Evan Ward

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since May 31, 2011
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Recent posts by Evan Ward

Dunkelheit wrote:
I always thought ground cover hast to be weedier than weeds to get the job done. The job of ground cover is outcompeting weeds.

Great observation, but not necessarily.  First up some definitions.  A weed is a pretty loose term to any plant that is growing somewhere you don't want it.  Different plants grow in different conditions, ie some germinate after fire (eg fire adapted shrubs like Hakea sp), some germinate in compacted soil (eg Dock), some in cultivated soil.

The ones we usually call weeds in gardens are the early colonizers filling the gaps in recently disturbed soil, or in orchards - they are the understory shrubs moving back in.

An orchard, where there is one tree crop, and little or no ground cover (in NZ, it is usually mown grass or sprayed out) is a very unstable system and requires alot of maintenance to keep it in that condition.  It will constantly be invaded by plants to fill the ground cover layer, the shrub layer, the small tree layer and probably also the canopy tree layer because in many orchards the trees are planted so there are gaps between the trees to increase production.

Now, there is nothing "wrong" with an orchard, it just takes energy to keep it an orchard.  Left alone, it will become a forest, and not necessarily have the plants we want in it. 

To return to your statement "The job of ground cover is outcompeting weeds." I would say no, and it would be difficult to find one that did.  A different way of excluding weeds, is to occupy all the niches that weeds could grow with plants that you wanted there - to plant a "forest" by design.  This would mean there would be much less space for weeds to occupy.  The only plants able to get in would be a special type of weed that I call an "Invasive weed": those plants able to infiltrate an already intact ecosystem - and the only plants I really consider weeds.

Geoff Lawton observed that in a Food Forest planted this way, you get fewer fruit off each tree than in a traditional orchard system.  However the total yield measured against energy input is much higher, because - you are harvesting multiple species over the same area and the reduced weed interaction means there is much less maintenance.

I haven't experienced this myself - I'll let you know in 4-5 years.

By the way, check out that previous link on Nitrogen fixing plants.  Do you have alder?  That is nitrogen fixing, even though it is not a legume.  Broom, gorse are both European nitrogen fixers.  Eleagnus, not a legume but N2 fixer.  I'm sure there are more - but I'm not familiar with Finland

(Please excuse the essay )

7 years ago
This is a great link to a wikipedia page listing all nitrogen fixing plant families; legumes and non legumes - Essential reading

7 years ago

ajsl wrote:

Your other NZ native options would be Kowhai (Sophora), NZ Broom (Carmichaelia), and the Scree pea (Montigena). Due to the toxicity I wasn't keen on the idea of Kowhai (though it's a lovely tree), some of the Brooms could be a reasonable choice (notably C. aligera and C. williamsii) but I wonder about it's shade tolerance in a food forest, the Scree pea is a mountainous plant so not really suitable.. thus I ended up at Kakabeak.

You legend!  Who would have thought we had a Scree Pea!  I wonder what it would do if introduced to a more cultivated environment though - it would be great to find out.  We really need a perennial legume native ground cover for these systems.  Something tells me that it wouldn't like to be shaded though.

I have planted Kowhai beside our fence posts just above the swale with the hope of them becoming our new living fence posts.  Chickens are just above them - so in 2-3 years I'll let you know if toxicity becomes a problem...

NZ broom turns up inside the bush up here in the far north all the time, so shading doesn't seem to be a problem, its just not that vigorous.  Especially compared to the other alternatives around - but I have included afew to see how they work.

As for alley cropping kakabeak - sure, I'd give anything a go.  I just wonder if it would grow tall enough to do the business.  Tutu, would definitely get up there and is nitrogen fixing too - but if you're worried about kowhai being toxic, then I don't think you'd be too enamored with Tute.

I would also investigate the food forest idea before going into an orchard row situation - but that might be a bias towards massive polyculture, that and the fact that I have just planted 380 trees in 200m2
7 years ago
Finally the full species list and densities of the support species planted:

Cover Crop: Lupin 15kg (no species name found - what you can buy from garden centre or agricultural supplier)

Low Shrubs: 15x Lupinus arboreus (Yellow Bush lupin) - should have had more
                  30x Senna - maybe (Small 1m high fabaceae thing that looked like a Senna)
                  30x Ugni molinae (chilean guava)
I would have liked more of these, at least 100 if not more, and had less sweet pea

High Shrubs: 120x Clianthus puriceus (Kakabeak)
                  30x Solanum aviculare (Poroporo)
                  10x Charmichaelia aligera (NZ Broom, North Island)

Small Trees: 86x Polygala grandifolia (Sweet Pea Shrub)
                  30x Crotalaria sp. (Rattlebox)

Medium Tree: 30x Chamaecytisus palmensis (Tree Lucerne)

These were planted into 2 swales with a total combined length of 100m, the mound was 1.5m wide but a total surface area of about 2m.

So total was 380 trees into 200m2

7 years ago
Hi Guys,

We have just planted a series of swales using the technique described by Geoff Lawton in his Permaculture Food Forest DVD. 

In preparing for the massive planting that he advocates, I was struck by the lack of information on the support species for our area, which is in New Zealand.

Many, if not all of the fast growing nitrogen fixing species he described are not present or are not available in NZ, and it occurred that this would probably be the case in other countries.

We have done research and have thrown together a simple guild of Lupins (initial cover), Crotolaria, Russel Lupin, Tree lucern, Sweet Pea shrub (grandifolia), and kaka beak.

I will follow this up with all the species names - I know how frustrating it is getting obscure common names - and reports on effectiveness.

But;  What I hope to start off, is a discussion on what plants people have used in different situations, and comments on effectiveness and problems. 

I am a weeds ranger working for the Department of Conservation in NZ and have a keen awareness on invasive plants - which happen to be really suited to the types of jobs Geoff describes.  But in many cases there must be native alternatives, and less weedy species that do the same jobs, and that is what I'd love to draw out on this thread.

PS - not sure the name for the thread is right - any suggestions?
7 years ago