We've been planting an orchard for the last 3 years. I've only recently stumbled upon the permaculture concept. Right now our fruit orchard is planted in a pasture type setting. It is incredibly hard to keep the grass mowed away from the trunks of the trees (about 130 trees). I've tried digging out the orchard grass, smothering with cardboard, leaves, grass clippings, mowing it down etc. But the grass just keeps coming back. What should I do first? I'd like to end up with plant guilds under the trees. My husband doesn't want it to look too wild, and wants to be able to walk between the trees without "tripping". The trees are planted 15 feet apart. We are able to raise sheep and geese and I would like to be able to graze them, but the trees are still so young that I worry about damaging the trunks. I'm not able to go out and purchase enough daffodil bulbs to go around 130 trees...so I have to come up with something cost effective that I can slowly build on as I have the time and money. I would appreciate any tips. We're in the Pacific Northwest, Zone 8 with a lot of wind (coming off the dike lands/water) that blows down the slope towards our orchard.
I favor wood chips for initial killing of grass. the grass will still grow through after a year or so, but the chips give some breathing room to get some other ground-cover et cetera established.
daffodils are great, but certainly not the only option. cheapest would probably be to start things from seed. alpine strawberries, chives, thymes, oreganos, mints, squash, buckwheat, artichokes, fireweed, yarrow, and on and on.
good, though not always reliable, source for wood chips is the local tree service(s). several friends in Portland found outfits that will deliver a load of chips (about ten cubic yards) inside the city for $20. for myself, I was getting about a load a week from the tree service working out here last summer and fall, but they haven't delivered anything in maybe four months.
i would get about 130 comfrey roots..and put one at the base of each of the fruit trees..the grass won't be able to compete with the comfrey and it will mulch each tree as it grows, and you can chop and drop it around the trees for further mulch..also swiss chard might work well as it will grow a tap root that reaches nearly to china..and you can eat the greens..
then look for some really hardy things to add like multiplying onions, oregano to bring in some bees and maybe some other flowering plants, dayllillies are edible and also will help to control grasses.
If you have room put in some russian or autumn olive for the nitrogen fixing..if not, add lupines or beans or peas or clover...for the nitrogen.
then you can go from there adding more and more food bearing crops ..
Bloom where you are planted.
That orchard grass easily gets to 4 feet high. Would I mow it down, plant the comfrey and any other plants that you mentioned, then mulch the area with the wood chips? I avoided the wood chips up to this pint because I had heard that as they break down they take nitrogen out of the soil. Maybe that's only a problem around vegetable gardens? I'm worried that the grass would grow so much faster than any of the plants. I'm so excited to get started on this, but I want to do it the right way. Thank you so much for the replies so far.
wood chips for mulch won't bind up soil nitrogen. if one was to mix them into the dirt, then it could be a problem. as wood chips break down, they substantially increase the organic matter content of the dirt, which greatly improves things in the vast majority of situations.
they can be a great substrate for growing edible mushrooms in your orchard, too.
I would agree that wood chips would be great. Also, don't overlook hay since you obviously have it in quantity -- if you can cut and windrow the grass that is there (say make a 20' wide strip into a 4' windrow near the base of the trees) you can get a pretty nice mulch to discourage the grass. Piles of leaves may be even better. You don't need to go for eliminating all the grass - make you goal something like 80-90% elimination in the right places.
If you're planting comfrey at the same time, it will find its way through any of these mulches and should be doing most of the work from year 2 or 3.
Why do you want to get rid of the grass? This is not always a simple question .
I was assuming that you wanted it out in order to give root space and nutrients to the young trees. But planting something super-invasive in our climate (I'm in Western Oregon, too) like comfrey would worsen that problem.
I'd try replacing the grass with clover and place rocks all around the base of the trees. The stones will prevent grass from growing, will collect condensation from the moist air and help prevent evaporation. During the day they'll also act as heat sink keeping the trees warm at night when the temp drops.
I want to take out the grass for several reasons. First, it just gets so tall! Easily 4 feet. It's hard for us to keep up with either a weed-eater or a lawn mower. It's excellent forage for livestock- but overwhelms the fruit trees as well as us. The first year we weren't so busy with everything else and we had more time to keep it mowed down. But, as we continue to plant more trees as well as grow our farm in general- it's just too much. And then there is the taking away nutrients from the trees themselves. The grass also provides great hiding spots for voles, mice, etc.
I did some more reading on the comfrey and decided it's probably not the best thing for us to use at this point. It sounds like it would be great if I planted it 3 to 4 feet away from the trees. But right now my main focus is to remove the grass from around the base of the trees. Last year I removed the grass from around 20 trees and planted a clover- I don't remember which one. I didn't use rocks or anything else, just the clover. But the grass grew back and I never saw any of the clover. I don't want to start adding transplants that will just get over run by the grass. We're talking orchard grass, canary grass and a few other kinds. Not the basic lawn grass that most people have in their backyards. Of course, our whole property is like this or we would have picked a different spot for the orchard.
I'm starting to think I should try smothering it out with cardboard, leaves etc. We have dairy cows and I could work on composting their manure and old hay, then pile that on top of the cardboard.
Maybe I'll try a combination of the ideas all of you have shared on just a few of the trees and then wait it out to see which one works the best. It doesn't sound like there is a "quick fix" lol.
three or four layers of newsprint, and a nice thick layer of mulch, then a cylinder of wire around each, and a flock of geese...maybe a couple of southdown sheep...southdowns are grazers, ad will not browse other than an occasional taste..
I think you are finding that you can use machines to establish your 'base crops'--some kind of clover-based herbal ley--only before you plant the trees. Afterwards you are stuck with hauling mulch or damaging tree roots. Look into a scythe as perhaps the appropriate tool for your situation (wanting to cut 1-3 times per year). Then your grass becomes mulch with a May cutting. By cutting and piling in a heap, you create a site where you can introduce a different species clump the following year. Consider tilling and sowing clover between tree rows before your tree roots get out. If rocks, I'd pile them in a regular way (so you don't find them again with your scythe blade) for snake habitat to help with rodents. consider perches for raptors.
Maybe you have two zones... A between tree-row path, harvested for mulch more often, and a within tree row zone where you are growing supporting species, and concentrating cuttings in mulch piles to establish companion crops. At that scale, and with your partner wanting tidiness, I suspect you'll want to drift toward a grazing system. or mowed paths that provide visual structure between messier tree rows, with more complex species.
Trying to switch to a mulch-based as compared to a pasture based system is not a no-brainer at scale... it can favor rhizomatous weeds, takes a lot of a labor, and can make a surface difficult for mowing.
Sounds like you are down in the delta... which one?
Paul Cereghino- Stewardship Institute Maritime Temperate Coniferous Rainforest - Mild Wet Winter, Dry Summer
I am assuming that because you posted this on permies that you are interested in a permaculture situation around your trees, rather than having a monoculture of trees with grass, that is why I suggested the plants that I did..Comfrey is a dynamic accumulator and mulch plant, at my zone 4/5 area I have never had a problem with it being invasive, however if you TILL it then each of the root pieces will grow so of course if it is a no till garden that is different than a tilled garden (we had horseradish take over an area cause someone used a tractor drag near it and brought roots around into the area).
I have planted comfrey under every one of my fruit trees here (i don't have 130)..and it grows up and makes a great mulch and chop and drop plant for mulch other areas, it also supplies many nutrients and will smother the grass nearby..lots of root crops will also do the same thing..and you can plant a lot of the deep rooted plants to bring up nutrients into the leaves and use them as mulch as well, like the swiss chard and rhubarb.
that would eliminate the grass in a circle around each fruit tree, esp if you have a heavy planting of plants with large leaves and long taproots in the area..
grass is a bacterial situation where trees do best in a fungal situation, so also you might put in some soil from a forest around the fruit trees to bring in some fungal spores, or maybe put in some of those woodchips and innoculate them with the proper fungus that will be a great additional crop and no the woodchips won't rob the soil unless they are buried.
read up on food forest gardening..suggestion Gaia's GArden by Toby Hemenway 2nd edition.
Bloom where you are planted.
this isn't necessarily a regional issue, but a horticultural issue. there are sterile cultivars of comfrey that pretty much stay put if the roots aren't disturbed, even west of the Cascades. if the roots are disturbed, watch out.
it's a useful plant that makes a lot of nutrient-rich biomass, and it forms a dense enough root mass that grass rhizomes can't penetrate. as such, it's a great one to plant around the perimeter of an area that's been heavily mulched to kill grass. again, this holds true even (and especially) here in the Pacific Northwest. I'm not suggesting grabbing a specimen of the stuff rampantly choking out other plants and throwing that in an orchard, I'm suggesting finding and using the proper cultivar that will not set viable seed. and, like Brenda said, don't till it.
Well, it's been over a month since I first posted about my orchard so I thought I would give an update. I bought the book Gaia's Garden (thanks Brenda) as well as Bill Mollison's Permaculture A Designer's Manual. Those two gave me lots of new ideas as well as reminded me of things I had forgotten.
I decided to go with a flock of Babydoll Southdown sheep to keep the grass grazed down. I chose this type of sheep for several reasons- natural way to keep it "mowed" without depending on tractors, mowers, gasoline etc. Even though there are plenty of chores involved with keeping sheep, I much prefer trimming hooves and shearing once a year to the constant mowing that was facing me with my current situation. The sheep will add fertility, they are small with hooves that will help reduce compaction. In fact, the sheep are no taller than 24" and will be the perfect height for eating along the fence line but not tall enough that they could reach the branches. As we add grapes, raspberries and blueberries they will be able to keep those trimmed as well. I think working with them and just watching them go about their business will bring me great joy. Eventually I will use their wool for spinning- a skill I have always wanted to learn. And their offspring will also provide my family with meat.
So there you go- Babydoll sheep in the orchard. I'll update after we've had them for a while to see how they actually work out. I'll be taking delivery of them in the next week. Thanks so much for all of the ideas!
I think you might find that you will need to protect all these young trees and shrubs, no matter how short your sheep. Some sheep will leave your trees alone and some enjoy stripping the bark in long strips...enough to kill a young tree. The shrubs? They will eat them to the ground unless you place wire around them.
I had Katahdin hair sheep for my orchard....no shearing, very little need for hoof care, health care, etc. It's much easier to just place wire cages around the trees and let the sheep keep it down than to mow, mulch, or otherwise suppress grass growth. After the sheep get it short enough, overseed with white dutch clover for a shorter, more nutritious ground cover.
I agree that having no grass at all around your trees may prove detrimental in terms of good soils and moisture retention.
Some good ideas already put forth. I don't have experience with trying to get rid of grasses, as I encourage my native grasses nearly everywhere they pop up. But, I can offer some suggestions.
You have to shift your mindset a bit in order to start coming up with solutions that will work for you. With no competition, the grass will be completely happy to thrive. You need to introduce some species that are desirable and can compete with the grasses. Basically you need to ask yourself why is this plant growing here, and what would other species would be a beneficial replacement.
Do some research into forest gardening, and start buying perennial plants - preferably natives and medicinal herbs - to put around the trees. This should result in a much more visually appealing landscape, increase your diversity, produce medicines, and provide many options for beneficial insects.
I've seen amazing results with African weeder geese at a site in Mexico. Their orchard had been planted in serious pastor and they just couldn't get the grass suppressed enough to establish an understory. After trying many species of livestock, they tried African weeder geese. They set out attendees per acre and within a year the grass was almost completely gone. The roots were still there under the soil and send up shoots, but every shoot was devoured by a goose. This particular breed of geese only eat clover and grass. After the grass was suppressed, they reduced their stocking rate to 2 geese per acre. They underplanted with taro, sweet potatoes, ginger, and many other crops. Over time they have found a very few crops that the geese nibble on, but mostly they completely ignore the crops and just pick at the grass as it shoots up from its roots.
Their trees were already established enough that they weren't worried about protecting them from the geese. I don't think most geese would go after a tree on purpose, but they might not want over if it was very small. You might need tree shelters which are not super cheap, but compare that to the cost of losing your orchard or even just the labor and equipment and fuel cost of mowing. Plus they taste delicious!
For tough grasses, 3-4 layers of newspaper is not thick enough. It will quickly rot and the grass will bounce back.
The following may be helpful in a small area, but doing this for that many trees is not practical.
I suggest 2 layers of corrugated cardboard, overlapping the edges by 6". Wet overlapping boxes form paper mache and seal together. For that number of trees, that means when the weather is wet. Boxes used for shipping appliances are best because they are so big. Here in Portland, Oregon, people often give away boxes on Craig's list. Avoid white ones, which contain dioxin, and colored inks which contain who knows what. Any tape on the boxes will take forever to degrade. Remove it. Pile 6 inches of mulch on top of that.
I put this on fierce quackgrass and it kept it out for 2 years, and then it encroached from the edges and came through in a few places, but could be pulled. A 40x40 plot was manageable this way.
Paul Wheaton disapproves of using boxes or newspaper because they have toxins from paper making, glue, inks, etc. He is right, they do have these pollutants. I hope that soil bacteria degrade these toxins, but I could be wrong.
Happiness, Health, Peace and Abundance for All.
You will need tree guards around the tree trunks. Bark chewing is just something sheep cannot avoid doing, particularly if they are deficient in minerals like copper. Cheapest solution is chicken netting (1.2m). The southdown is one of the worst bark chewing breeds I have come across in our orchards but just love their short stature. Once you have protected your trees you can sleep at night knowing they will do their job and leave your trees alone. Good luck.
The very best animal which can reduce the grass yet can be trusted not to eat your bushes? A (skilled) person with a scythe!
On a less facetious note, is it practical to fence the berry bushes? Could broaden your options significantly.
Depending on the land/layout you might be able to do chicken tractors in the aisles...
'Theoretically this level of creeping Orwellian dynamics should ramp up our awareness, but what happens instead is that each alert becomes less and less effective because we're incredibly stupid.' - Jerry Holkins
TO: Trinda Storey
FROM: Eric Koperek = email@example.com SUBJECT: Grass Control in Orchards
DATE: PM 4:57 Monday 16 May 2016
1. How many trees and bushes do you have? What are their age and height? The size of your orchard and the height of your plants determine the practicality of possible solutions to your "grass problem".
2. You may not have a problem at all. Mow the grass and use the clippings to mulch trees and bushes. Apply cut weed mulch 12 inches thick around trees and bushes from trunk out to drip line. Deep mulch system = cold composting is an old technology dating back to Renaissance Europe. Do not cultivate the soil. Just keep adding more mulch. This is the original green manure used by cottagers and other small landholders who did not own livestock for manure. On average, cut green weeds have twice the nutrient value as an equal weight of fresh dairy cow manure. Trees, vines, and bushes mulched with green weeds do not require any other fertilizer. You can run entire commercial vegetable farms using nothing but weeds and lawn mowers.
3. Broadcast clover seed into standing vegetation then mow immediately to cover and protect clover seed. Irrigate immediately or wait for rain. For best results use a low growing clover like Dutch White Clover = Trifolium repens, Crimson Clover = Trifolium incarnatum, or Subterranean Clover = Trifolium subterraneum. Taller growing clovers like Red Clover = Trifolium pratense can also be planted depending on the size of your berry bushes. You want a mixed-species cover crop in your orchard to provide food and shelter for predators and parasites that will help control insect pests. 2 weeks after seeding clover, mow grass as close to ground level as possible. Keep mowing every 2 weeks until clover is well established. Adjust mower height as necessary to prevent cutting clover seedlings. Dutch White Clover grows 6 inches high under average conditions; under ideal circumstances it might reach 8 inches high. Once clover reaches its mature height, mowing is no longer necessary. Mature clover cover crop will blot out most weeds and grasses. Note: Always use maximum seeding rates. For Dutch White Clover broadcast 12 pounds of live seed per acre.
4. Geese eat grass. Ducks eat broad leaf plants. Large numbers of fowl can be used like selective herbicides to control "weeds" in agricultural crops. This requires careful management. Fowl must be HERDED so they graze evenly thus providing effective weed control. This means you need temporary = movable fencing (and someone to move the fencing at least once every 2 days), or you need children to herd the birds to where they are needed.
5. Sheep, goats, or cattle are often pastured in orchards. However, trees and berry bushes must be fenced or sprayed with anti-feedents = chemicals that taste bad and / or make animals sick. Otherwise, hungry mouths will eat everything within reach. If you have an old orchard = with mature, standard size trees then your crops MIGHT be safe from grazing. Just remember that goats can climb trees.
For more information about old-fashioned biological agriculture please visit: www.agriculturesolutions.wordpress.com -or- www.worldagriculturesolutions.com -or- send your questions to: Agriculture Solutions, 413 Cedar Drive, Moon Township, Pennsylvania, 15108 USA -- or -- send an e-mail to: Eric Koperek = firstname.lastname@example.org
Location: St Paul, MN/Tularosa, NM and now a gapper at Wheaton Labs
Was just reading the big black permaculture bible, and in there it said, "grass is the enemy of orchards.", but it didn't say why, or at least not in that particular section. Is this primarily because grass prefers a bacteria dominated soil and trees prefer a fungus dominated soil? If so, does it matter even if grass is constantly mowed short so that the grass roots are mostly above the tree roots and thus not competing for soil type and space? Or, is it competition for nutrients like nitrogen? Or, something else or some combination of these things? Curious as to your thoughts.
I don't know the answer that the author believed in. And I don't have a commercial orchard. But I do have a small polyculture orchard, parts of which are grassed. The only thing that the local professional macadamia orchard manager said to me as advice, that was anti-grass, was that tall grass can harbor harmful insects. So I keep my grass mowed short and I have seen no problems. I usually get enough rain so that soil moisture isn't an issue with the grass. And whenever we have a drought year, I irrigate anyway.
I'm curious to see the reason behind the no-grass statement.
It's never too late to start! I retired to homestead on the slopes of Mauna Loa, an active volcano. I relate snippets of my endeavor on my blog : www.kaufarmer.blogspot.com
There wasn't a no-grass statement, Mollison made the assertion that grass is the enemy of orchards. That relates directly to the preferences the two kinds of plants have for soil organisms. Trees much prefer fungal dominated soils, Grass want bacterial dominated soils. So, soil that's better for trees is worse for grass and vice versa.
The comments above are spot on about fungal/bacterial dominated soils. More than that, the root zone of grasses overlaps with the root zone of most fruit trees - i.e. very shallow in the soil - and aggressively rob nutrients. The video "Permaculture Orchard" covers this. They experimented with allowing grass in some patches and the trees are markedly more stunted and slower growing compared to other patches. Wanting to avoid the traditional "spray with chemicals" approach they experimented with black plastic mulch with great results. Now I dislike black plastic, but their results were very persuasive, and allowed them to manage a complicated polyculture on a large scale.
The scale is important - it is all well and good creating systems that work well, but if they need substantial time input then they limit the amount that the caretaker can take on.
In my own garden I have made extensive use of woodchip, which works fairly well. However it does need maintaining both to top up the chips and deal with invading grasses that seed prolifically through it. I have also had some success planting comfry around the fruit trees - they are naturally self-mulching and increase available soil fertility for fruit trees. They do a good job of smothering out grasses, if your plants are dense enough.
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Thanks everybody. So last question, what about clover? Given that clover is found most commonly growing with grass, I'd think it's soil preference would be for bacterial soil, and, I'm pretty sure their roots are every bit as extensive as grass. Are the adverse effects of these disadvantages mitigated for and of little consequence due to clover being a nitrogen fixer and therefore considered more of a companion than an adversary for fruit trees?
My first thought on clover is that, not only is it a nitrogen fixer; it also flowers heavily to attract both pollinators and predatory insects. It does fix nitrogen with the help of bacteria, but that is done by making bacteria friendly home in the roots (nodules) I don't know what impact this has on the surrounding soil community.
With regard to Stefan and the Permaculture Orchard, remember that he describes how they tried mulching with wood chips for a year or two, before he decided to switch to the black plastic because of the labor savings it represents (and some cost savings).
The balance of life in the soil varies tremendously and "dominated" doesn't mean all one thing. There are soils growing grass that have more fungi than bacteria. There are many plants (it seems they keep finding more) that have symbiotic relationships with mycohrizal fungi. The fungi are the primary decomposers for lignin and cellulose - making them the major factor in breaking down the woody debris and the leaves of a forest. In itself, the supply of woody material to be broken down pushes the soil toward fungal dominance.
If we look at nature, there are examples like the savanna where we see grasses and trees growing together, in balance. It's worth looking at those examples in some detail to see how the relationships work - which trees do you find in savannas, what grows in close to the trees, what kinds of grasses, what other plants are part of the savanna? That soil is most likely fungal dominated, but not very heavily so.
It's also worth remembering that "enemy" is a term that has different values to different people. In this case, it isn't that they won't grow together at all, but that they won't support one another, the way that many plants will benefit one another. Also worth keeping in mind is the understanding that nature doesn't monocrop and that experiments with cover crops keep suggesting that you can't make a mix with too many different pants - it keeps looking like more varieties is better.
Quite interesting commentary in this thread, but many of the ideas are not born out in the real world of commercial orchards, most of them do have grasses growing amongst the trees.
I have been to several walnut orchards and pecan orchards that have grasses mixed with legumes growing all around the trees, most of the apple orchards I've been to have similar setups as do peach orchards.
Where the trees shade the ground, grasses don't grow thick but quite sparsely, these observations don't concur with the statements referred to here.
Fruit and Nut trees do very well in these orchards, most of the orchard-men keep the "carpet" cut low, 2.5 inches maximum height.
These orchards are older, well established and produce tons of product per acre and have done so for over 20 years.
grasses and legumes hold soil in place, have a cooling effect on the tree roots and they also help sequester carbon into the soil and plant matter.