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 Andrew Cumberland on August 23, 2019 at 20:29

Hope mine takes off like that Paul.  

Comment by Cres on August 23, 2019 at 19:28

That's fantastic Paul. The vetiver growth is amazing and vege bed looks good. The first photo reminds me a bit of my dirt.

Apparently this whole area/hill is one giant sheet of shale rock with a thin veneer of dense clay on top. I can't find the video I took of me trying to dig a 40cm wide hole. It was less than 10cm deep and shows the the pick and steel crowbar bouncing back with every strike. Like chipping away with a teaspoon. With the drain test, it took over an hour for water to seep out of the tiny hole.

The same soil with 3months of mulch and letting the worms do their thing, lets me dig down and break up the massive chunks of shale so I could pry it out. There's no way tree roots would manage without amazing worms. I have such respect for those little earth traversing wrigglers.

This was my very first swale. The black soil was where I had mulch sitting there for several months. The worms did an amazing job. I dug most of that in 30-40mins. You can see some of the large shale rock that I pulled out from less than a foot under the surface. There's plenty more under the berm.

This is the swale (same contour) on the other side of the 1m wide path. No mulch, no worms. This took me nearly an hour per metre to dig 20cm down (~30cm wide). More massive shale rocks on the right side and as you can see they didn't come from very deep. This is essentially my whole yard, except for one small weird ~5mx5m patch where a seam of black lightweight rock exists and it drains super well and infinitely easier to dig.

That was my first realisation on the importance of providing a healthy environment for worms. I'd always thought of worms as just composters breaking down organic matter to provide fertiliser for plants, not as machines capable of immense micro earthworks.

The new rear neighbour decided he wanted a flat lawn, it took over a month with two excavators with jackhammers on their ends to break up the bed of shale and cart it out. They eventually got there but it was hard going. The perfectly healthy gum tree near the back fence was a casualty of this design, went outside after hearing chainsaws to see it being brought down, while I do have it as wood chip in my yard I would have preferred the gum to still be there.

Paten Park Native Nursery is not too far from me, I'll make a list of native pioneers from their pretty hefty list they  stock and will get them in the ground. First I need to keep wheelbarrowing the wood chip down the back to give the tubestock a fighting chance.

Comment by Evan on August 23, 2019 at 18:16

Very nice, Paul.

How do you think the Vetiver benefited there? The reduction in wind? Maybe the greater infiltration of water? Mycorrhizal associations? Pest trap? If that's 1 year old you didn't cut it?

Excellent growth. Did you get a bit cold, showing some nice purple there.

Comment by paul on August 23, 2019 at 15:48

Just 1 year with Vetiver i just stared with a clump  here there with my new garden hopping to get going how was i going to keep up with the water, can i grow on baked ground ? here what i started with last year and the pic was taken to day so i better do some thing so i planted slips after just on year you can see the growth but what behind it ?

Comment by Evan on August 23, 2019 at 12:58


I wasn't referring to you going to Veticon, I was answering the statement that Dave made regarding a reliable supplier for SEQ. They do exist. As I've told Dave before, I only sell small amounts while the nursery grows in size with the amounts rising as the clumps mature so I would deem my operation reliable as well. I'm sitting at about 15,000 now with a season of increase to come.

As for Veticon moving you on, you need numbers to get service. There is a video of them running a potato harvester straight through their crop and loading them onto a friend's truck just last season.

It's good you know about Maderia but I've seen 2 photos now with vines at the twining stage, including some coming out of the gutter. You should be picking them out at the 2-leaf stage. Also, I've seen them come out of a chicken coop after chicken abandonment so I would still recommend destruction over throwing no matter how safe you think you are.

Whereabouts are you located? I lived in surburbia too on cracking clay with zero topsoil. Since plants like A.fimbriata can grow in those conditions just fine, I do think that your property wouldn't be that bad either for locally-adapted pioneers but perhaps it is, I wouldn't know.

In regards to shade and larger-trees versus smaller, you aren't growing them large, you are managing them to your benefit and using the biomass. Pollard and coppice is a pruning technique which cycles material on to the ground and let's you manage where the sun and shade goes. You use larger growing trees as they grow quicker but you ultimately control them. Like below but I did the same thing in suburbia too:

Comment by Cres on August 23, 2019 at 12:38


Veticon's website suggested they were more focused on large scale applications and community projects with no indication of a nursery that the public could access plants. After you clarified that they do sell, I rang and Cara had to be brief due to a meeting but said they charge $3.20/slip- this is divided, clumps were no longer on offer) As I mentioned Dave offered but has limited stock and I didn't want to detract from his projects if there was an alternative, which was why I messaged you. I have since spoken with him and he'll be able to provide me with some, so the drive to you is no longer necessary.

I am well aware of the Madeira and have seen its devastation throughout the Northern Rivers area. It came from a neighbouring property over 15 years ago. As soon as I saw it encompassing the tree in their yard I let them know it needed removal but nothing was done till too late. As a result that big tree is gone and almost every property now has Madeira in it. I fastidiously remove it as I walk through my yard but it is entrenched in the area. I unwrap the vines so as not to disturb the aerial tubers. Whatever grows in my property gets fed to the chickens in their coop where nothing survives. No plant has grown in the coop over the years but I'm still getting shoots in my yard. There is a mass growth of it under the neighbour's deck in the background of the top photo.  I am slowly winning in my yard but its removal will forever be part of this area. I'm not at the point of selling the house due to it....yet.  As much as I can try and talk to the neighbours, their natural response with mass weed removal will ultimately be spraying copious amounts of herbicide, even though this won't stop dormant tubers.

I'm struggling getting the biomass tipping point over as my pioneer plants die off as soon as the baked earth happens and the clay turns to concrete. Part of using vetiver is to keep soil there and thus give the larger plants and even understory, an opportunity to establish so I can have something to coppice. I only started my plantings with a permaculture mindset six years ago and while that's plenty of time there have been hard lessons to be learned. I live in suburbia so have been perhaps overly selective on what grows here and that could be a big part of the problem, balancing the let it all grow, with neighbourly relations and limited square metres.

The top picture is facing north so my south facing yard actually gets very little sun in winter. My house, the neighbouring houses and the hill blocks most of it, the line of overhanging 20m high trees on the fencelines stop the stop the rest. In summer it's filled with more light. So excess winter shade is another reason I've held off on larger trees until smaller ones get established.

Jeff: Regarding the terracing, I have considered it but there is less than 1m of walking access down the less steep side of the house so machinery access is nigh on impossible other than being craned in. The other side is a steep incline (Photo below). When I see large local trees getting chipped I ask for it to be dropped down there where I wheelbarrow it to the back section. It too needs vetiver to keep it in place.
My roof run off goes to a tank and the rest gets fed to my banana patch and some to swales and bamboo. These run off areas are not significantly effecting the central part of the yard where I'm having issues keeping soil I do generate.

From the top to the bottom of that woodchip slope is a 5m drop. The chip in that pile is from a magnificent gum  from the block behind me. The new owners ripped it down so they cold put in a lawn and flip the house.

Comment by Evan on August 23, 2019 at 10:06

And, to further why I only sell limited numbers is that I didn't want to undercut the established industry as they have done most of the work and a lot of the science to support what we know about Vetiver. I felt it was the ethical thing to do as I could allow small growers to still establish themselves rather than feed in to a quick disruption. I turn many people away because of that and send them to the established businesses as a matter of courtesy.

I will continue to send Brisbane people to Dave until I see another nursery establish as reducing postage and fuel miles is important as well. I'm a little hurt, Dave, that you used my plant part definition from my site without the professional courtesy of asking first. You are welcome to use it but come on, play nice.

Comment by Evan on August 23, 2019 at 9:46

Because Cres contacted me I thought I would jump in here to expand on Dave's learned posts. I'm glad Dave is now trying to push the price down as the industry, illustrated by his list, is ridiculously high. You've come a long way, young grasshopper.

To repair some of the statements made there is a large scale reliable supply for SEQ - it's Veticon in Gatton and you can drive straight there and pick up as many plants as you can take. Last I heard they went up from $1 and are somewhere above $1.20-$1.50 undivided (you buy clumps). The other retailers are taking the you know what with their pricing and that's fair since it is their full-time business. Other retailers will try and value-add by rooting them first and then selling them.

To Cres, Vetiver can be used as a anti-brush turkey planting too if you ring the plants/trees, they don't like to get inside the ring. To comment to your blog post, where are the trees? You mention Pigeon Pea but I don't see them. Look at Dave's posts on Ernst Gotsch and get some biomass trees going, I'd recommend for you Acacia fimbriata, Commersonia, native Hibsicus, Eucalyptus grandis/or dunnii (if you can find it) and pollard/coppice them (it's up to you if you use exotics like Leucaena, Inga or Tithonia). The sticks and leaf will supply longer-lasting roughage for your moving soil and mitigate what looks like a full sun hill through managed shade/canopy.

Plus, it looks like you have Madeira in there. Stop cutting it! Very carefully remove it from the garden area and solarise or drown it. It is a Weed of National Significance and is responsible for ruining a great many ecosystems. I would actually sell a place that had bad Madeira in it because the work is too great.

Comment by Jeff Kiehne on August 22, 2019 at 6:43

Have you looked at retaining walls and some decking  to try and level off some of the yard to make useful  a deck could have heavy metal mesh that can walk on  but let  light in like a big cage that you can get underneath   where does your storm water go if the soil is getting washed away  need to find a way to stop leaving your property  and return back up the hill,

Comment by Christa on August 21, 2019 at 9:14

You have tried quite a few things and you know the problems involved.  Every thing has to be lugged up or down the hill. Dave has the best solution with vetiver grass. My thought was to help get vetiver on the go, my version of a snake, is to roll up a length of shade cloth lengthwise and fill with old rolled towels or anything that is absorbent of water and place blood and bone or chook poo inside the towel rolled up. You could even put a holed hose in it and attach a click on fitting. Watering could be done from a tap at the house. This would work close to a vetiver hedge to get it going.  It would be much lighter than a rock filled roll. I have seen it work in other gardens around banana circles, it was tied up with string to keep it in a roll.

Though you must have many things going through your mind,  it is worth a try with getting vetiver going.. 

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Vetiver grass helps to stabilise soil and protects it against erosion.  It can protect against pests and weeds. Vetiver is also used as animal feed. (Wiki.)

GrowVetiver is a plant nursery run by Dave & Keir Riley that harvests and grows Vetiver grass for local community applications and use. It is based in Beachmere, just north of Brisbane, Australia.

Place your business add here! ($5 per month or $25 for 9 months)

Talk to Andy on 0422 022 961.  You can  Pay on this link

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