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The joys of watching your grasses grow

Across Victoria, volunteers are refrigerating, boiling, soaking and smoking native seeds as part of a massive effort to revegetate land throughout the state.


In the lead up to Christmas, in backyards around Victoria, 361 volunteers were busy doing odd things with seeds. Some stashed packets of them in their fridge, others poured boiling or hot water on them and left them to soak, then there were those who carefully sprinkled seeds into tubes and covered them with a smoky ash treatment.

There was method in their madness. The volunteers are part of the not-for-profit TreeProject’s mission to revegetate council and privately-owned land in Victoria. The group plants trees, shrubs and ground cover to help protect waterways, improve ecosystems and create habitat for wildlife, using plants that are Indigenous to each planting area.

The diverse pre-sowing treatments are required to mimic the different conditions – including flood and fire – that each native plant species requires to begin germination.

Susan Esselmont inspecting trays of seedlings.

Susan Esselmont’s has been involved in germinating seeds for the TreeProject over the past three years and says there’s nothing she loves more than seeing the tiny sprouts push their way out of the soil.
‘I love watching seeds germinate. I just get so excited. I've got some grasses this year that have been really slow to germinate and I've been holding off separating and replanting them. because I'm like, “Come on, you can do it!”.’

Not that it’s always smooth sailing.

‘We have a bit of a possum problem where we are, so I've had to make sure everything's off the ground and just this year I've used four tent poles around my table to cover it with a plastic mesh to keep the possums out,’ she laughs.

‘I’ve also had a few bugs this year, like caterpillars. You’ve got to keep an eagle eye out or they're pretty quick to decimate things if you're not careful.
‘The other challenge is just the weather in Melbourne. It’s so variable. I've got a couple of species that need to be in shade if it's over 30 degrees, so I’ve got to keep the balance of wanting them to get plenty of sun, but making sure that when it hits 30 degrees, I've got them under some shade.’

But Susan says help is always available for the volunteer growers, beginning with a two-hour training session for newbies.

The support clearly works, with volunteers sowing an impressive 134,736 tubes at the start of 2023. After several months of daily watering, pricking out of excess seedlings and keeping a watchful eye over pests, those volunteers must then prepare to say goodbye to the plants they have nurtured from seed. For some, that will involve dropping off their seedlings to the TreeProject in preparation for a planting day in the Yarra Valley or beyond. Others will continue their volunteer efforts to the end by taking part in the planting day that will use their seedlings to help revegetate degraded farmland.

Susan is happy to hand her seedlings in for others to plant, safe in the knowledge her seedlings will be in good hands.

‘It’s just knowing I’m doing something good for the environment and the soil and the plants and the animals that use the trees. I just find the whole thing quite satisfying.’

Get sprouting with The TreeProjectExternal Link

Reviewed 30 January 2024