Environmental sustainabilityWhat, Where & Why
At Rainforest Heart we are passionate about the environment, and in particular are very focussed on making sure what we do on this land, is sustainable.
Our property is 166ha or 410 acres and is in an isolated valley of the North Johnson River catchment.
The property is bordered by world heritage listed Wet Tropics Area which is home to thousands of endemic plant and animal species and is one of the most precious tracts of wet tropical rainforest on the planet.
The valley is home to an abundance of wildlife such as dozens of bird species, such as Victorias Riflebird, honeyeaters, raptors and owls. Numerous reptile species such as pythons and tree snakes as well as skinks, geckos and other reptiles inhabit the area. Of significance, the endangered Southern cassowary is a common sight too, as they visit and stay in the valley throughout the year, depending on what fruits are ripe in the orchard. We have ample surplus of the fruits we grow to ensure they always get plenty to enjoy!
When we first came to this valley we knew would needed to think carefully about what we decided to do.
In this environment, rainfall can be as high as 6 meters a year, which means that soils are at risk of being washed away. Our property has both basalt and granite soils, so we grow our fruit trees only on the deep basalt soils as they hold more moisture and are more stable than granite soils.
We knew we needed to grow a tree crop as any other cropping was not suitable given the high rainfall and slopes in the valley. We also wanted to ensure we did not introduce another weed to wet tropics, as things can grow so rampantly and escape into the wild to become competitors and pests. So we looked into growing Australian natives which were endemic to the wet tropics and thus would become an extension of the habitat all around us.
Thus, we researched which endemic native fruit trees we may be able to grow there and what market there was for these fruits. The two dominant species we decided to plant were Davidsons Plum and Lemon Aspen along with trialling quite a few others. Plantings are a mix of the different fruits we grow, so that the entire orchard is effectively a forest and not a monoculture. We did this with a vision that should the orchard be no longer managed for production, it will become a part of the native rainforest around it, and continue to sustain the native wildlife i.e. it not become a weed problem (as it could, if it were an exotic crop).
We began planting in 2000/2001 which happened to be the first year the shire was drought declared! We learnt from that experience that we had to have a reliable water supply to the young trees, or they would not survive. We did not want to take water from the numerous high catchment streams on our property, as those aquatic habitats need the water as much as our trees did! So, we invested in a water bore to enable irrigation for our orchards, which means we do not take any water from streams and thus nothing is taken from the aquatic habitat, which continues to support the organisms that live in them!
Our irrigation is ground laid drip supply which wastes no water from evaporation. Our watering regime is directed by tensiometers, installed at the optimum depth for these tree species feeder roots, and which tell us when the soil moisture is low at this critical depth. This saves water being wasted, as we only water to the optimum depth and no more. Our watering regime perfectly matches these rainforest species natural preference, which is for frequent, shallow watering.
We grow a nitrogen fixing legume on the paths between the rows of trees which keeps the soil stable and provides nutrients to the soil. Under the trees we have cultivated a mix of thick leaf mulch and ground covers which keep the soil cool, trap any rainfall and reduce potential erosion.
We use only organic fertilisers when nourishing the fruit trees and apply this by hand directly beneath the trees at appropriate times throughout the season.
When each harvest is finished and we need to prune some of the trees, the cuttings are mulched, then composted on the farm and used as mulch and to provide nutrition for the trees.
We do not use any pesticides, instead we seek to manage any pests by encouraging predators insects and using manual methods or organic solutions.
Finally, in line with our commitment to keep our carbon footprint as low as possible, we have a 5MW solar system which helps to power our water bore and freezer.