Slaying the monster

This is no elephant, this is no mammoth - no, this is a monster of previously unknown proportions! We are very quickly realising that planting an edible forest garden on half an acre, while not neglecting the existing fruit trees, all within one planting season, is almost impractical, even now working on it full-time. So we’ve had to employ some “one bite at a time” principles.

Work area looking towards the access way

We wanted to get the majority of our fruit trees in over the winter, which we did to a great extent. A few holes are still open, but we learnt at Homeland that this is not necessarily a bad thing. Along the line you always run into interesting trees that you wished you had a place for. We’ve got about 70 new trees in, which together with the existing 30+ is ample to work with. But the monster isn’t in trees – no, it lies lurking in the areas between the trees.

Disrupted areas

There are large areas at Dreamland that were totally disrupted by the tree removal  and earthworks projects. These areas were left as barren soil. Our challenge with these areas are that left to their own devices, they will quickly become an informal settlement of weeds and strong local undesirables. In the hard clay soil they become very hard to remove and replace, especially as we head into the dry summer. So for those open areas we are following two approaches.

We have selected a few areas that we are trying to entirely cover with beneficial and companionable plants, as quickly as possible. This is where we are planting what is called the under-story as close together as possible. This is really exciting work, as we have to study existing guilds and become creative in the subsequent guilds we create. The only “down-side” is that it is costing us a fortune in seedlings… But it is a lot of fun to see the guilds develop in almost real time! With the waxing moon phase one can almost witness a mm of growth each morning!

Big bed

Apples and Pear fully planted with under-story of lavender, currents, fennel and the guild-specific plants around each fruit tree

The open areas around planted areas we are mulching, in order to deter new weeds growing and to try and keep the little ground moisture left over from winter from evaporating. So these areas look like conventional “mulched orchards”, apart from the variety in the trees and shrubs planted. Our approach here is that the large mulched areas will also improve the soil quality, so that in the next planting season we can plant the understory in much improved soil

To be done TBD

Lastly we have earmarked some areas to be done later. These are typically areas that need a lot of attention, for example areas that are covered in existing weeds or old lawn. These areas we cover with weedmat in the hope that the weeds and grass will die over summer. For the latest ones, we waited until after a heavy rain, spread a layer of mushroom compost, and then covered them.

DIY lawn

Unlike a “classical” forest garden, we have selected some specific areas that we want covered in lawn, for example to create little areas where people can sit and relax and enjoy the garden. In addition, our thoughts are that getting grass for the pathways will create a softer look.  Gravel presents a couple of challenges and concreting would look unnatural as well as be too expensive.  So although my standard mission is normally one of grass eradication, in this instance it is one of grass cultivation.  Cultivation because of economics and practicality.  Roll-on lawn would prove just too expensive and as it is nearly the start of the dry season, roll-on lawn would sap a lot of our precious water. So we are experimenting with seeding a lawn in two specific retreat areas to see whether it is practical to do the rest by seed as well. We got some topsoil delivered, I got it spread and raked and we planted the grass seeds. Now to keep them damp and keep our fingers crossed.

It is also worth a mention that we researched various types of lawn to select a variety that does not spread much and which would perform well enough in our climate.  Our choice for this was Buffalo grass.

Pumpkin beds

I had some topsoil left from the lawn project and decided to create a bed for all the pumpkins Patricia always wishes she had space to plant.  I had some mushroom compost on hand as well and thought it would be an interesting comparison to create another bed with the mushroom compost and measure the performance between the two beds.  Patricia proceeded to plant pumpkins, cucumbers, sunflowers and corn!  With Dreamland being devoid of rabbit-hunting dogs and fenced off raised beds, rabbits are threating to be placed on a red-alert threat again!  Every morning we spot droppings closer and closer to vulnerable plants.  The sunflowers and corn are just poking new heads through the soil.  Some people are already threatening whole scale rabbit slaughter if they so much as venture any closer! It is time to contact some people to obtain some preventive measures – I’ll provide feedback on success rates soon!

Apple guild

Pumpkin beds, closest one with mushroom compost, rear one with compost-topsoil mix

Lessons learnt

Unless you have unlimited manpower, and a big budget, you cannot plant a full forest garden on this scale in one go. You have to have some “divide and conquer” strategy – i.e. one bite at a time – to phase in the clearing, irrigation, composting, planting and mulching.

About (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

1 Comment on Slaying the monster

  1. You have so much energy Martin…well done .Regards P

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