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Growing local

I began with 3 Vetiver slips. I grew them up to 1.5-1.7metres tall and started harvested root cuttings -- two to three months ago. I now have just under 100 plants in the soil with another 30 coming on in my nursery.

That may seem a lot of stock for any one plant but to bio-design with Vetiver you need to plant them close together. [See resources at the  Vetiver Network for info on the Vetiver System].

I started growing Vetiver without knowing what I could do with it.While I have a few options ticking over in the back of my mind, the initial challenge was to grow many plants. En route, via study and practice,  I learnt a few tricks.

Easy to grow. High success rate. Many uses.Loves my sandy soil.

My original plan was to use Vetiver as mulch. Indeed Vetiver is an easy-to-harvest on-hand mulch resource. The grass stems are said to last for over a year as on the soil surface (LINK) while the cut plant  supposedly offers anti-fungal properties:

As vetiver will grow on ratshit soil and still yield heavily and virtually no cost, you could cut it transport it to a stationary baler , bale it and sell it to the garden centers, - organic gardeners would love it.

Charge $20/bale - a 33kg bale would cover the average size garden. One hectare of vetiver grass would yield 16t/cut twice a year that is 32 tons/yr @ 30 bales/ton=$19,200 gross/ha. The baled vetiver is not perishable, can be stacked like hay even stacked in to containers on a wharf waiting for a ship - it can be fumigated without any problems and shipped to the States for sale.

Once people see how valuable it is as an organic pesticide/fungicide/virocide they would corner the market, and the price/bale would go up. Think about it.

-John Greenfield

Mind you, my plants are still juniors but the little mulch i have harvested sits neatly on the soil . Over the past couple of months my regular grass clippings mulch has not been delivered and as my garden suffers the loss I'm looking to Vetiver as my primary back up plan.

Think Vetiver: think mulch.

When I began to plant out my V-slips I had no special template to work from. Any ole niche suited me. Its bio-engineering attributes seemed not to be a major motivation in my outback. I neither flooded nor suffered from erosion.

As far as I knew Vetiver was primarily a source of mulch. As I thought this through and planted out more slips it began to make more sense to plant out the grass in those locales where it would be later used as mulch.

Sort of : cut and drop.

This isn't as radical as it may seem as Vetiver will grow comfortably among other plants as its thick root mass goes straight down.It is often used for inter cropping but usually on slopes.  However, Vetiver's deep root system others other attributes -- such as processing sewerage --  that suggests a lot is happening underground that warrants more attention.

So I did my home work  and noted that as well as holding huge quantities of carbon in the soil, Vetiver will maintain soil humidity. To my mind that suggests that Vetiver probably serves as a large buried sponge reaching down to the water table and aquifers and drinking as required.

The plant also grows in water -- such that it is deployed to remove pollutants.

It was material like the images above that really got me thinking.

SOURCE:Improved Household Gardening Skills
Training Tools for Pacific Island Communities 2003 ...produced by Kastom Gaden Association and compiled by Tony Jansen, Russ Grayson and Roselyn Kabu Maemouri (LINK)

Vetiver as a living fence -- serving as wind break, erosion therapy, mulch resource, defence against animal invasion... Indeed if you hedged your veg garden with Vetiver, many ground dwelling  animals are unlikely to be able to break in. It even repels rats and clipped poultry are unlikely to fly over  a Vetiver hedge.

Then I begin to think about the fact that  Vetiver grass has a lot more happening underground than above. Given that I now have Vetiver planted out hither and yon and can soon enough harvest the stems for mulch, it is also a simple task to take a succession of  root cuttings and plant these out directly as edging to all my garden beds.

Each bed would have its own supply of edging stock.

In the Caribbean. farmers plant out Vetiver before they plant out their crops. But after the fact will surely work too.

Image(at left): Vetiver borders and hedges in vegetable gardens.

So it can be done and is being done.

Not much research covers the topic but it got me thinking....

What if I could create self contained garden beds that are held in place by a perimeter hedge of Vetiver? Not just a living fence but a container or bowl formed out of Vetiver roots.

It would surely promote more underground activity and retain more moisture in the topsoil. Something like a pot. Every time the garden bed was watered so too would be the Vetiver.

This is my schematic perspective:

The size of your bed would be preferably on the small side and you trimmed the hedges for mulch.

in my case , my garden mounds are on average 1.5 metres across and a series of these tend to integrate as I've been filling the valleys between them with plants and mulch -- leaving enough open space for access pathways.

Not only do I get to play bio-engineer, if I let the hedges grow tall I'll get my own walk through maze.

The other advantage I've found is that plants like yams, beans, tomatoes, cucumbers ... will use the V-grass tussocks to rest their heavy fruits on (above the wet ground) or  to clamber through.

Not a quick convergence as such a project would require hundreds of plants. But all I need do is harvest slips from Vetiver clumps in the immediate vicinity one plant at a time...and plant them along the perimeter.

As for look options, Vetiver is no ratty plant:here is a Vetiver landscaping gallery. I'm looking forward to a trim and 'triffic veg garden edged by Vetiver. May take a year or so...but then there's the fun of watching it grow

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Comment by Christa on February 2, 2017 at 10:10

It seems to an excellent boundary fence with a permanent source of mulch, and as one source mentioned it can live up to 100 years.  An excellent nurse plant and good fill for a hessian bag to repel fleas for dogs.  After reading about the benefit of planting near banana plants, I think that is where my vetiver is going. Thanks Dave for posting.

Comment by Dave Riley on February 2, 2017 at 7:41

It is cached only on Google searches but no site.

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on February 1, 2017 at 23:26

Why will the image be lost, Dave? Is it part of a US govt website?

Comment by Dave Riley on February 1, 2017 at 22:53

Since this image will be lost on line soon, here's an example of a  Vetiver mulched garden.

I suspect because of the weather -- hot and dry -- my Vetiver are slow coaching at the moment so my hopes are slowed a bit and I'm behind in my schedule estimate.

But on my overall hydrology this article is fascinating (LINK):

A study of deep-rooted trees in the Amazon shows that they don't simply suck in carbon and spew out water vapor. The roots actually store water deep underground in the rainy season and bring it to the surface in dry periods, thereby boosting photosynthesis and carbon uptake beyond expected levels during the dry season. UC Berkeley climate modelers found that this effect causes a 40 percent increase in transpiration during the Amazonian dry season....Trees have long been known to lift water from the soil to great heights using a principle called hydraulic lift, with energy supplied by evaporation of water from leaf openings called stomata. Twenty years ago, however, some small plants were found to do more than lift water from the soil to the leaves - they also lifted deep water with their tap root and deposited it in shallow soil for use at a later time, and reversed the process during the rainy season to push water into storage deep underground.

In recent matters we're planning on creating a grass maze with Vetiver at the school garden.We'll add sunflowers to the mix and spend the rest of the year planting it out.

Comment by Dave Riley on January 14, 2017 at 1:01

I was browsing and came upon this post (LINK).

I'd been wondering about the prospect of the Vetiver root mass serving as a moisturizing sponge underground -- sort of a conduit for passive irrigation. Indeed , aside from mulch harvesting 'inter-cropping' with Vetiver  is my primary interest in growing the plant.

In play is a discussion about growing Vetiver with bananas and wondering why the partnership is so successful:

I agree that Vetiver greatly improves the moisture regime for the plants in its vicinity but I suspect that an equally powerful factor is the microbiological activity in the rhizosphere of the Vetiver and its attendant impact on the nutritional status and vigor of nearby plants. Vetiver's potential as a nurse crop has been touted in the literature and my experience is consistent. Its use as a windbreak is also a strong contributing factor to the rapid development of plants grown with Vetiver...

So our challenge is how to add to our already bulging Vetiver tool box that the plant not only improves food crop production through soil moisture retention, but also establishes a symbiotic relation, examined through a unique Mycorrhiza in and near Vetiver roots, that allows food crops to develop more efficiently in poor soils. Doug simply refers to the phenomena as the “microbiological activity in the rhizophere.

Also of interest is this gallery of photographs from the New Guinea Vetiver Network on facebook. The images feature Vetiver used as mulch.

Since Vetiver is harvested for roof thatching Vetiver mulch will last a long time on  top of the soil. There's this example from New Zealand (LINK):

Ms Hamilton-Gates says her journey with vetiver has changed the way she plants and mulches her own garden.
"I have planted vetiver around the veggie gardens and orchard to keep away dogs and pesky pukeko which eat my fresh plump corn before I have a chance to harvest it, she said.
"I also use vetiver to mulch the garden - last summer's drought did not affect the growth of my garden because the heavy mulch retained the moisture around the summer crops."
October to April is the best time to plant vetiver - the longer days and warmer soils allow the plant to thrive - with or without water.
She recommended the plants were saturated with water when planted and then left to their own devices.
The plant has a natural purple tinge in winter but can be kept green by side dressings of blood and bone if desired.

Comment by Christa on January 2, 2017 at 9:31

Lois, I have googled my little heart out, as I do when a good plant comes along, and have learnt quite a deal.  Weaving the grass also appeals to me. The fragrant roots when wet, will have a good therapeutic effect for me.  Most of the links that Dave found, are the ones I have bookmarked as well. There is always a spot in my garden for such a helpful plant.

Comment by Christa on January 2, 2017 at 8:58

The many uses of Vetitver by far outweighs the allelopathic effect. As Lois mentioned- to have mulch in adundance is a huge benefit, it could grow alongside a fence, or in a pot.   My one little plant has to grow first, and maybe like the loaves and fishes, it will multiply.  

Comment by Lois Greensill on January 2, 2017 at 8:49

And it has therapeutic benefits as well if you are interested to google.

Comment by Dave Riley on January 2, 2017 at 1:25

Allelopathic?

As far as I can find there is a hint that the oils may be useful as part of a  herbicide recipe, but generally Vetiver is grown with no ill effects along side other established plants.

As far as I can gather only one Thai study has reviewed the plant's impact on weeds. Given the potent oil, I'm sure there is an allelopathy in play especially as the plant can kill microbes like E.Coli and such. This may explain its impact on seeds:

 4.1.7 Allelopathy: It has been observed that in the vicinity of the vetiver clumps, there is a few other plants growing. It was hypothesized that certain substances excreted by the vetiver plant may have allelopathic action in that they inhibit the growth of other plants. Techapinyawat (1994) reported that root and stem extracts of vetiver could inhibit the germination of soybean seeds. It was concluded that vetiver extract contains in vetiver oil has allelopathic effect in inhibiting the germination of seeds of any plant growing in its vicinity. It was further suggested that this could be applied to control the weeds of crop plants without the use of chemical herbicides.(LINK)

But then hills terraced by Vetiver are used standardly to grow crops cheek to jowl.

Of added significance was the fact that the roots grew almost straight down. There were few lateral surface roots. This seemed to explain the widespread observation that sugarcane and other crops would grow right up to a vetiver hedge, seemingly without interference and loss of yield. (LINK)

Vetiver is also intercropped with maize and potatoes (LINK) in Kenya; peanut, beans (Haiti).

I have a clump coming on nicely next to some curbits and another with capsicums nearby. But I'm sure once I proceed with all the planting out,  any problems of allelopathy are sure to register.

I'll be disappointed if it does.

I have grown sunflowers all about -- without consequence --despite their supposed allelopathic attributes.   I suspect that a lot of the problem may rest in bulk plantings as in mixed monocultures.

By the bye: I'm surprised that my copse of allelopathic +++ She Oaks tolerates other plants like Canavalia and succulents at its base.

Comment by Christa on January 1, 2017 at 18:49

Apparently it is used as thatch in a few countries.  It has so many uses, too many to mention on one page .  The only negative is that it has an alleopathic effect on other plants, but that could be turned into an advantage if used in certain ways.   Great reading, I have more info if anyone is interested. 

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