Monday, June 6, 2011

Planting Grasses the Permaculture Way

Weeds - gotta love em for their resilience and sheer ability to completely dominate land. I have been reading through about permaculture basic principles and one of ideas is to plant small establishment species first amongst the weeds with as little disturbance as possible. This way the hardy, small, numerous establishment plants get a toehold and effectively create pockets of non weed invaded space. Once these non weed dominated spaces link up and grow, then eventually there is a large space of non weed area and the weed areas have been grown out. As compared with going in and removing all the weeds by hand and then replanting over the top, only for the weeds to just a quickly re-invade and dominate again. So by making minimal earth disturbance there is minimal weed seed germination, or breaking of weeds and cutting transplanting.

This is how the bush looks at chicken height - there is plenty of mulch from leaves and sticks and bark, plus the native ferns, but you can see the tangle of lantana and the wandering jew on the edges.

Here is where the backyard meets the edge of the bushland reserve.  Even though it looks cleared, the lantana to the left of the tree takes only a few weeks in growing season to reclaim the ground.  This is where the native grasses will go so they can compete with the lantana as they grow.

This is keeping the lantana controlled with cutting back and pushing it back down the slope.  But instead of having the lantana infestation, the wandering jew has simply filled the gap, with a thick moist carpet of growth that prevents all but the hardiest of natives seedlings emerging through it.  I am going to plant the native grasses in amongst the wandering jew carpet and see how they survive.

Can you identify this plant?
These beautiful native ferns emerge when the wandering jew is raking up or cleared.  They have a rough leaf with two or three fronds from the rhizome.  I have transplanted some to other parts of the garden years ago and they survived and are growing well.

Will be testing the idea with a area I have cleared and have variously mowed/raked to clear the weeds, and in another area where I will be sticking closely to the plant amongst the weeds idea.

Lomandra longifolia 

Here is an example of a successful native grass (Lomandra longifolia) growing on a nearby property. This means it would most likely grow on my property, and I just happen to have a few dozen established specimens in the front yard acting as wind and sun breaks. So I have dug them and up divided the base of the grasses, using the sustainable idea of using what is available and limiting new inputs.  You can see how the grass is mowed up to the edge of this plant and it still survives.  The Lomandra is virtually indestructible, has few local pests and is definitely preferable to any weeds!  There is plenty of shelter and habitat in the grass thicket for native wildlife and chicken food sources.
Tradescantia albiflora

This is how bad it gets when left undisturbed for several seasons, (possibly years.)  The wandering jew seems to just grow over itself and almost cannibalises itself for nutrients.  The carpet can be rolled up in a single piece so that it makes for easy disposal, but there are millions of micro rootlets and break-off bits to seed the next infestation.

By planting big individual plants directly in amongst the wandering jew, they certainly thrive, but the layer of weeds is a distraction.  Other gardeners take one look and think that the garden needs so much maintenance and upkeep because of the weeds, but if left alone and accepted that the weeds are there, you can see past it and get on with growing other plants.

Once the new plantings plants take hold, they give me a reason to go and tend them and at the same time remove a few more of the weeds.  Over time this is effective and results in a weed-free-oasis where I can plant other desirable species, and so the weeds lose a little more ground.  It is a slow process, but it is a process nonetheless and progress is being made.

A Shovel width swale
Here is a swale I made by simply digging with a trenching shovel and placing the dug soil to the downward slope side of the trench, then moving along.  It is about eight metres long and follows a contour of the property, and after about a year, like this one, it fills with deep mulch and acts as a water re-directing device away from a run off area towards plantings.

This is a future project - I have identified the micro climate as strong morning sun year round, very protected from winds, and with the two boulders to stop erosion/retain heat.  I am proposing a citrus orchard of 4 - 6 trees planted amongst the undergrowth.  I appreciate there is a lot of bracken, weeds and old mulch there.  I have not done any work to this part of the property, as it always looked like simply an overwhelming job to get in and clear it and then have to quickly replant it with desirable species.
So using simple permaculture ideas, I am not going to disturb the existing plants much at all, just plant a two lemons, two limes, two mandarins and two oranges amongst it all.  The weeds will act as a mulch and over time i will get to replace them with something more productive.
This was a real revelation when I read this - about how conventional thinking of clearing, preparation and planting such a huge workload that no one would even attempt it except on a huge budget - hence the spot has remained left to weeds for decades.  But permaculture says go right in, asses the spot for its strengths and just plant what would grow there, and once it is growing the plants will actually change the micro climate themselves.

Here's the first worm the chickens found - I was fooling around down the back and heard a big commotion in the chicken run.  The birds where whirring round and round, like they were being chased by something.
Immediately, like all new chicken owners, I thought the worst and had images of a dog or something.  But no, it was a fat worm, twisting in the beak of a chicken and the other four chasing after her.  You can make out the worm here - it was a major distraction and it took a dozen or shots trying to get the right image.


  1. Must of been the early worm.

  2. Hi there,

    I have just discovered your blog whilst trying to create one for a Gardening group I have attached myself to in Newcastle. I have to tell you that reading your blog and seeing your images looks like my life , my weeds, my natives, my chickens. I am also in Merewether on a 1600-1800sqm hillside block. We live in a treehouse under a canapy of spotted gums. Our chickens freerange, we have a rainforest in the back third of the block which I have been passionately weeding and regenerating for almost 2 years. 16 tonnes plus, of weed taken away thus far. I would love to share your experience and knowledge. I am addicted to this piece of earth and bringing it back from the overgrown state we found it in 2 years ago. This is a massive project and a life long one as it is our "foreverhouse" we will be working on in happily forever.

    Kathryn Dadd


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