View Full Version : Starting from scratch - finding resources to create a garden
13-02-2004, 09:36 AM
We live on a small acerage in a temperate area of southern Australia. Having lived and worked (and gardened) all over Australia in the hottest, dryest parts, we decided we would like to spend the rest ofour lives somewhere pleasant for a change!
Our block is an 11+ acre wind-swept hill. The topsoil is shallow and the soil underneath is clay and crumbling shale. The covering vegetation was grass, which had been grazed by horses for many years. It was iron hard and not very fertile.
The first method of gardening we tried was the usual dig-up-the-ground. This activity did not last for very long... The next was trying to find stable manure and piling it on the ground. This worked a little better, but there was a lot of saw-dust in the mix and it tended to leach out the nitrogen as it broke (slowly) down. The I found the local sale-yards. There I could get as much manure as I wanted to shovel. Over the last 6 months I have shovelled tonnes of the stuff and lost 21 kilos! I put the manure onto ground that has been sprayed with glysophate (to kill the invasive grasses) to a depth of about 30cm. That is topped with straw, which stops it drying out and prevents any weeds coming up. The earthworms turn this into an super rich, crumbling soil in about 2 months, but I usually begin planting out a week or so after the manure is put down. After the worms get to work, the ground is easy to dig over. The hardest part is shovelling the manure, but it is free and has had a very positive effect on my health as well as the garden. A win, win situation.
Sounds good Rob. Just an idea - at the Permaculture Research Institute they use as their 'herbicide' beer cartons they get for free from the local pub. They overlap them when they lay them on the ground so they starve the grass and weeds of light, then start piling their soil etc on top of the cartons. The cartons will eventually break down but by then the weeds beneath won't be a problem. Might save you some money and be better for the soil in the long run.
16-02-2004, 09:34 AM
We have tried the cardboard and rejected it in favour of really thick layers of newspaper. We found that because the manure was not touching the soil, it took a lot longer to break down and the earthworms took longer to get into it. The manure is best when it has contact with the existing soil, so that the microbes and worms can get into it. I would use the carborad/newspaper method if I wasn't in such a hurry to get garden beds established... I guess I am just another addition to seething hordes in the haste race! :D
16-02-2004, 12:15 PM
If I understand things correctly, the purpose of the cardboard is to prevent weeds from germinating and coming up through the mulch.
How about solarizing the weeds by laying out a sheet of plastic / tarp over the proposed garden bed. Heat from the sun will kill off the existing weeds and seeds. I think solarizing even kills off difficult weeds like Nut Grass. When ready, remove the plastic and place the manure / mulch mix directly on the soil.
Just my 2 cents worth.
16-02-2004, 03:31 PM
Good luck with your garden.
I thought seeing as ppl were putting their 2 cents in that i might join them.... as out of character that may be for me :D
I have quite a few sheets of old corrigated iron lying about so i use that to solarise weeds and grass.... its takes about 2 months for this to be totally effective. I 'borrowed' this technique from the 2001 ABC gardener of the year... its a method he used on his property in Armidale.
I am hoping this will save me quite a bit of work when it comes time to planting!
Take care and welcome to the forum.
17-02-2004, 07:17 AM
ah. killing invasive weeds...
solarising, depriving of light.
but still haven't found a way to kill couch grass or kikiu grass...
many a raised bed have been destroyed by these monsters!
17-02-2004, 08:53 AM
We have the dreaded couch grass (as mentioned by Dave), and we have found the only thing that kills this particular couch is glysophate. Believe me, we have tried everything else, including digging it over and sifting it. It only takes one tiny piece and it's back again. (ask me how I know)... Since no other sprays are used in the garden, I don't mind using a bit of glysophate.
17-02-2004, 08:54 AM
Oops, as mentioned by Dan, not Dave...
17-02-2004, 08:57 AM
can you explain glysophate? is it very bad in the scale of chemicals????
not too worried - we are now developing our bush block...8 acres...poorest soil you'll ever see, no grass, let alone couch so in some ways i'm excited about that.
my only fear is how close can i let the gums grow to the vege garden. i've heard they'll find a water source up to 20 meteres away!!!
Glyphosate is a chemical so it's best not to use it if it can be helped but couch is the evil scourge of the planet as far as I'm concerned, and it does need to be destroyed in whatever way possible. I have heard there is a pine oil based weed killer that desicates the plant it is applied to but don't know where to get it.Try the organic nasaa or demeter folks.
Glyphosate is dodgy as it is applied with a surfactant (detergent type thing), which means it can leach down into the soil and into rivers. It is best not to use it near any watercourse as it will kill frogs too.
But it's worth using in some cases.
17-02-2004, 09:37 PM
Apparently glyphosate is a growth hormone and it kills the plants by encouraging them to grow at a rate beyond which they can actually sustain; basically they shoot forth, wilt and die - I think! I would be as concerned with the addition of growth hormones into the ground from which you wish to extract your vegetables; that said, I am unaware as to the life of the stuff once in the ground, or what its effects are in the long term. If you want growth hormones, buy chickenmeat from your supermarket!
I envy you the availability of the manure source - it's probably exactly what we need here in Meekatharra! The local kangaroos are far more sparing with their contributions and never seem to gather in sufficient numbers!
Mark Goodman :cool:
18-02-2004, 03:57 PM
I had a really unfortunate experience with trying to mulch out couch grass. When I moved into the little old house I currently occupy (which is not the site I am proposing to build on) I took up the horrible carpet and found this fantastic old underlay. I think it was made of a vegetable fibre similar to coir, definitely old and pre-dating the use of fungicides and synthetic underlay. What a perfect material for a weed barrier I thought. Well the couch grass thought I had built it a freeway. The runners zoomed over and through that lovely spongy material like a BMW on a German autobahn. This was my first experience with couch, and I was perplexed for a long while. How come my garden was getting weedier, with all that fabulous mulch? Now I don't muck around - the judicious use of glyphosate is the answer.
My 2 cents worth would be to spray once, then let the area rest a while before planting. Establish a defined edge to the garden bed or tree surrounds, then establish a runner-free zone beyond that. If you are vigilant, you can reduce the risk of invasion. Bloody hard work, and goes somewhat against the permaculture philosophy, but, hey, when you have couch growing up through your floorboards like some bloody triffid, it's a compromise worth making! :cool:
19-02-2004, 08:30 AM
Heck, I would have to be very desperate to use a chemical weed killer, can't imagine doing it at all really, but I don't actualy have any evidence for why roundup/glyphosate is actually bad. Geoff had a handout he'd distribute at pdc's along the lines of "top ten reasons not to use roundup". I think the general idea is that it gets into the water supply and perverts the soil microfauna etc but to be honest I never paid much attention to the specifics cause I have just come to take it as given that artificial chemicals cause more problems than solutions. Seems our understanding of just exactly why this is so is incomplete though the circumstancial evidence is abundant.
anyone have any concrete facts as to why roundup sucks?
19-02-2004, 12:25 PM
The problem with water containation is not so much with glyphosate but with the carrier agent. Glyphosate itself is supposed to de-activate upon contact with soil but this is not always the case.
There are "frog friendly" glyphosate products available that address water contamination by using different carrier agents. I think "Touchdown" or "WipeOut" are examples.
My current TAFE subjects involve chemical control of pests and weeds, so I don't profess to be any expert and I don't have my books readily available to give specific details.
20-02-2004, 10:38 AM
i guess the key is always - at what point do you compromise principles for practicality...
those who have experienced extremely invasive weeds like couch can obviously justify the use of chemicals because what is better - an initial chemical input for long term productivity - or poor productivity over a long period using up a much larger percentage of resources?
we have not dealt with couch in this way yet - probably because we have been renting and have not had a complete invasion...reminds me of Jenny Allen's story in her book about being so in love with comfrey that she planted it through all her beds - and ended up with a similar problem.
on the whole the practice of system management, which is what permaculture is all about, is all about innovation and compromise...no system is perfect, so it is very difficult to impose high ideals on an imperfect system...
it is like howard odum'd energy analysis - you have to look at the full picture -
in the case of chemicals in gardens...
are chemicals detrimental to the environment - yes
are chemicals in small, one off amounts as detrimental as the ongoing use of inorganic fertilisers and pest treatments used in unsustainable modern agricultural processes - no, not really.
so, is there a place for the use of chemicals in a permacultural system. in some cases the answer may be yes - because a one off use of chemicals may help obtain a greater yield, increase biodiveristy (in the long term) by removing an invasive and foregin/unwanted species, allowing the creation and better use of system edges...etc
permaculturalists have to becareful not to be too dogmatic. the whole philosophy is about flexibility, innovation and looking to governing principles to guide a breadth of systems practice.
it reminds me of when i went on a house tour at the holmgren residence and the look on the faces of most of the crowd when he told them his son shot a couple of ducks the other day for dinner with a friend. - some people looked like they had been decived. permaculture? advocating the killing of animals? worse? the use of guns!?!
anyway - bit of a speil. happy for engagement - maybe we start a new topic?
Probably the best known glyphosate herbicide is Roundup made by Monsanto. For anyone who's interested there's an article from an American source called 10 Reasons Not To Use Roundup which I can forward if requested - email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I don't make any claims for or against the article, or Roundup for that matter, but it might add to your knowledge if you read it.
and so chemicals manufacturered by large multinationals - who are anything but permacultural!
i'm sure there are more then 10 good reasons not to use the stuff.
i'm sure an embodied energy analysis would be interesting - is nothing else
10-03-2004, 12:40 PM
The way I saw it, was that I'm like really, really old, and by the time I manually picked out every bit of couch from my 11 acres I would be like really, really dead. I spray the couch once with glysophate, (Which is NOT a hormone at all, but works by inhibiting the roots ability to take up water - the plant dies from lack of water.) then I manure, then mulch with straw. To get run-off to take the detergent which is in the glysophate to make the glysophate 'stick' on the plant, you need rain... Haven't had much of that here lately.
On the frog thing - noticed that it is not talked about much lately? That's because they discovered it wasn't the use or over-use of chemicals with detergent that was killing the poor little devils off, it was a fungus.
Next you will be telling us that DDT is bad...
http://www.junkscience.com/ Check out "The Malaria Clock"
11-03-2004, 06:04 PM
I have finally managed to look into glyphosate (shouldn't go "shooting my keyboard off" beforehand really!) and found the following page. It seems that the issues with it are not that dramatic, if this is to be believed.
12-03-2004, 08:16 PM
Personally,(my opinon that is), I wouldnt believe all of the info provided by the chemical companies. One thing you need to remember when getting official info from Govt. resources like this is that these employees usually come from the private sector, and directly from the agrochemical companies. This is by no means meant to stir up a conspiracy theory but the US govt experts now tow the party line re: data or they are sacked! simple as that.
The latest Organic Gardener mag has run a short article stating the Danish govt ban on commercial use of Glysophate. I did some further searching and this seems correct. The damage done to the groundwater table is the direct cause in issuing the ban. So much for the micro-organisms breaking it down! You can do an easy search on 'Google.com'
Then again, this is directed at commercial use rather than domestic use. I have a problem with kikuyu, and other problem weeds, and did purchase some glysophate. It's been sitting in my shelf for 2 months now while i deliberate its use. While i see the short term benefit in getting rid of problematic weeds,ie. my back!, i now have 2 hatchlings of Green Tree Frogs now roaming my acerage. Does my short term gain by using this chemical outway the natural ecosystem that is trying to establish itself on my property? Isn't this what i am trying to achieve?!? At this stage the frogs are winning and my back is the loser.
I am thinking of other alternatives and the main thing that is keeping me going in persisting to weed by hand is what my Permaculture teacher said, "concentrate on one area at a time, the rest will still be there when you get round to it". A couple of things working that dont involve chemicals is the solarisation of grassed areas with old aluminum sheeting placed over an area for 2 months; and the other is mulching out the grass with grass! This is working quite well and the microbial activity is quite astonishing!
OK.... think this post is long enough now!
This seems to be quite a topic though.
13-03-2004, 07:05 AM
I wonder if anyone really uses roundup or similar products in a one-off application... Weeds grow back and having been seduced by the convienience of chemical weedkillers who is going to spend time weeding and/or mulching and planting intensively enough to outcompete the problem plants? I am only 30 and have had a bad back since I was 12 and the best thing I've found for it is the regular, gentle exercise afforded by gardening. (the action of raking up mulch does wonders for the abs, which when well toned take a lot of strain off ones back).
That junkscience website is pretty well named I reckon. Didn't the condor nearly go extinct from ddt? Either way, I think that contaminated drinking water globally accounts for at least as much infant mortality as malaria does...
26-03-2004, 09:12 PM
Greetings all- have just found this site. Glyphosate? Ive been using it for 20years - couldnt have cleared my flats under 2-3metre high blackberry without it. Still watch the stuff though, use only hand application and spot treatment. The dratted berry still comes up from decades of free seeding, plus all the other weeds it was smothering. I grow macadamias and avocado near East Cape NZ, in a small oneman (plus calves and dogs!) operation. Dont see any sign of chemical fixation - volcanic loam over clay - and susceptible weeds eg thistles, sedge, couch etcstill come away vigorously if not watched. Heaps of crickets, cicadas, grasshoppers & ticks BUT I lost the field mushrooms early on and tho I grazehorses at intervals, they aint come back.
The new generic glyphosates arent as sophisticated as Roundup - dont havethe penetrants it seems. But its all a worry isnt it. Do heaps of mulching, usenewspaper, old carpet from the local dump, but its an ongoing battle and I aint getting any younger!
27-03-2004, 12:12 AM
Ooops, forgot to login in again, but I just wanted to ask Kaiwhenua, do you put down your absence of fungi to your continued use of roundup type stuff, or is there something else going on there... The fungus is supposed to be very important for soil health is it not?
29-03-2004, 10:12 AM
Welcome to the forum.
Not sure if you guys get Gardening Australia over there, but last weekends program showed a farmer using his pigs to get rid of Blackberries. His neighbour wanted to know what kind of tractor he was using, the guy replied the 300kg one and pointed to his pigs!
I guess one of the problems with soo much chemical use today is its over-use or mis-use. Some ppl supporting round up say that ppl applied the chemical in such a way that microbial activity cannot cope with breaking all of it down b4 it reaches the water table. That's the other thing... you can't see the chemicals in the water... only testing will show it up and by then its too late! (this isn't having a go at you by the way)
Good luck with the farm
31-03-2004, 09:39 PM
You Dont Have an excess of Kyke or Cooch (grasses/Weeds)
You have a shortage of Chooks( Chickens/Hens)
Spraying is the Lazy Way...Weeding is a HARD way.
Hens will feed you in meat/eggs eat up any bugs,keep you warm or cool in summer/winter,fertilise your soil,change soil structures,help in breaking down claypans, etc etc.
as most of you are all agreeing, that chemicals may/are not that reliable anyway.why continue using a dud product that is also an unhealthy one also....
pS the piggies are a good idea also
01-04-2004, 09:14 AM
Ahh, so I'm lazy.
We would need about 3000 chooks to have any impact on the couch (correct spelling). Our 11 acres is windswept by strong winds, day and night. We are in the process of planting windbreaks, but being so lazy, we have only planted about 2,000 trees so far... (dug 2,000 holes, watered each tree about 5 times each summer.) There really isn't a place to build a chook shed that would be sheltered enough for them to survive comfortably through winter.
In order for the chooks to dig up the offending couch they would need to free-range. There are 3 foxes we see here regularly during the day, so I expect there are many more we don't see. A fox would make short work of wandering chooks. I take my responsibility to my animals very seriously and would never put them in deliberate danger.
This area is classified as residential/rural, so no piggies allowed.
We cleared 4 acres of gorse. We did this by hand, chopping out the huge prickly bushes, piling them up then burning them. Gorse spreads by seed and by underground runners. Being lazy, we are spraying the resulting re-growth.
Most of the gound here is badly compacted - just digging the rock-hard soil is a huge job in itself, so hand-weeding is not an option - besides, the jarring of the shovel does some serious damage to my arthritic joints. Since I plan to use my body to get around in for at least another 20 years, I cannot afford to be stupid about my ancient carcass. I will continue to be lazy and spray.
I am off to the saleyards now to shovel my 40th trailer of manure. Not bad for a lazy old woman.
01-04-2004, 04:59 PM
Ah, Rob... I'm sure you aren't lazy and I'm pretty sure that Tezza wasn't directing anything at you personally. I would be sad if you took it that way, even if Tezza was having a go at you (which I don't think he is) and you then stopped posting to the board... I might passionately disagree with your use of chemical herbicides but you have a lot of good and interesting things to say that I'm sure we can all learn from...
Now about your comment that the chooks would have to be free range to be effective against cooch - in fact I would say the opposite; that you would actually need to contain the chooks on a fairly small site for quite some time before they killed the grass. and then the ground would be quite compacted and probably massively over fertilised unless you added massive amounts of carbon mulch and anyway, the chooks are probably going to feel miserable and so if you have a brain and a heart you will too, so is it even worth it?
I say, get a few barrows of chook shit, a massive heap of newspaper and cardboard and an even more massive heap of straw mulch or similar, apply it to the problem area in that order with as much water as you can get to the site until you can't see even a blade of said stoloniferous hydra plant, then walk away for at least two months. Come back with a wheel barrow full of comfrey,lemongrass and arrowroot divisions (insert the vigourous, clumping multiuse species for your climate) and plant into your [/I]sheet mulch[I] all around the edge at least to a depth of three plants thick. Once this "weed barrier" is established the interior should be safe from any running weeds and any seed that finds its way in will be easy enough to pull by hand because you have a mountain of mulch to work with. The golden trinity that I listed above are wonderful for producing mulch (which is great for suppressing weeds) and you can either eat them or make tea of them or rub them on your sore spots. Good, eh?
Common mistakes are not using enough mulch, not overlapping the newspaper enough and not watering everything thouroughly...
With a bit of practise this is really not that hard, just time consuming. Well, I suppose that it does involve a lot of bending over. But you get what you pay for. With chemicals you are inevitably disrupting the life of your soil, with sheet mulching you are absolutely enhancing it...
(ps I actually reckon that that stupid myth that Permaculture is about "do nothing" gardening deserves a big kick up the backside. do nothing and you'll eat nothing but supermarket fodder, in my experience.) :angry:
I suspect Rob's self esteem could survive a razzing from any of us, intended or not. She won't leave us to wither without her genuine experience and helpfulness.
05-04-2004, 01:40 PM
Tezza and I have made up - he wasn't having a go at me - I just was too quick to get cranky. There's way to many cranky genes in this body - must be all those organic vegies I eat. :cool:
Another Way to stop Couch (That Evil Grass) that we use it to put the choock tracktor over it for 2 weeks the chooks scratch it out and eat the seeds. Once youve done that you put a border of Sugar Cane or lemon grass around it and it stops it coming back in. This may take a while to do the whole lot but it is quite effective and doesn't use chemicals that are harmful to us our soil and the environment. :)
Sorry seems you already know that stuff must of mist a page this is an interesting site and im glad ive found it it is good to here from other permaculture gardners and there problems thanks. :)
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