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Alex Slater

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since Jun 03, 2011
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Recent posts by Alex Slater

Leila Rich wrote:<snip>
in my experience, most NZ legumes take their time growing, and many don't appreciate the heavy pruning associated with 'chop and drop'

I totally agree (sadly!), they just don't have that rampant growth that would be ideal.

Leila Rich wrote:
But kakabeak loves a good haircut... it's a fickle plant for me though have you found a native that works well in a food forest?

I have quite a few Kakabeaks, but they get eaten down to sticks by rabbits etc (but I keep on plugging away). So I guess the answer is "no" as I haven't found a NZ N-fixer that works well. That said, I guess perhaps we should look outside of the usual and investigate other NZ pioneer plants (though they don't fix any N), Manuaka would be a good choice (bee attractant + vigorous) as a chop and drop, or how about Wineberry (Makomako)? I've got these in my hedgerow (along with NZ's native giant tree fuchsia as it has edible berries and looks great). I'm also a fan of the NZ tree daisies (Olearia species) as they look great and have a lot of bee fodder, plus the ever popular and varied hebes.
4 years ago

In your situation what you could do to introduce the appropriate bacteria is to find a plant (i.e. the Fava beans in your example) that is fixing nitrogen, uproot it, crush the root system and nodules into a bucket with a little bit of water. Use the resulting slurry to soak your seeds in before planting - then water in the seeds with the left over water in the bucket. That's one way of introducing the bacteria to a new sit - but it relies on you having that initial plant that already has a good association.

I've taken a slightly different approach, in that I've been (attempting) to use our native NZ nitrogen fixers as much as possible at my place (I'm in the BoP), however it is hard to get them started due to pest pressures. But by going with the NZ native species it's easier to get the right associations underway as they're already present in our soil. Plus in some cases it's helping some native species that are threatened in the wild. But I would say that overall they're not as all round useful (i.e. they're not edible) as the imports!

Apologies if you know this but below I'll brain dump what I found out about our native Nitrogen fixers etc. These are just my own notes collated from all sorts of places - so treat them as the uninformed gossip they probably are!

I split the Nitrogen fixers here in NZ into two groups (legumes and "other") :
There are four genera of native legumes here:
1. Sophora (Kowhai)
2. Carmichaelia (New Zealand Broom)
3. Clianthus (Kakabeak)
4. Montigena (Scree pea)

There's some interesting research in NZ about our native legumes and their associations, I learnt a lot from this thesis:

Including this gem:
"This study indicates that most rhizobia isolated from New Zealand native legumes are members of Mesorhizobium, and all isolates obtained from the introduced legumes studied are members of Bradyrhizobium."

The three other native non legumes Nitrogen fixing species:
1. Tainui (Pomaderris apetala) - Actinorhizal association
2. Golden Tainui (Pomaderris hamiltonii) - Actinorhizal association
3. Matagouri / Wild Irishman- (Discaria toumatou) - unknown association.

I couldn't get a hold of Scree pea or Matagouri, but have tried the others.

In the end, I've been trying to use Kakabeak as my main nitrogen fixer, mainly because it's endangered in the wild and looks nice however I'm having a lot of trouble getting it established due to rabbits and slug/snail damage. It's not really vigorous enough to become the sort of "chop and drop" crop I'm ideally wanting. I've also put in some of the Giant flowered broom (Carmichaelia williamsii) too - which does a bit better against predators but isn't what one could call "lush"! I had some Golden Tainui too (it's also known as "Gum-diggers soap" as the flower heads produce a soapy lather!) but that died off - I must get some more in! . I've been establishing Kakabeak from seed as the seed is widely available and much much cheaper than buying plants.

Anyway, a bit of a long rant - but don't ignore NZ's own native nitrogen fixers - they may not have the all the benefits of the imports (notably edibility) but they're well worth a look at on their own.

4 years ago
I partially agree with Brenda - the books are superb and I learn something new each time I read them. However I think I'd be more inclined to suggest Volume 2 if you could only afford one volume (obviously having both is ideal!). My reasoning for that is primarily down to the huge volume of tables and matrices (notably the plant species matrix in Appendix 1) plus it's the more practical of the two volumes - you will constantly come back to it as a reference. In some ways volume 1 is sort of "preaching to the converted" - especially "Part one:Vision" as pretty much you're a fan of forest gardens if you've got the books . But of course there's a wealth of information in both volumes that isn't available anywhere else (i.e. the excellent case studies in Volume 1 - especially of Robert Hart's famous forest garden which reads like an honest (i.e. isn't afraid to point out issues) study that is informed by practical experience of one of the few established forest gardens).

Don't get me wrong though both volumes together are by far the best and you'd never regret making the investment - picking one volume over the other either way is doing yourself out of some excellent information and reference material.
6 years ago
Some nice ideas there  - thanks!

I quite like the blind idea, and I'm also curious about stamping letters into drink cans. Interesting stuff!

I wasn't aware that pencil lasted quite so well outdoors..  good to know
7 years ago
Does anyone have any tips for adding long term (ideally permanent) labels to their plants/trees? I'm after something that ideally won't cost the earth!

Ideas appreciated!
7 years ago
Leila, what's the distribution of our native bats these days? I'm heading back to NZ this year and will be getting some land around the BoP. It would be nice to set up some bat habitat.

But it's been a while since I've been in NZ and even then bats were pretty much endangered!
7 years ago
Evan, bit of an update.

Check this article

Notable in that article are three other non-legume NZ natives that fix Nitrogen via an actinorhizal association. They are :

Tutu ( Coriaria arborea notably as it's the tree form) - but it's extremely poisonous so probably not a good idea. There's even the chance of the honey made from it's blossoms becoming toxic - it's that poisonous...

Then there's Matagouri (Discaria toumatou) which seems to fit the bill though it's really thorny (as you'll probably know) so probably not ideal.

Lastly there's Tainui and Golden Tainui (Pomaderris  apetala  and Pomaderris  hamiltonii) - these look ideal! Not only nice looking (especially the Golden Tainui) but no thorns, not poisonous.

A mixture of Tainui, Kakabeak, and perhaps some Brooms would be a pretty impressive looking N fixing understory

By the way Evan, Wikipedia references that Alder (A. glutinosa and A. viridis ) are classed as environmental weeds in NZ. Which is a shame after reading about them!
7 years ago
Evan, that's a sweet looking list. Consider it cut and pasted into my archive.

Interesting about the food forest vs. alley cropping as that's pretty much how I ended up here. I was researching apple trees and liked the idea of alley cropping but now I'm pretty certain I'm going to do a food forest too.

About the Kowhai, to be honest I was surprised to find out that it was toxic given there are loads of them about the place as garden plants (I never remember any trouble with them as kids!).  Landcare research NZ has this to say :

"Kōwhai (Sophora microphylla and S. tetraptera). The yellow seeds are very poisonous if eaten, but only if they are ground or crushed before swallowing. Otherwise, they pass through the digestive system and cause no harm."

That worried me a tiny bit  thinking of chooks (which of course I'll be having!)  - but what's the likelihood of a chicken's crop being sufficient to grind the seeds and kill it..

Basically a case of me being too far from the actual land and having too much time to theorycraft rather than spade-craft!  But I've booked our flights home, so this is getting a bit more real now

I'm really interested to see how you get on, how far North are you? Also, do you have any photos of the planted swales?

7 years ago

I'm from NZ too (Waikato originally) but have been living overseas for quite a while. But we're heading back home to NZ this year and plan to settle into a rural property (somewhere around the BoP) where I'm intending to set up a food forest.

Anyway, because of this I've been planning/daydreaming/researching and have ran into the same questions you have around species - especially for Nitrogen fixers.

The standard options recommended widely (Elaeagnus etc) I'd not be comfortable putting in NZ due to the their rampant nature and basically invasive properties (I know that's a bit of a divisive term around here, so apologies!).

After a bit of a search I think the best bet in NZ (depending on where you are) is to use Kakabeak (Clianthus). It's a native NZ Nitrogen fixer, looks great, is generally available (in NZ), is basically at risk in the bush, grows to a reasonable size and is really insect/bird friendly.

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.

I originally was thinking of some sort of alley cropping idea with Kakabeak and fruit/nut trees.

I'd be keen to hear your thoughts.

7 years ago