Saturday, May 30, 2009

Getting my feet wet. And dry.

In the last week or so we've had the news of North Coast flooding. I was in Grafton the day before the big event, and thankfully made the trip back home before all the action happened.

When you live in a city like Sydney, you can quickly lose perspective on the realities that other people face in terms of the weather.

You only have to hop in your car and drive a few hours north or west to see it. From Grafton in flood last week, to Canberra in drought this week, I'm reminded how limited my perspective is.

Sometimes you don't have to go all that far from home to see things very differently. When you get there, the difference is obvious.

But somehow when you're at home, you can't see it. Homes flooded, and paddocks drought-parched - and here I am, dry and safe with a green lawn in the Sydney suburbs. It all seems so far away.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

When more is less

During the week one of my meetings was with the manager of a Paulownia plantation.

Paulownia originated in China, and was naturalised in Japan centuries ago. It is widely used for the building of furniture and fine cabinet-making, especially in the marine industries (the timber at its best is straight-grained, strong and very light).
As the 79-year-old manager of the plantation drove me around, he explained some of the lessons they'd learned along the way.
One of the main ones was: don't plant the trees too close together.
It would be easy to think that jamming as many trees as possible onto the site would make the exercise more profitable. But it's not so.
When the trees are too close together two things happen. Firstly, there is competition in the canopy as the trees compete for light. And as a result, the trees end up with winding, bendy trunks (which translates into shortly harvested lengths, and less straight grain).
Secondly, the trees don't grow as big. In fact, the final difference in terms of timber yield would be over 100% - the big difference being in the thickness of the trunks.
Sometimes less is more.