Grampians farm Laharum Grove recovering from western Victorian fires

Grampians farm Laharum Grove recovering from western Victorian fires

30 April 2015

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Australia — It is proving a long and complicated journey for an iconic Grampians olive grove recovering from bushfires.

Just 15 months ago, a fire swept through the north of the western Victorian mountain range and ravaged Laharum Grove’s 70-year-old trees.

Deidre Baum, who owns the orchard with her husband Richard, said while the trees were slowly reshooting, it was going to be years before they started fruiting.

“We’re very much still in a recovery phase,” she said.

“We’re pruning now so there are a lot of trees that are being heavily pruned and de-suckered.”

Laharum Grove includes about 11,000 olive trees.

Ms Baum estimated only 2 per cent would fruit this year.

“In terms of trees that we’ve lost, it’s actually more significant than we had first thought,” she said.

“We’re seeing now where the regrowth is coming through on the trees.

“I think we’ve lost at least 1,000, maybe 1,000 to 1,500 trees.”

Laharum Grove sits on 120 hectares of land, about 30 kilometres south-east of Horsham.

The January 2014 fires burnt 55,000 hectares, destroying livestock, trees and fences.

Just months after the blaze, the Baums harvested their olives, producing about 700 litres of oil.

The Baums typically harvest their grove in late May, early June.

However, the couple expects prolonged dry conditions in the region will trigger an early harvest within the next two to three weeks.

“This year I don’t think there’s going to be as much [oil] as last year, which is quite ironic because the fires had been through,” Ms Baum said.

“We have a wee few olives.

“Maybe one to two tonnes.”

The oil the Baums harvest this year will solely be for their on-farm restaurant, Deidre’s.

She said she would only sell excess oil the restaurant does not need.

“It’s crazy – I’d be a restaurant on an olive grove buying olive oil,” Ms Baum said.

The Laharum region is home to some of Australia’s oldest olive groves.

The unaffected trees are between three to four metres high.

The Baums cut back the burnt trees to about one metre in height.

The burnt stumps line the driveway as you arrive at the property, which sits at the base of the Grampians.

Green shoots up to one metre are sprouting from the top of most of the trees.

Rootstock, which the Baums are yet to prune, is shooting up around the base of the burnt trees.

Ms Baum said the trees with rootstock at the bottom and no new growth on the branches would be removed.

“The trees will recover well,” she said.

“The olive tree is a really, really hearty tree.

“In terms of years, the bulk of the olive grove will [take] about four years from now, so just over five years from the fire.

“Those trees that have lost, they have some suckers coming through – that’s rootstock.

“If we were to train a sucker, we’re talking maybe 10, 12 years [to fully recover].”

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