Brisbane Local Food

Growing local

Living on fairly steep block, keeping whatever soil I build up can become somewhat difficult. My chickens and the brush turkeys with their infernal scratching to build their massive compost mound nests mean building up a fertile ecology is often a backwards directional project. Once they've scratched and destroyed any living groundcover, the heavy rains wash all soil away leaving me once again with the sadness of the concrete like shale and clay that is my yard.

Weeds to me are simply a human designation for an unwanted plant. They unfortunately also tend to be victims of our vanity (It's not pretty get rid of it!). While some are invasive and detrimental, they all still serve a purpose in an ecosystem. So I've taken to keeping as many weeds as possible in place if it means no bare ground. Now that I have larger branches from prunings I use them as interlocking inhibitors from the birds' scratching destruction, this however isn't enough.

My solution so far is to simply let the  4foot tall guinea / buffalo grass grow. The shallow roots aren't great for erosion but the tall leaves do whipper snip or snap well when trodden on to form a nice mulch. I got the idea from watching some farm rejuvenation permaculturists using large roller crimpers to do No-Till mulching with their cover crops and sow seed straight over it.

The tall Buffalo Grass weed grows prolifically in my yard. This swathe is between my back shed and jaboticaba & fig trees.

The same grass after a couple of minutes stomping to break the stems and flatten it. This creates a mulched pathway. The chickens will eat the fresh softer leaf tips and seed heads. The photo below is four days after. The stems never pop up but the rootball will eventually send up new leaves.

I searched for long term solutions and saw Vetiver Grass many years ago but the articles I read weren't formulated very well so I unenthusiastically moved on. Since then sporadic crops of cow pea, pigeon pea and clover have not taken me past the tipping point of sufficient green chop and drop material.

It would seem between the AgroForestry and land rejuvenation groups I interact with and our resident BLF Vetiver pusher/dealer/aficionado Dave Riley,  my interest has been piqued once again. After a better revisit to more detailed articles from Vetiver Network International Members and seeing the root systems as well as its water purifying capability,  I am now very convinced that it could be  the solution to a number of my hillside issues.

The photo below gives an indication of the gradient of my back yard looking up towards the house.
(The raised wicking garden beds on the right are 600mm high for perspective)


At some point my log & pallet 'tree assistant' pads will give way to natural decay and I'm hoping Vetiver will keep the soil in place and act as a living retaining wall so the fruit tree roots aren't exposed by the half metre of soil on the downhill side eroding away.

So my next step is think about where and how I want to plant it, then contact Dave and see if I can join his exclusive Vetiver Providore client list !

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Comment by Dave Riley on August 20, 2019 at 23:22

So much root is chopped off in order to pot it and/or transport it. The guy in the vid does it OK but it is recommended to divide V clumps into 2-3 tillers rather than just one as the chances of survival increase significantly.

If I end up with single tillers I usually combine two singles into the same planting hole

If you are planting out a 50 degree gradient you don't want to have to climb back up and replace breaks in the hedge line.

Hypothetically, you can create a 'wiking bed' by surrounding a patch with Vetiver as the indefatigable Tho Ngo has convinced me that Vetiver wicks. See here if you can.

The image at right shows a Vetiver root wicking water. The blue dye has stained the band at the top which was originally white.

Since the roots can go  down 2 metres that's a  truly awesome  potential and begins to explain why  fruit trees and annuals grow so well planted close to a Vetiver hedge. Tho plants trees with Vetiver clumps and adds annuals.

This is intuitively why I am planting more Vetiver hedges criss-crossing the beds I have already laid out with Vetiver.

Then there is the rich microbiology of the Vetiver root system and the push/pull effect of the leaves/tillers. Then there is all that on-hand mulch...

I tells ya, if you grow Vetiver keenly and conscientiously it is a biological system unto itself.

Unfortunately, because earthworms love to inhabit the Vetiver roots, chickens will dig around the clumps. So you won't want to let them loose on young plants. Although 'youth' in Vetiver language is less than three months.

The other trick is to simply divide the Vetiver and store the divisions in water. They'll start to flush and root soon enough. (Its cousin,Lemon Grass, will do the same). I'm now using a hybrid tweak of this. Add a little manure perhaps to the water. Refresh the water every few days ..and it's good hydroponics for 28+ days.

By the way, looking at Vetiver Spain I should hypothetically be able to post Vetiver slips about the place by simply wrapping them up in newspaper or boxing them. They are charging $1.25 EUR ($2.04 (AUD) per slip for that. Maybe once I get my numbers up we could experiment rather than have folk needing to travel here -- especially as I'm so much the non-profit and cheaper when local supplies are non existent almost..

  • Daleys sell plants at $13-16
  • Green Harvest for $5.95
  • Green Patch $5.50
  • All Rare Herbs $9.90
  • The Vetiver Nursery(NSW): $3.50-$10

Postage Extra.

Ok until you start thinking numbers in the hundreds...

Ewan got his price down to $1 which is great and reflects his passion -- but  he offers only limited supplies...

But a cheap resilient  nursery supply line is what we need here in my town and maybe in SEQ.

So Cres email me via my site  your requirements and I'll keep you in mind over the next few weeks as the growth begins to spurt.

Comment by Cres on August 20, 2019 at 12:24

I've been down a vetiver rabbithole the last few weeks. The soil capture & water slowing videos are amazing.

Given it's a water loving plant once established I was thinking nitrogen rich wicking pots, in sunny positions, perhaps in friable perlite although the young shoot fermentation (5min:35s) might mean it may need a more soil based media.  I was surprised that so much root is chopped off. https://youtu.be/mG57swW85uM

The idea being as soon as established, I'd do the same, keep some and share it out. I know some properties where the dams could use use some vetiver to stop silt running in and help clean the water as well as stabilise the banks.

Christa, I put a lot of branches everywhere but there's a shortage so they usually end up around trees I want to protect. I don't actually like gardening! Well a little bit but more so I love building things and solving problems. I could build retaining walls (which I do in places)  but I personally don't like artificial terraces and I've chosen to live frugally so my tight budget (as well as lack of machinery access--gravel & rocks in socks are heavy) mean I try to use resources freely available or recycled. It's also part of the enjoyment of puzzle solving with what I've got. I did consider running a shade cloth silt fence, easy to install and relatively cheap , this would still need something to keep the soil there once built up.

It wasn't mentioned above but another weed does help out too. Wandering Jew (Tradescantia fluminensis) is highly prolific as you can see from the roots in the last picture but the chickens and turkeys scratch and eat through it and it seems to die off in winter, at least on my land. It'll be back in Spring.  My last few attempts at clover I think were thwarted my planting too late and not enough water. I've successfully filled my front sidewalk with clover this winter and a large section in the back where I've struggled to grow anything seems to be working this time round.

The chickens are now semi-isolated to a small patch which both they and I are not big fans of. They have created a desert for themselves which is more bare ground which I hate but is necessary. They squawk and jump the enclosure because the grass is literally greener on the other side of the fence! They do get thrown heaps of invasive Madeira Vine which is everywhere now thanks to a neighbour not proactively dealing with a tree encompassed with it many years ago. Once again making use of a highly invasive weed. This one unfortunately is a tree/forest destroyer. A chicken tractor would be ideal but the slope and erratic tree placement reduces the viability of this option.

I have considered going the route of pallets like the wonderful couple at Goodlife Permaculture down in Tassie. I'm still deliberating if I want to go down that path yet. Pallets placed over the mulch surrounding my fruit trees have worked amazingly well. Stopping scratching from turkeys and allowing water to get to the sugar cane.
https://goodlifepermaculture.com.au/how-to-landscape-a-steep-slope/

Vetiver seems to tie in with my current chop and drop mulching as well as being a natural retaining wall so I'll steer towards it as a solution. Until then there's no shortage of garden projects.

Comment by Christa on August 20, 2019 at 7:50

Have you tried  laying felled timber to control rainwater flow.  Also you can make a rain sock like the roadworks men use for controlling flow. .  A long sock, like a snake about 6 inches wide, made of shade cloth filled with old soil or rubble, which works the same as a fallen tree but can be moved and shaped as needed.  

Vetiver is the best as Dave has said but in the meantime it looks like you need to hold on to your soil. Any planting would help, even an invasive type plant as long as you can trim the tops or pull it up easily and control seeds. 

We can see by the photos that you are already trying to hold the water flow and create growing patches. 

Nature gives us a challenge now and again,  

Comment by Dave Riley on August 19, 2019 at 21:52

Bamboo isn't deep rooted like Vetiver and Vetiver is so much easier to work with.

My challenge isn't the splitting of the clumps as my technique is more Zen than huff&puff. I just don't have enough large clumps to divide as  I have been servicing all year and dividing my clumps up until 2 months ago.

Now I don't have any big ones left.

I may have hundreds of Vetiver growing about the place but they're each under 10 or so stems at the moment and I need 176 (go figure!) plants for the coast project here ASAP and another >200 for out west.

With Vetiver you want to create a slip with 2-3 tillers for planting out.

But Vetiver grows so fast when it has a mind to...and I'll get  many divisions over the next period. So in two months time I'll have plenty of slips.

I've also been working to par back the cost to  make mass hedging viable for these local projects.  At the moment I think I can do tillers for 50c each by replicating slips without  using a potting mix. I'm not saying I'm selling them yet but that's my target.That's not a business decision, but an environmental one as I'm an evangelical.

Later on we may do a community nursery but I cannot see that being able to reduce costings by much more. Think water and land ...then labour hours.

So far I've been sharing the plants gratis.

As I say to any or every one: you start with x number of plants (as I did with 3) and build up by division from there. And you will never have enough for the jobs you'd like to do.

I hope to be running a Vertiver workshop (on the beach no less!) in September (or October) for locals. That is assuming the coast patch I've been working on consolidates as sampler #1.

I'll let folk know the details once they are decided.

Just on planting out & swales:

There are many photos in the online Vetiver gallery like the one at right. What they tell you is that the boy on the  left is standing on soil build up behind the hedge and the boy at right is standing on the original slope. That's terrace build up as a result of the hedgerow.

Looking at my garden beds today -- all hedged by V -- all of them are elevated because nothing has escaped from the stuff I've thrown down inside them. It is raised bed gardening.

In your case you'd need to run your hedging plants -- given the slope -- close together for best bio-engineering effect.. Like fist width apart.

That's a lot of plants -- like 7 or 8 per metre.

In my experience, what you do is this:

  • you plant out what you can of your hedgerow
  • while also growing a few nursery clumps elsewhere for ongoing division.
  • every time you divide, you extend your hedgerow. and grow more.

Given that you'd get 2-3 divisions per year (as well as 2-3 mulch harvests) , that's not a huge task qwhen you consider the multipliers. It just means that you measure your project in months and years.

No maintenance. No special treatment after the initial period. Cheapo. No earth moving.

However, here in SEQ we need to consider the early Summer storm season and the from-February cyclone one if you want to hold only to your slope.

So you plant sooner rather than later. Like September, in your case, so you get in 4 weeks of anchorage.

Here we have to consider the tides as well...and the salt water!...and the sand!

Comment by Cres on August 19, 2019 at 19:13

What the photo doesn't show are several swales on contour to capture and slow water. They've been the basis of my growing areas and pathways (planting between them) and I had a good long stare at the hillside today after posting this and much like your recommendation,  planting along the swale lines is where I'll be starting this project.

I'd be happy to help out splitting your clumps if/when required. If it helps you get your stockpile ready for the other projects and  a few starter plants for me, it could be a win-win.  I'm a quick study and as you can see I have a pick!

I've been reading up and interestingly vetiver and bamboo which I have much of and want more (both grasses) share similar propagation techniques. Vetiver seems to have a very quick (1 week) rooting turn around from culm compared to what I've experienced with bamboo (weeks-months).

Comment by Dave Riley on August 19, 2019 at 17:57

Here's my site:

Vetiver Community Project

I spent today dividing 4 clumps but there isn't much available this time of the year as plant growth slow down in the cooler months. And what is there -- is bespoke as I have 2 projects to service.

But Vetiver is exponential when the water and heat arrives.

But with my new approach I hope to halve nursery costs...Here's hoping as I'm already need many hundreds of plants and today managed to create only 90.

In your case Cres, I'd decide on your preferred contour lines for terracing...and start planting the Mighty V. With a few plants you could plant them in front of --and downhill -- from your tree boxes and target other areas you'd want to 'level off'.

I'm not saying, get digging -- but if you run a line of Vetiver along a contour you can back up mulch and other stuff behind it, just as any run off will collect there. So put the pick in the shed and let the grass do the work.

As things settle you divide the Vetiver and make more contour lines to suit. Divide often to crete your hedges.

Here's an image from Andalusia, Spain,  showing Vetiver terracing in transition:

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