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Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Establishing a food forest can intially look yuk! But wait! 

 Looking better a few hours later. Two  new mountain paw paw have been planted . The piles of sticks are to keep chooks from scratching up the young avocado tree roots. Once again, a temporary eyesore.


Ahh! That's better....and wow we have disposed of some dead bodies, manure, recycled lots of waste cardboard and  newspapers that would have otherwise been burnt at the Nannup tip ( disgusting, but that's changing soon) , and caught up with the news from 6 weeks ago while mulching. But best of all we have ousted  kike, which isnt much feed value for grazing animals and worse, it exudes a pheromone  will positively stunt your young fruit trees. 

Here's a pic of the Humungus garden in march 2005. Me and my sow Magnolia  chose  to meticulously dig out a large area of solid  kikuyu grass to establish this garden. It took 30 minutes to weed out each square  foot. Anyone would be tempted to reach for the Round Up. Not me, perverse creature that I am. Even though the story was at the time that Round Up left no residues  I didn't believe it and I weeded like a woman possessed for weeks to clear the kike and get veges growing. Monsanto was found guilty of false advertising regarding its best selling herbicide in French courts in 2009. It is being realised now just how damaging to health and soil glyphosate is, but more particularly Round Up, which contains adjuvants that enable the toxins to enter cells more easily.

But there is  much easier but slower way to get rid of kike and that  is to sheet mulch the entire area, excluding the light from this terribly invasive grass, without which I feel I would be a lady of leisure.   Six months of light starvation will kill kikuyu, but you have to patrol for little bits poking through the mulch and pluck them out regularly for the first 6 months, as they will keep the root system alive and very soon your mulch will be again smothered in kike. It has a way of sneaking in from the edges too. Kike can grow underground for about 6 feet or 2 m....give it some water and it will do just that in a few days. But never fear, Bill Mollison's sheet mulching is here. Thanks again Bill!  Here's my in depth instructions on how to turn a kike infested area into a low maintenance food forest:

I love mulching. There is nothing more satisfying and labour/cost  effective way to create a garden! A mulch garden  will
1) radically improve the soil,
2) eradicate weeds
3) mimimize irrigation ( see point 1 above. A soil rich in carbon , or humus, absorbs and holds 6 times more water than a low carbon soil) .
4)  look lovely and feed you and many  creatures both wild and tame.

Spring and early summer is the ideal time to start an instant garden in a kikuyu patch. First amass some newspapers, plain brown cardboard ( I limit the use of gaily coloured glossy mags and cardboard do contain toxic inks) and piles of grassclippings / leaves/ chipped up greenwaste. I usually head to the tip for my supplies. It’s  amazing  how much fertility people throw away. You could also score some rolls or bales of spoiled hay. Don’t worry about the seed factor…. I find if  I roll out a round bale of hay in  Spring , I don’t get the problem of weed seeds germinating. If you roll it out in Autumn, perhaps you will. So in Autumn, worry.....and use only seed free mulch material to keep your newspaper in place.

 Hopefully  you have soil that is moist before you start, but if not  you will have to soak the area with a sprinkler first. To ascertain  if the soil is moist  there is probably no alternative but to dig down 6 inches or so, in a few places, and have a look. You may find that only the top 70 mm is wet in these days of climate change. In response to an inquiry from  Michelle who wrote to me this November I said this:  sounds like the ground is dry if all the avos have dropped off, so the major task, and welcome to my world, is getting water down deep around your trees BEFORE you mulch them. See usually the best time to do mulching is spring, when after winter the ground is soaked and the mulch is great because it not only turns all those spring weeds into plant  food , it retains the soil moisture. HOWEVER due to climate change we have had an extraordinarily dry and warm spring, and unless you spend a lot of water to wet up the ground before mulching, you will mulch future rainfall out! It may be best to just mow around them , accept that they wont do well this year and be ready for action next winter, after good soaking rains.( we pray for) . And put your energy and materials into composting today.
So run a sprinkler to wet the ground if its dry. Do a small area properly.  If irrigation water is running off ….Stop! Don’t waste a drop!  You may have to undertake some earth shaping at this point . Once only, you will need to do some digging to ensure that any rain we get or irrigation water you apply is going to soak in , not run off your land and be ultimately wasted out to the sea.  Remember one of the biggest users of electricity in WA is Water Corporation. Water comes to most people’s  garden hoses thanks to  burning coal.  And burning coal creates climate change which in our case in the SouthWest of WA means less rain and higher temperatures. A vicious cycle we aim to reverse with our gardening! After all we are not going to be buying fossil fuel tomatoes any more when this garden gets going.
Dig trenches ( swales) along the contour, placing the topsoil on the up hill side of  what becomes   a level subsoil “pathway” following the contours of the land. In other words, a terrace. I like to create garden beds in this manner that are about 1.2 meters wide, so they can be reached from either side. Never walk on your garden beds if you can avoid it! The steeper your land the more narrow your terraces will be.
Now, if needs be,  hose or run a sprinkler for 5 mins several  times a day, letting the soil get used to water again . In dry weather many soils become hydrophobic, almost waterproof. Short , frequent applications of water will start the rehydration process.
Hopefully you will not need to irrigate till December.  It may be prudent  to set up trickle dripper lines now. But beware of accidently stabbing  hose lines with your garden fork like I do. I like the brown 12 ml hoses with inbuilt dripper holes every 30 cm. Don’t waste your money on weeping hose, it hasn’t worked for me or my friends. Boo! It was a great idea. 
I would sprinkle a  layer of  some chooky , cow, rabbit, goat  or sheep pooh on the ground, then soak some bundles of newspaper in a wheelbarrow full of water.  Now  lay out tiles of soaked newspaper about 5 pages thick to completely cover the kike, NO HOLES. No light. Do a neat job. Then roll out the hay or scatter your mulch materials thickly on top.. We are talking mulch at least 6 inches thick.
Before we had ducks we had a bad problem in our "no dig" gardens with slugs and snails. They breed happily in a  wet hay garden. If you have got a mollusc problem , I would go ahead but be prepared for a lesser harvest. At least you will be killing off kike. And write “Get some Ducks” on your long list of things to do.  For Christmas dinner you will have lovely new potatoes ( and Duckling A l’orange?) and as a by product a  large area of beautiful garden soil  free of the enemy (kike) . Keep at it, plucking out or mulching out any new kike bits that appear. Starve it of light for 6 months and it will be history. Let it poke its head through for long and it could very well take over the area again in no time. A 6 foot wide band of big cardboard around the border of your garden should keep your planted area free from the dreaded space invader  ( kike).
 We have recently learnt that there is a third way to deal with kike, and that is to move your soil past the low successional phase it is in. Dr Elaine Ingham has taught me that GOOD QUALITY compost is key to inoculating your soil with the beneficial microbes that will build structure, increase air and water infiltration and holding capacity , feed plants in a balanced way and hold nutrients around the roots. A compost tea dominant in fungi will change the soil . Kike is a low successional plant that thrives in soils which are low in fungal biomass. Create the high fungal compost, apply it and kike will disappear!! Please search this blog in top let hand corner with the following words "Secret life of soil" for up coming compost workshops. Or use this link:
 http://merribeeorganicfarm.blogspot.com.au/search?q=Secret+Life+of+soil

 Once your sheet mulch layers are complete, plant LARGE seeds or small plants with handful of compost or worm castings, slice out a square of turf with a spade  to make a  planting hole. I use the soil to fill in around the plants after pulling  out ALL the kike roots which  I leave  to bake in the sun in a dry place . When the roots are thoroughly dry and crispy they can be added to the surface mulch. Tuck the paper and mulch back up around the stems of your new garden  plants, (but not too close because we don’t want “collar rot”). Stick spuds under the hay and stand back…..they grow rampantly  in these conditions .  Be prepared to add more hay or seagrass from the beach , pine needles or other weed free material around the spuds as they grow, to keep the light from the tubers . When the spuds are gone about Christmas time, you could plant seedlings of cucumbers and lettuce, seeds of beans and corn.  Maybe pumpkins round the edges and train outwards, as they are takeover types.  And of course any time is the right  time to  plant perennial food forest plants which will thrive amongst the veges and eventually take over the space, giving you tree crops  that need little irrigation.



 Tomorrow I will be putting in a chocolate pudding tree, a mint plant or two, some comfrey and jerusalem artichokes, a sugar palm, a curry leaf tree, a babaco, and why not a few white sapotes as this area is adjacent to the pig paddock ..... I am sure pigs are going to love those sweet and prolific white sapotes in due course.  There are already English mulberries and quinces promising to feed the pigs at some stage,  and some bamboos with edible shoots are heading their way. I will plant out a  lemon grass/ shallot  border which will, in time, discourage the ingress of kike  as this combo creates a dense mat of roots underground ( wont be bad in stir fries either) . Meanwhile I will have to keep mowing and picking the kike from the edges  for the pigs. 

Here's some updated pics below. Its come to pass that the quince tree is bestowing its bounty to us and the pigs, as is the English Mulberry ( ducks and chooks love them), the sugar cane, sweet potatoes, sunflower, lemon verbena and mint ( makes a nice cup of tea),  the golden bamboo shoots and the curry tree . Best of all, the avo has a dozen fruit on it. 
Th Happy mulching ! 

same old ute in the driveway, but a far more productive area 3 years later. Its a formular that works. Go to it and post me some pics!




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