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Preparing for a proper garden  RSS feed

 
Lindsey Jensen
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Hello and good day permie community! I am new to permaculture and this forum and I am hoping some of you can point me in the right direction. I have ten acres of land, mostly pasture, but a few areas of overgrown invasive blackberries and honey locust trying to take over. The area with the blackberries are where we’d like gardens and the area with the honey locust is ideal for a partial shade garden under pine trees. Here are our ideas for preparing our land:

Tilling: We are thinking of doing a few rounds of tilling to kill out the blackberries & honey locust. Will that work, or will tilling simply spread the rhizomes & seeds?

Mowing: After the ground has been tilled, we’d like to follow up with mowing over any new sprouts which we’ve heard will eventually kill off the invasive plants.

Spray: First choice is weeding by hand, but blackberries take hold so fast & underground, that we are considering using the 20% vinegar solution on isolated sprouts that pop up in the garden or anywhere else on the property. We’ve heard mixed reviews about how this affects the condition of the soil. Some say you can plant 24 hours after spraying with no ill effects, but some say the effects are irreversible to the soil.

I’m scared to admit this, but I have never composted before, so can someone explain where composting plays in here? Any input or resources I can study would be so thankfully appreciated! We know fall is the best time to do this so we want to get a step in the right direction to prepare for spring. We have no animals & we understand we have to stay on top of this if we want to beat the invasive blackberries here in the PNW. PS: We are keeping areas of blackberries that are well controlled, but don’t want them to take over our entire property. Thank you for your input!
 
Michael Cox
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Location: Kent, UK - Zone 8
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Hi Lindsey,

A few immediate thoughts:

Honey locust should really be a very welcome plant in a permaculture setting. It is nitrogen fixing, has dense timber for firewood, in an excellent plant for nectar for your bees. My limited experience of tilling an area with black locust roots (similar growth habits) is that every section of damaged roots turns into a new tree. We dug a trench to lay a water pipe and within a few months had about 20 saplings popping up. Rather than trying to eradicate them you could consider thinning them out and planting a variety of other species in between.

There is a very good video out called "the permaculture orchard: beyond organic" or something like that. In his mixed fruit orchard he plants every third tree as a honey locust to provide nitrogen fixation for all his other trees. He controls the vigour of them, so they don't get too big, by training the branches downwards.

You mention planting pines for a shade garden. Why are you interested in pines specifically? Here in my climate I can think of many species I would prefer to plant that would serve multiple functions... Sweet chestnut for nuts, firewood, fence posts... Fruit trees of all sorts on large vigorous root stocks... Pine seems to have limited potential to me, but it would depend what you are looking for.

Regarding the blackberries, I have had reasonable success simply pulling blackberries, roots and all, by hand when they are rooted in the soft forest floor. When they are in the open with less leaf litter mulch they tend to have a firmer grip on the soil. If pulling by hand a really sturdy pair of welding gloves and a bill hook seemed to do the trick. Rather than trying to clear large area by mechanical cultivation my personal preference would be to do a small area by hand and work back into the thickets over time. Alternatively, penning some pigs on the area will get every last trace of root out within short order and prepare the area for planting. We don't have livestock so this isn't an option for us.

In my experience of blackberries, spread underground is fairly slow, but the canes will root wherever the tips touch the ground. A cane can easily grow 5m in a year, rooting in multiple places, each turning into a new plant. Key to stopping the thicket spreading is to stopping those canes rooting. Monthly maintenance in the growing season should stop the situation getting worse. Of course you could turn the blackberry 'problem' into a bonus by pruning and cultivating them. The long tangled briars are not good for fruit production. Fruit forms on the previous years canes, not the current seasons. If you cut the vigorously growing canes back to about 2ft in length early in the growing season then they will stop growing longer and will bush out below the cut. Next year you will get a bumper crop of fruit on a short and fairly accessible upright cane that doesn't need body armour to get to. We have been casually managing a wild thicket like this over the past few years and done quite well from it.



 
Sean Banks
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what you should do first is mow down any blackberry with a brush cutter or the like. Then you will want to pile up the blackberry you just cut and compost those. Then once all vegetation is removed you can till....removing rocks in the process. I recommend getting some manure (horse, cow, goat, etc.) and working that into the soil with the tiller. Just spread an inch or so on top of the soil and till it in. To make compost out of the blackberries you are going to need to chop them into small pieces...add some carbon materials like shredded leaves, saw dust, or paper and build the pile to it is chest high. I usually do a 1:1 ratio. For example one shovel full of blackberry and one shovel full of saw dust. Add kitchen scraps if you have it....then water it till the pile is soaked. Leave it alone for 4 days and turn it over completely every other day. Each time you turn it move the stuff on the outside to the middle. You will have compost within a month doing this. You can then spread it in your garden and till it in.
 
Mike Cantrell
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Location: Mid-Michigan
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Sean Banks wrote:
...chop them into small pieces...
...build the pile to it is chest high...
...turn it over completely every other day...

You will have compost within a month doing this.


You'll also look like this:



 
Mike Cantrell
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Oh wait, OP is named Lindsey, probably female.

You do that much physical work and you'll look like this:



(Is that unflattering? I don't know. First picture I could find for "female bodybuilder". You know what I mean. I'm just trying to make a joke about how much work it is to turn enormous compost piles by hand. )
 
Lindsey Jensen
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Michael Cox wrote:Hi Lindsey,

A few immediate thoughts:

There is a very good video out called "the permaculture orchard: beyond organic" or something like that. In his mixed fruit orchard he plants every third tree as a honey locust to provide nitrogen fixation for all his other trees. He controls the vigour of them, so they don't get too big, by training the branches downwards.

In my experience of blackberries, spread underground is fairly slow, but the canes will root wherever the tips touch the ground. A cane can easily grow 5m in a year, rooting in multiple places, each turning into a new plant. Key to stopping the thicket spreading is to stopping those canes rooting. Monthly maintenance in the growing season should stop the situation getting worse. Of course you could turn the blackberry 'problem' into a bonus by pruning and cultivating them. The long tangled briars are not good for fruit production. Fruit forms on the previous years canes, not the current seasons. If you cut the vigorously growing canes back to about 2ft in length early in the growing season then they will stop growing longer and will bush out below the cut. Next year you will get a bumper crop of fruit on a short and fairly accessible upright cane that doesn't need body armour to get to. We have been casually managing a wild thicket like this over the past few years and done quite well from it.





Thanks for your response Michael! I actually just purchased that video & have watched just a bit of it and I was thrilled to see their mention of honey locust! My Romanian father in law raved about how much his goats loved it growing up and how it makes the best honey. We have two established honey locusts that are beautiful, but where we have established pines (those have been there a long time), we are having a huge area full of honey locusts seedlings that are trying to take over the entire area. I also read a thread somewhere on permies about how invasive honey locusts can be and how you can't even give them away due to their huge damaging thorns and tendency to take over, so that scared me quite a bit.

As far as the blackberries go, I am in the Pacific Northwest and we have a very different variety of blackberries here that are not easily controlled and would swallow up and entire property if left to their own devices. The person who cuts our hay has been spraying them with chemicals and now that we purchased the house & land, I told him I don't want anymore round-up used. So he may not cut our hay next year (Apparently he can't sell hay with blackberries in it, but hay with chemicals is ok LOL). I would love to control & cultivate them in some areas as you mentioned, but there are also areas where they want to take up the entire field. I will try to attached a couple photos.
 
Lindsey Jensen
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Thank you Sean, that is very helpful....and hilarious HAHA, thanks for a good laugh!
 
Lindsey Jensen
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Here are a few pictures of the blackberries taking over the field after just being brush hogged a month or two ago. And one of the honey locusts spreading. Can you spot the old stump that is now home to tons of honey locust sprouts? Maybe that is the culprit of the sprouts? We have no sprouts under our other honey locusts.
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Michael Cox
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Felling a locust pretty much guarantees a huge rush of sprouts like that. Mowing weekly will eventually kill the root system off.

For the blackberries, electro netting and pigs seems like the least painful way. A season would probably clear it.
 
Dan Boone
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I have a lot of honey locusts. I may even have been the one posting horror stories about them here, because I hate the thorns. They grow back very profusely from stumps, but if you cut them back several times over several seasons eventually the stump will get exhausted and give up. You'll still get true seedlings, but they are easy to control by hand or with mowing when they are less than a foot tall.

The trees are a nice "partial shade" tree for growing other things under. Although they are widely reported to be nitrogen fixing, when you dive deeply into the evidence it seems not to be there. I currently consider it uncertain whether they fix nitrogen or not. For certain they lack the nodules that most nitrogen-fixing legume trees have, and all that you can find online about alternative ways they may fix nitrogen appear very speculative. However there's lots of anecdotal reports of soil that seems enriched by their presence ... so I just do not know.

What I do to co-exist with them is to prune all branches quite vigorously as high as I can reach on the trunk. It's hard, dirty, painful work and you will get poked, especially while wrangling the pruned branches. But once you get the trees under control, they are quite pleasant to have in your landscape.
 
Lindsey Jensen
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Thank you for all the helpful comments everyone! It sounds like repeated mowing might be the answer to these issues & now I have some direction for more research. I would still love to hear if anyone has any experience using the 20% vinegar to spot treat...how it worked...how it affected the soil...if anyone out there has tried it. In the interim, here is a sunset painted sky under our mature honey locust. Just to give you all the warm fuzzies & show that although they have their pros & cons, honey locusts are still beautiful hehe
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Michael Cox
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Lindsey - have you tried eating the pulp from the pods?
 
Lindsey Jensen
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Hi Michael, no, I have not tried harvesting anything from the honey locusts...have you had any success with that?
 
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