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What do Briars say about my soil?  RSS feed

 
Dustin Nemos
Posts: 95
Location: Central TN
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About to buy 30 acres in western TN and it has briars all over. I want to learn permaculture via practice on this property, I'm not trained.

I know briars mean something about the soil, I was hoping to ask what that might be and what I can do to begin working briars out and good species in. Especially via animal labor (mob grazing, specific animals that maybe eat this stuff? Goats? Pigs?)

Thanks for your wisdom,
Dustin

 
Tj Jefferson
pollinator
Posts: 212
Location: Virginia USDA 7a/b
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Dustin, doesn't look like anyone is jumping on this but I will try: I would suggest the type of briars is important. Are they rose, smilax, rubus? Are they common in/around on other properties?

They are often pioneer understory species prior to more woody vines like grape, so if you are going to eradicate them with animals you will have an unfilled niche. And likely they will be back. I don't have them but goats will eat pretty much any of the standard briar species. If you have smilax I would consider keeping it, it is delicious, I make the spring shoots like asparagus. I have actually served it and people thought it was asparagus.

I have been replacing some (not all) of the rose vines with wisteria and grape, which I value for their produce. I have also left some of the honeysuckle because they are also critical bird food in the winter. I have left some rose because the birds need to eat too. As I install things that will support birds that would be living on those (like amelanchier and highbush cranberry) they may not be as needed. The birds will spread what they eat, so If there aren't any new rose vines they have better menu items. If you already have them in your area autumn olive may fill the bill, but I would be hesitant to plant them if you don't have them since they can get out of control.

Hope this helps.
 
Ben Zumeta
Posts: 197
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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I have found in the Pacific NW that while briars (I assume you mean himalayan blackberry) are a pain to pull, they leave behind generally slightly acidic clay-loam soil that is rich and probably better textured than I'd bet I t was before they broke it up. Rich and can get heavy but usually workable. I have helped plant vineyards in this in the Chehalem Mtn AVA (30min sw of Portland, OR) and they have done pretty well without irrigation over the past 7yrs.I'd lean towards deep rooted perennials over annuals in the soil I find left behind by blackberries, which I equate with the term briars.
 
Peter Ellis
Posts: 1432
Location: Central New Jersey
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"Briars" is a general term for thorny bramble creating plants. It would probably help to know what specific plants you have growing.
 
Dustin Nemos
Posts: 95
Location: Central TN
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Someone beat us to that property 2 days before buying it. But I would still like to learn how to identify the different plants and the story they tell about the land. Its all a mystery to me still. I do appreciate the replies.
 
Ben Zumeta
Posts: 197
Location: Redwood Country, Zone 9, 60" rain/yr,
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I have taught a walking class called "Trees take us back in time." Clearly trees are the longest term living informers about your soil and the general history of a place. Here in redwood country and the broader NW, you can read the broad timeline of a place through the distribution of redwood, doug fir, spruce and western hemlock. I have a post about that, and would love to elaborate more but it seems that someone better versed with Tennessee would be a better resource for your questions. I bet the National Park or Forest Service office as well as Tribes near you will have some very good information. I am still learning about my own region's weed-soil correlations, but if you find trees in the area they have something to tell you about the longer term/deeper subsoil.
 
Dustin Nemos
Posts: 95
Location: Central TN
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Very interesting
 
Juliet Johnson
Posts: 1
Location: Cumberland Plateau (East Tennessee)
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I'm curious to learn the answer to this as well!  We have land in eastern Tennessee (on the Cumberland Plateau), and it sounds like we may have a similar bramble situation.

In our case, the brambles are heavily present in spots dominated by deciduous trees or that get a lot of sun.  There are zero brambles in the areas that are dominated by pine and hemlock.  The brambles bear (tasty!) blackberries in the summer, but they sure can make it painful to go off-trail.
 
Travis Johnson
pollinator
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Around here brambles are pretty much a sign of previous logging practices. Without walking the land it would be hard to say for sure, but it sounds like heavy logging took place at one time. Hemlock and Pine are very slow growing trees whereas hardwood tends to grow pretty quick. It is possible that the loggers hit the hardwood areas and left the hemlock and pine alone. Here, hemlock is almost worthless in value, and the trees tend to live forever (250 years or so). This is just a guess, but I would say maybe loggers came in, hit the high value hardwood logs really hard, this opened up the canopy and flooded the forest with light, brambles took over and that is what is left now.

I would say soil might have something to do with it, but generally pine like loamy soil that is well drained, where as hemlock tends to like it more on the wet side. Both thrive on thin soil (as in depth to bedrock).
 
Hans Quistorff
pollinator
Posts: 773
Location: Longbranch, WA
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I have both the imported himalayan and smaller native blackberries.  Both do break op compacted ground and improve soil by their annual shedding of leaves and keeping the soil covered.
The permaculture principle of making the problem a solution applies. They are often spread by bird droppings therefore there may be initially a line of them under a fence. Their main reproduction strategy is by tip rooting.
In other words each winter the growing tip of a vine will enter the ground and form roots starting a clone some distance from the original thus eventually covering large areas.
If you clear paths through the patch and train them in manageable rows then they are easy to harvest. In the paths or between the crowns in the row you can begin planting other overstory species in the protected soil.  You start wih a harvestable crop while preserving the existing soil life.  I like to use hay bailing twine for trellis to hold the vines up off the ground.  Be sure to cut out old vines and cut off rooting tips during the winter which is my current project.
 
Dustin Nemos
Posts: 95
Location: Central TN
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Such a wealth of knowledge here, it's humbling to have it all a question away. We appreciate everyone's input.
 
Shane Kaser
Posts: 17
Location: Portland, United States
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Thorny bramble thicket is the precursor to forest encroachment.

There are basically two ecological paradigms: Forest and meadow. They are constantly renegotiating boundaries. Meadow advances via the action of carbon redox (herbivory, fire, axes/saws/mowers). Forest advances by saplings which emerge amidst the thorny thicket. Thorns and spines evolved to repel herbivores. Once the mature tree canopy develops, the bramble is shaded out, and a more-mature understory community develops. You will always have to deal with the proliferation of thicket at the sylvan boundary. This is a universal truth. You can develop the canopy (eg "food-forest" berries/tree-crops), or you can develop the meadow (send in your herbivores, or keep it mowed). Anything else is more work.

Good luck,
B
 
Shane Kaser
Posts: 17
Location: Portland, United States
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Also, I second Hans on the idea of keeping your thickets in rows. Just wide enough to reach into from both sides, so you can manage/harvest effectively. Hell, expand the scale to intercropping strips of pasture for grazing between rows of tree/bramble crops. I do love me some blackberry pie.

B
 
leila hamaya
pollinator
Posts: 1128
Location: northern northern california
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my ex boyfriend used to say that the areas that were covered by blackberries were areas in need of healing...that the earth itself was claiming those spots, not allowing people to access them, so that those spots would be left alone for a long time so they could self heal. maybe a bit too woo, but i think theres a good logic there anyway, it does happen that those areas tend to get a rest from human interference, it takes such effort to do anything with them...and i can see how he saw it. the earth putting up a very thorny impenetrable layer ...sort of saying leave me alone in a sort of living poetry...

it does happen out here, like the previous poster said above, that badly logged and overly logged areas tend to spring up in brambles out here...
blackberry and other berry bramble are also strongly medicinal...and the canes make excellent mulch...providing some of the harder to get nutrients when they decompose...
 
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