Part 1 of this interview introduced us to David Franklin who has been working on restoring native grasslands over the last 8 years. Today, we continue our chat and learn more about David’s work.
After David and I finished our cups of tea, we headed out to one of David’s sheds where he keeps his machinery.
What kind of machinery do you use for sowing and harvesting?
We have three main machines: a mechanical seeder from Greening Australia, a brush harvester for grasses, and a machine that sows small plants (plugs). Because the mechanical seeder requires you to mix sand with the seed, I’ve been working on another seeder that doesn’t need sand.
Paul Gibson Roy from the Grassy Groundcover Research Project realised that they couldn’t use agricultural seeders to sow native plants, as the seeds are very light and sit in the machine without moving through. So they developed their own seeder. This one can be used to sow up to 25-30 different species together.
The box at the top is filled with a mix of seed and very fine sand – this gives is some weight and carries it out a long slot at the bottom of the machine, where it drops out in a sheet. It is time-consuming and hard work because we need about a cubic metre of sand for every hectare we do, and it takes about 10-15 minutes to mix each load.
Sometimes the sand is wet, which makes it difficult to mix the seed and it travels slowly out of the machine. And then coming to the end of the day, the sand dries out so you’ve got to vary your sowing rate to make it consistent.
With this machine you’re looking at up to 6 hours to seed 1 hectare using 3 people.
How much seed do you use per cubic metre of sand?
We’re sowing up to 55-60 kilograms a hectare of mixed species, but that’s not pure seed. We don’t clean the seed as it’s too time consuming, and so some of it’s still on the stalk. But we do put the stalks though a garden mulcher – this doesn’t damage the seed and it chops up the stalks so they mix with the sand.
At the moment I’m working on trying to make a better seeder with an engineering firm in Geelong. This one uses air to pull the seed through so that we don’t have to use sand. This should speed up the time it takes to sow a site considerably. It’s like one of the agricultural air seeders.
When I first started direct seeding, I didn’t have enough Wallaby Grass to sow out in the field. The seed was precious as I only had a small amount, and if I scattered it on the ground it would be a waste. So instead I decided to sow it in the nursery to grow plants (plugs). This resulted in a much bigger population than just spreading it around. But I had a bit of a problem – who was going to plant all those plugs? I then developed a machine that could mass-plant plugs. In the first year we sowed 80,000 plugs with this machine.
The planter has 6 belts at the top with little PVC pipes stuck to them. You load up the pipes with plugs. The belts move the pipes around the tray, and they pass over a hole with a tube going down to a tine at the bottom. The tine makes a slot in the ground, and as the belt winds its way around, the plugs keep dropping down.
When we planted the Wallaby Grass, we set the planter to plant every 20 cm, with 20 plants to the square metre. It actually takes longer to load the plants than it takes to plant them. It would take us 7 or 8 minutes to load up about 360 plants, and about 2 minutes to put them in the ground. At this pace we could sow 2000 plants an hour.
How do you grow enough seed for large-scale direct seeding?
With the Grassy Groundcover Research Project, we initially collected seed from roadside remnants, but this wasn’t enough for direct seeding. So we grew plants from this seed in the nursery and planted them into poly-boxes. From there, I made some raised garden beds to grow even more plants. After that, I made some in-ground beds with weed-matting. The weed mat was used to control the weeds, but it also makes it easy to vacuum up all the seed that drops.
I don’t use poly-boxes anymore because I don’t need them – I get enough from the raised beds and the in-ground beds. The poly-boxes dry out too quickly and the potting mix breaks down too easily. Both my raised beds and in-ground beds where I grow my herbs and forbs are irrigated and this prolongs the flowering season, which means you can get more seed from the crop. For the larger crops of native grasses, I grow them like a normal agricultural seed crop, with no weed matting and no watering.
What are you growing at the moment?
I have about 30 species in the ground. There are a few things on the go in the nursery which I’ll plant into the raised and in-ground beds. I also have some larger crops in the front and back paddocks.
At the moment I have about 500 Clover Glycine (Glycine latrobeana) in the nursery, which I’ll plant in the raised garden bed. This is a threatened species – you can only find the odd one in roadside remnants. Last year I grew a seed crop and I was getting between 200-300 pods every second day. I ended up with 56 grams of pure seed, not pods, just the pure seed.
A few of the species I’ve got growing in beds at the moment include Smooth Solenogyne (Solenogyne dominii), Featherheads (Ptilotus macrocephalus), Chocolate Lily (Arthropodium strictum), Bulbine Lily (Bulbine bulbosa), several Speargrass species (Austrostipa), Grey Tussock-grass (Poa sieberiana), Wheat Grass (Anthosachne scabra), Hoary Sunray (Leucochrysum albicans), and Common Billy-buttons (Craspedia variabilis), to name a few. I’ve even got some Blue Pincushions (Brunonia australis).
Last year I grew a crop of Yam Daises (Microseris landceolata) and I managed to get a full box of seed from just a 3.6 m by 6 m in-ground garden bed. I used weed matting and I also had irrigation drip lines under the weed matting.
I grow my Bindweed (Convolvulus) up a trellis with weed matting at the bottom. It works really well and I can either collect the seed from the plants or from the weed matting.
What are some of the larger crops that you grow?
I’ve got a crop of Common Everlasting (Chrysocephalum apiculatum) that I put in at the end of 2014. It’s about 1,000 square metres.
I direct seeded Lemon Beauty-heads (Calocephalus citreus) in spring 2015 but I wasn’t sure if it would come up. It took over two months and all of a sudden it started appearing. The seed isn’t usually ready to collect until February or March.
I also sowed Common Wheat Grass and Spear Grass in June 2015. The Wheat Grass has come up but I won’t get seed off it this season, but it’s a good result for Common Wheat Grass. Not much of the Spear Grass has come up, but it’ll come up in autumn with the rain – that’s what normally happens. I also put in a grass species mix in September 2015, but this was too late, and it never rained again after that. This will come up in autumn too.
I have a couple of hectares that was scalped in May 2015. Some of this area will be used for a seed production area and on 20 metres either side of the creek I’ll just do grassland species mix.
I’ve also got a Wallaby Grass crop in the back paddock – about 1/3 ha.
What kind of weed control do you use?
I’ve successfully used a technique called ‘spraytop’, where you put a light dose of roundup over the native grass to kill the annual weeds. It just burns off the top of the weeds and I use 300 ml to the hectare. It doesn’t kill the native grass but you’ve got to forego your seed for that year.
What time of year is best for the spraytop?
Ideally when the annual weeds are flowering – around about that time, it will burn off the weeds and desiccate them.
Have you done any direct seeding locally?
I mentioned before that there’s not much funding for direct seeding at the moment. So I decided to contact the local shire (Moyne) and offer my services to show them what can be done with direct seeding. There’s a section of roadside in Woorndoo that we decided to work on and create a mixed species grassland. I volunteered my time to grow some plants for seed, as well as getting the local Landcare group involved to collect seed from some of the remnant reserves in the area. The council pitched in and payed for the scalping and removal of the topsoil, this was over 1000 cubic metres of topsoil from a hectare, to a depth of 10 cm. With the Landcare group (about 16 volunteers) we collected over 60 kg of seed from 33 species. This was sown in September 2013 and in the end of 2014 I harvested 15 kg of wallaby grass seed off it. The machine I use doesn’t collect all the seed, it sort of knocks it about, and so some is left on the ground, which is good for maintaining the seed bank.
What kind of weed control do you do?
You can see that it’s pretty much weed free, but there is some Capeweed, Fog Grass, Phalaris and Wild Oats that come in from the edges. We’ve had some Scout groups and a Green Army group come and do some hand weeding here, and we’ve got on top of most of that.
I’ve noticed that most of the grass here is Wallaby Grass, did you sow other types of grasses?
Yes, there’s some Spear Grass as well as Kangaroo Grass (Themeda triandra). There is a bit of Spear Grass coming up and the Kangaroo Grass is just starting to show. With the Kangaroo Grass, all sites I’ve direct seeded are the same – they take 3 or 4 years before you get a lot coming up. The Wallaby Grass that usually dominates the site for the first few years.
Have you got any tips for anyone who wants to do direct seeding or start a seed production area?
If you are going to collect seed make sure you have the right permits and permission from the landowner. And make sure you’re not harming the remnant areas by collecting too much.
This is a great resource about ethical seed collection:
It’s always best to start small, as you can scale up later. You’ll be limited at the start by the amount of seed you can get and that’s ok. Just start with poly-boxes and work up to larger garden beds when you have more seed. It’s the same for direct seeding, just start small and find what size is manageable for you. Every direct seeding area you do is another good seed resource on its own.
You’ll also have to manage your seed crop, and sometimes it will fail and need re-seeding. I’ve had a large crop of Wallaby Grass that I collected 80 kg of seed from one year. There was also another 80 kg of seed on the ground that I couldn’t collect, as the harvester kept pushing the stalks over. The leftover stalks were too much biomass for the crop and it never grew back.
I recommend sowing seed in spring when the annual weeds start to die off and the bit of warmth helps germination. You can also sow in autumn after the first rains, but things won’t really grow over winter.
If your seed doesn’t come up in the first year, don’t give up as it can take time.
I’ve had plenty of sites where it took a while for the seed to come up.
Thank you for your time David
If you would like to learn more about David’s work you can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org