It's springtime. Everything is warming up but there is still moisture in the soil. With the site prepared and the seedlings selected, it's time to get our plants in the ground and acclimatised before the heat of summer.
For the Regent Honeyeater team and the army of volunteer planters, this is the highlight of the year: the time when eveything comes together and we start to see results.
Weeds and weed seeds scalped away, ready to dig.
Part-way through breaking up the surface to leave plenty of clean, weed-free soil to plant into and to anchor the treeguard with.
The main planting team splits into two halves: diggers and planters. You can please yourself which team you join; most people like to start with one task but swap over every now and then to exercise a different set of muscles. Let's begin with the digging.
Although we have sprayed the weeds and cut a rip line, the top layer of the soil is full of thousands of weed seeds.
As soon as it rains, the seeds will germinate and before too long they will be big enough to out-compete our seedlings, or at least seriously retard their growth.
(Why are weeds so good at this? Because that's what a weed is: a plant that has the ability to out-compete other plants, especially in disturbed environments. If it didn't have that ability it would not be classed as a weed in the first place!)
So with mattock and shovel, we scalp off the top few inches of soil, and with it the majority of the weed seeds.
Years of planting experience have demonstrated that best results are obtained by scalping an area of about two-thirds of a square metre.
Yes, in doing that we are also removing what little good topsoil remains after decades of clearing, heavy grazing, and rabbit damage — but our native plant species have spent millions of years learning how to cope with Australia's barren soils and can thrive on them. It's hard work scalping off the weed infested topsoil with mattock and shovel, but our long-term success rates show that it works.
Sometimes, especially towards the end of a long day's planting when you are anticipating a shower, an icy-cold drink, and the excellent three-course meal to come, it is tempting to skimp on the area you scalp clean and weed-free. Can it really make that much difference? In a word, yes. Scalping the topsoil off around the plant really does work.
After the hard yakka involved in scalping, digging the actual hole for the plant to go in is easy — though some of the rocky hillsides make even this step difficult.
Expert diggers take a few moments longer making sure that they have left a generous pile of weed-free soil and rocks next to the hole. You will see why on the next page.