These are just a few water saving strategies for your garden without compromising too much on your favourite pastime! Although you may not be able to implement all 10 of these tips, just remember, every little bit you do goes a long way to save water.