The Food Forest

Forest Plantings

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Why establish forest plantings on your property?

You may wish to make more money or to set yourself up with a nest egg for your retirement or just to avoid handing so much of your income to the Taxation Commissioner. You may have a commitment to the environment or care about the health of the planet we hand on to our children. Perhaps you like the idea of planting and caring for trees from which fine timber products will be made. These are a few of the good reasons for looking carefully at what farm forestry can offer. Incidentally farm forestry does not  necessarily mean hectare upon hectare of pine trees, it can mean well managed windbreaks, woodlots, or timber belts of native species too.

The big picture

Although 40% of the World’s plantation timber is of Eucalyptus species, Australia imports some $2 billion worth of wood-derived products annually. We receive some $700 million for the export of the chipping of massive areas of native forest. This leaves a huge import replacement opportunity, mainly in the production of good sawlogs for high quality timber. The world outlook to the  year 2015 is for timber prices to continue to grow faster than food commodity prices, making wood a more profitable large scale crop to grow than most others in higher rainfall areas. It already comfortably outstrips the profitability of grazing in the Hills.

Property improvement

Your property can look better, have lower wind speeds, lower lambing losses, grow better fruit, be more productive and profitable, have less erosion, less salinity problems, more biodiversity with its accompanying ecological stability, boast a more diverse income base and lower exposure to the risks posed by nature and the vagaries of the market place. It is widely accepted that you can have 15% of the property under trees without losing production from the existing enterprises; the forest products are an  added bonus. Property values are generally 15% higher for properties with well-designed tree plantings than for similar properties with no trees.


In the Adelaide Hills it is quite reasonable to expect returns equating to almost $1000 per hectare of forest per year. Different wood products offer vastly different levels of income and demand varying amounts of skill and effort. Firewood may be worth $15 per tonne in the standing tree or $70 sawn on farm and a yield of some 8 tonnes per year should be achievable per hectare providing a total profit of up to $1400 per hectare in the 10 year span to first harvest. However if the land owner sawed the timber with  uncosted labour the ‘profit’ may be more like $3500 per hectare.

Sawlogs (for timber) are measured by volume rather than by weight and can command over $70 per cubic metre. For the 550cubic metres of Pinus radiata wood which may be produced off a hectare in 25 years, a profit of $30,000 is possible.

 One can only salivate over stories from New Zealand where a market for very high quality timber has been developed (most of our quality softwood comes from NZ) and a recent example of a net income off 2 hectares of pine of $80,000.


For people who have an income which attracts substantial tax, forestry may be of particular interest because of its ability to absorb income at a time when you are earning well, so minimising tax payable, and then to provide you with a saleable asset and an income stream later on. You should be able to claim deductions for interest on money borrowed to establish the forest planting, all costs of maintenance and repairs, depreciation of equipment, cost of trees, any special fencing to exclude pests which may  degrade the land, fencing to land classes (according to a plan approved by Primary Industries SA) or for the prevention of land degradation… eg fencing off gullies etc, and also costs of water conservation works or reticulation.


The average family which keeps itself warm with wood in winter uses over 3 tonnes per year. Those who cook and produce their own hot water use more; so it is sensible to have at least a hectare of woodlot for your own consumption.

At The Food Forest we warm ourselves with wood and have also been able to build a log wall for our potting shed, construct a brush fence and out door benches and we’ve had some beautiful wooden craft items turned from our trees. Cut foliage is used for decoration, we devour huge quantities of honey made by our bees and we thoroughly appreciate the pest control efforts of the small birds and predatory wasps which nest and live in our areas of native trees. Recently we have started to thin our little Canary Island Pine forest for pole timber. Poplars give us wonderful knocking poles for our Pistachio and Pecan nuts and the Stone Pines are already producing pine nuts for the Mediterranean recipes to which we are addicted.

This is after only 10 years…give us another 20 and we’ll be milling the finest Canary Island Pine sawlogs, making furniture from giant bamboo and cutting cork for our own wine; in yet another 20 it will be time to harvest the oaks… or should we leave them for our grandchildren? Forestry is a wonderful way of transferring real riches to the next generation and whilst the best response to  the question 'When is the best time to plant a forest?' is 'Thirty years ago'. The next best answer is ‘Right now’… we and our kids never get any younger.

The environment

85% of the Earth’s surface used to be clothed by trees. Since the removal of this protection we have seen stunning amounts of erosion, disastrous developments of dryland salinity, the tripling of Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere, the extinction of thousands of species, extraordinary degradation and pollution of fresh and ocean waters and changes to rainfall patterns, all in the name of progress... and yet more people live in disempowerment, poverty and malnutrition than ever before; now they can’t even be poor in the shade!

 Putting the trees back is vital to the restoration of the Planet’s balance and farm forestry is probably the best way of doing it. So let’s get on with it.

What species should you plant?

The first question must be 'What grows on your land now and what used to grow there before it was developed?' The original vegetation will tell us about the basic climate and soil and the current crops will give clues as to any major modifications which have resulted from farming eg salting, increased Phosphorous levels, lower soil pH or poorer drainage.

Staff from Primary Industries SA have used such information to classify land in the Hills and Peter Bulman’s excellent book 'Farm Trees for the Mount Lofty Ranges' uses those classifications to suggest which species will do well on your property. It should be read thoroughly by anyone contemplating forest plantings. The basic types of site considered are: Tall Stringybark, Short Stringybark, Tall Manna Gum, Red Gum, Red Gum with poor drainage, Pink Gum, SA Blue Gum, Peppermint Box, Mallee and Saline.

Having found your site types (and you may need to refer to someone with knowledge of native vegetation and/or one of the books about what grew where, eg. 'The Native Forest and Woodland Vegetation of SA' SA Dept Woods and Forests) you’ll be presented with a list of potential species for the various parts of your place. Soil tests for structure, profile, fertility and pH will be worthwhile if a substantial planting is to be established.

Now comes the decision about what purposes the trees will serve or products you are interested in. Each of the hundreds of potential species has its own strengths and weaknesses, eg. tolerance to fire, salinity or waterlogging, and its particular uses, eg sawlogs, windbreaks, fodder, oil, Christmas trees, craft wood, firewood etc.

If you had a patch of land which used to carry tall Stringybark and some poorly drained flats with Red Gum you may choose to put in a timber lot of Pinus radiata for the production of high quality sawlogs on the slopes and to revegetate the flats with a mixture of Red Gum and River Oak (Casuarina cunninghamiana) both of which produce sawlogs, excellent firewood, craftwood and enjoy an occasional inundation. Alternatively you may go for Spotted Gum (Eucalyptus maculata) on the slopes for hardwood sawlogs, honey and habitat and something quite different on the flats too. The choices are numerous.

You may be preoccupied with making money or perhaps doing the best for the environment. If you’re clever you may be able to do both with an elegant farm forestry design which incorporates windbreaks, biodiversity plantings, woodlots and timberbelts.

floodable forestOn our place we recently planted a ‘floodable forest’ for when the Gawler River gets a bit excited. Casuarina cunninghamiana, naturally tall and straight, is alternated with the local Broughton Willow (Acacia salicina) which is usually pretty crooked but will be forced to grow up straight, between the casuarinas; it produces a stunning timber very like Blackwood. Both species will send taproots down to the aquifer associated with the river, drought-proofing themselves in what is a fairly dry environment.

Our site is a bit peculiar because of flooding but yours may have dairy or pig effluent to deal with in which case you may try Red Gum or Flooded Gum (Eucalyptus grandis) for a woodlot or even some non-running bamboo.

Your geographic location may limit your options in that too great a distance from a preserving plant may take out poles as a potential product, whilst distance from a city may eliminate firewood. There is no pulp mill within transport range of the Hills.

The size of your plantings can also be critical. A firewood lot yielding less than 100 tonnes is unlikely to be of interest to a firewood  contractor. Talk to potential buyers before planting. In some cases contracts can be signed with buyers and sometimes they provide an advisory service to growers.

Layout and establishment

You need a clear idea of the total forest system you’re aiming to create including what happens at different ages and how the forest relates to the rest of the property.

I would like to see some forests in the Hills run soft-footed geese and alpacas on pastures between developing alternate rows of pines and oaks; they would do the weeding and although grazing numbers would fall somewhat as the pines took more light, the deciduous nature of oaks and high pruning of the pines would keep the pastures alive. The pines would be thinned for poles and eventually felled for high value saw logs, by which time the oaks would have developed into a nice straight-trunked trees producing acorns for the grazers. Many years later maybe the oaks could be felled. This would be a sustainable forest. In the drier parts of the Hills tough fodder trees like Carobs, Saltbush and Tagasaste will have a role.

Having worked out the objectives of your planting the number of trees per hectare and therefore the spacing of the trees and the rows is still a major decision. A thinning regime can be worked out in advance, eg. 'In this timber lot at 4 years of age we’ll slash down the trees with no vigour and poor form and leave them to rot down. We’ll thin the poorer trees for poles at 11 years; at 22 years we’ll cut the poorer trees and take out alternate rows for sawlogs and leave just a percentage to go through to large sawlogs at 35'... there are many variations on that theme and if you had elected to grow trees for pulp you probably wouldn’t bother to thin at all. If your aim is to integrate the agricultural production of the place with growing timber (agroforestry) your row spacings may be very wide to allow for light to get to the pasture between the trees; this is less of an issue if you choose deciduous trees like Honey Locust, Black Walnut or Oaks.

There are some reasonably standard layouts for plantings aimed at different forms of production, which are also explained well in Peter Bulman’s book.

Trees should be ordered from a recognised forestry nursery as there is a steady improvement in performance of selected cultivars. They should have a weed free planting site waiting for them which has been ripped and mounded. There are a number of contractors in the Hills who plant trees very economically. Fertiliser would be added if required but don’t be too terrified…for their size timber trees need remarkably little fertilizer.

 In some cases you may elect to use tree guards for frost or pest control but rabbit and hare populations should be at low densities and a control program is always best before the trees arrive rather than after they have been eaten off.


Fencing must effectively exclude sheep, cattle and other grazing animals. If kangaroos and wallabies can access the trees a mixture of egg whites and water-based paint applied to the trees has been a successful deterrent.

In undulating country the ripping should be on the contour and in the most extreme slopes up and down the hill.

Weeds are the great enemy of young trees and everything from, granular herbicides to weeder geese and flame throwers to straw mulch has been used to reduce competition for water, nutrients and light. Some hand watering or in special circumstances irrigation may be needed to get the trees established. Remember they come from the nursery with a root system which is often  too small for the top growth in a ‘wild’ situation. If possible time your planting so that the young trees get natural rainfall for some months after planting.

Silviculture - producing quality products

Form pruning is done in the tree’s younger years to eliminate double growing tips and odd shapes and to concentrate growth in a single upright stem. Later you may undertake ‘lift pruning’ where you prune off side branches to eliminate knots in the wood. The wood laid down after lift pruning is knot free ‘clear wood’ of premium value. Over several ‘lifts’ the stem is free of branches to a height of 6 metres, the length of a standard sawlog. There are many types of equipment to make this job easy.

When it comes to harvesting the whole operation can be done by contractors or you may elect to do the thinning harvest yourself and get contractors in for the main operation.

Processing may be undertaken on-farm or at a sawmill. Whilst on-farm milling may take more organisation and produce a slightly less precise product it may also make a huge difference to profitability, especially if you also take responsibility for selling or making the wood into something (a difference from $70 to $400 per cubic metre for felling, sawing and curing). There are now many types of small scale or transportable mills, kilns and also mechanical felling aids that can be attached to conventional farm tractors. On-farm milling contractors in the Hills include Roger  Kowald at Mt Torrens. If you want to produce and market posts  they can be pressure impregnated with Copper Chrome Arsenate by Recut industries at Monarto. Needless to say the boom in the grape industry has been fortuitous for the producers of posts.

Help in SA

Primary Industries SA has a substantial commitment to developing Farm Forestry in the Hills and have appointed an experienced forester, Martyn England, to provide advice to landholders interested in establishing  plantings. Martyn also helps to coordinate a network of growers who share information and other resources. 'The Forest Grower' is an excellent journal which covers all of  Southern Australia and keeps forest growers up to date with prices, new technology and industry developments. Contact Martyn England of Rural Solutions on (08) 8552 7788 or 0427 971 163 or Geoff Hodgson on (08) 8391 7510.

Seeing is believing

 A number of trials have been established in the Hills. Particularly significant ones are at Gumeracha and in the Meadows area. Check them or other existing plantings in your area before taking the plunge.

Courses and conferences

A short course on Farm Forestry will usually take place in June covering species selection, forest systems and layouts, silviculture, harvesting curing and milling, yields and financial analyses, tree establishment and ‘best bets’ for the Hills. Tutors in the past have been Martyn England, Farm Forestry Development Officer PIRSA; Ian Nuberg, Lecturer in Agroforestry at the University of Adelaide’s Roseworthy Campus; Neville Bonney of Greening Australia; Glenn Christie, Revegetation Consultant and  Graham Brookman, Property Planner. It includes tours of top farm forestry developments in the Hills. Details are available from Annemarie Brookman (08) 8522 6450.

Publications on Farm Forestry

  • Information Packs on Farm Forestry in SA are available. Prepared by Martyn England they contain well illustrated fact sheets on tree establishment woodlots, pruning, firewood, fire protection and wide spaced agroforestry.
    Phone Martyn on (08) 8552 7788.
    - 'Farm Trees for the Adelaide Hills' - Comprehensive manual. Indispensable. Relevant to the whole of SA.
    - 'Deciding on Farm Forestry?' - Good information on costings, milling, government regulations and useful references. 
  • 'Agroforestry in Australia and New Zealand', Reid
  • 'Growing Carobs In Australia', Esbenshade (old, maybe only in libraries)
  • 'Agroforestry - trees for productive farming', Race
  • 'Design Principles for farm forestry', RIRDC (both from Land Links 1800 645 051)
  • 'Agroforestry', Reid and Stewart
  • 'Bamboo Rediscovered', Cusack
  • 'Tree Crops - a permanent agriculture', Smith
  • 'Economic Native Trees and Shrubs for SA', Neville Bonney (State Tree Centre)
  • 'Farm Forestry Clearwood Production', Agriculture Vic 
  • 'Permaculture Plants', Nugent.

Spotted Gum a sure winner for Farm Forestry

Why plant Spotted Gum?

Eucalyptus maculata (Spotted Gum) is one of the straightest and tallest growing species available for the Adelaide Hills and produces 'appearance grade' timber for furniture, panelling and other purposes as well as for structural applications.

  • The wood has an attractive, wavy grain, is light coloured and hard, making it an attractive and durable flooring material
  • Its high strength and stress rating make it a reliable wood for structures under big loads and subject to stresses induced by machinery, vehicle movement; it’s tough enough for tool handles. It is also a fine material for ship building.
  • The untreated timber is durable for 20 years in the ground and it is often used for telegraph poles, fence posts, weatherboard and other outdoor construction applications.
  • The wood air-dries well and splitting is minimal so on-farm curing is feasible. It also ‘works’ and machines well.
  • Offcuts make hot, long-burning firewood.
  • The tree offers habitat for native fauna and provides regular flows of honey as it grows toward maturity. It is an excellent agroforestry species as the tree allows pasture to grow under it.

Where to grow it

Spotted Gum does best on well watered soils of reasonable depth and drainage in tall Stringybark, Manna Gum, Blue Gum or well drained Red Gum country. These sites are typified by rainfall of between 600 and 1000mm per annum. The young trees can be damaged by very low temperatures so frosty hollows should be avoided. The species is remarkably tolerant of exposed sites and the odd dry year and generally produces trees of good form.

Forest Layout

Depending on site conditions you could adopt a planting density of about 500-800 trees per hectare, ie 7metres between rows and 3 metres between trees or 4 metres between rows and 3 metres between trees which, through successive thinnings, would reduce to about 300 ultimate sawlogs, as well as providing pole timber during the growing cycle. Grazing under the forest would be promoted by timely thinning. The planting could be made as a woodlot, timberbelt or wide-spaced system. The trees take a small amount of form pruning when young and whilst they are pretty much self-pruning up the trunk as they grow a little attention pays big dividends.


Well-sawn and cured clearwood could be bringing in prices equivalent to $500-$1000 in real terms per cubic metre in 25 years. At 200-400 cubic metres per hectare the devotion of part of your property to eucalypt forestry doesn’t sound such a bad idea! Even trees on the stump are estimated to bring up to $100 per cubic metre.

If you foresee a need to sell your land before the maturity of the trees the value of the forest is now routinely factored into the value of the land so you don’t necessarily have to wait 25 years to benefit from planting your gums. Why wait?