DIY Nitrogen

One of the elementary inputs we are definitely short of is nitrogen, in its organic form obviously. This post describes the start of our journey using Tagasaste as a natural source of nitrogen for input.

We’ve known for a few years now that we are low on nitrogen input. Our compost consists of more carbon than nitrogen, despite all the kitchen scraps, coffee grids and wet grass clippings we add. This is just my surmising, but I think the dry location adds to the problem too. In many projects, like the no-dig beds and the new strawberry raised bed, I’ve had to buy in fine organic Lucerne mulch and organic chicken manure to increase the nitrogen content. Obviously this buying-in can’t continue if we want to be self-sustainable.

My first interest in Tagasaste was roused by a post on the Petit Paradise blog, where they use it as a fast growing wind break, as well as for small animal feed and as a nitrogen enricher. Since then I have read more about this amazing plant, and we also came across it at one of the sites we visited during our PDC in Tasmania. The more I read, talked to people and researched the topic, the more I became convinced it would be a more than useful addition on our property. Besides the nitrogen need, we have plenty of wind whipping through our vegetable patch and the driveway orchard, and we’re planning to get chooks in the spring. I also think there are many places where the addition of nitrogen in the soil would help the fruit trees we’re trying to grow nearby.

I couldn’t find any Tagasaste locally, so in January I bought a small batch of the plants from Plant Inspirations over the Internet. I was really impressed when the little plants arrived. They were really well packaged with almost no plastic involved except their container (which I’ll re-use for seedlings) and a single piece of tape over the crucial open join of the box. Not only that, but even though the plants were very young, they were very strong. So I planted them out in strategic places throughout the two properties – near the intended chook coup, near the compost heap, on the cherry raise with quite poor soil and even on the “hill” in our backyard that must have the poorest soil in the whole town. And boy, they took off and started growing well!

Nitro - factory

The Nitrogen factory has arrived!

Since then I have also ordered some tea tree and other beneficial native plants in tube stock from Plant Inspirations. These also arrived in good order and were promptly planted. So I was on a good email footing with the nursery – they gave me such good advice about the tea trees. So late in February I started thinking I need to get more Tagasaste from them, in order to plant a nitrogen-providing wind break along our driveway orchard. So I jumped on the email and ordered another 20 plants. Great was my disappointment when the normally very helpful lady at Plant Inspirations replied that they just had an order out of the blue for 2000 Tagasaste tube stock. Somebody sure is serious about Tagasaste! So they had none left…

Well I’m not one of those people who let little setbacks hold me back so I jumped on our favourite search engine again. There I came across Grand Verge who was a little dearer than Plant Inspirations, but they were in Victoria so I reckoned the delivery should be a bit less. Besides, they’re a big Alpaca farm, so I presumed they sprouted the stuff to feed their Alpacas. So I entered my credit card details and placed my order. Then a funny thing happened! I got an email from the friendly guy at the Alpaca farm which said that their supplier had just received an out-of-the-blue order for 2000 Tagasaste tube stock, and would I mind waiting until April for the new stock to generate and be ready. Small world indeed! Anyway I had already paid so I reckoned I would just wait. Lo and behold in mid-May I got my 20 strong little Tagasaste tube stock in exactly the same type of container with the same almost plastic-free packaging!

During a rainy day in the waiting time I prepared the screens for the little plants. Especially along our driveway we get wild rabbits foraging at night. I mean if the guys at Petit Paradise are feeding the stuff to their tame rabbits, I’m pretty sure the wild rabbits would have a field day on my nitrogen-generating windbreak. Mark at the Alpaca farm also confirmed this suspicion, and added I should protect them against frost for the first year too.

Nitro - assembly line

Rabbit protection

With the last apples finally off our small driveway trees, I could finally lift the nets and work in there to get the Tagasaste planted. I could have done it a week or two earlier, but it’s quite a schlep to work on a biggish scale in and out through the zippers in the nets. I’m highly stoked to report that I panted them in our own compost – hot compost. This location will be a really good test for the Tagasaste – it is very exposed to wind, the ground is quite dry from my neighbour’s Eucalyptus trees growing nearby and there are patches of really hardy kikuyu all along the driveway, which I battle to an extent, but never enough to eradicate. Maybe the chooks will help with the kikuyu one day, but now I’m side tracking…

Nitro - planted

Nitrogen-generating windbreak

The last step was to provide frost protection for the new young recruits.

Nitro - ku klux klan

Klu klux klan standing guard at the fence line

Good luck little Tagasasties, may your stay be a fruitful one! No doubt I’ll provide feedback one day hopefully not far in the future.

PS I know Tagasaste is an unwanted plant in some areas, but I’m confident we will be using it so much that it won’t have a chance to seed so that it could spread uncontrolled. Besides, I read on the Petit Paradise blog that it is quite a process to get the seeds to sprout – our conditions are harsh, but not that harsh.


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...

9 Comments on DIY Nitrogen

  1. Jannes Fourie // June 26, 2018 at 4:52 pm // Reply

    Interesting piece Martin! Perhaps a dumb question from someone that knows almost nothing about gardening, but how do you get the nitrogen the plant provides, into the ground?

  2. That is how many of our exotic vetch were introduced, as well as some of the clover that are now lawn weeds. No one knew back then.

  3. janesmudgeegarden // June 26, 2018 at 8:01 pm // Reply

    A very interesting post. I had never heard of tagasaste before. You didn’t elaborate on how you’re going to use it: I presume mulch is somewhere in the offing?

    • Hi Jannes, the plant absorbs the nitrogen from deep underground and also from the air. When you cut the leaves and young branches and either compost them or mulch them, that nitrogen becomes available in the shallow soil. Or the chickens eat them and it gets spread out that way….

    • Hi Jane, sure mulch is one use! Others are as compost material, as a nitrogen layer in no-dig beds, and then also as chicken feed (chooks still to come!)

  4. Hi Martin, Great to see some pics. May your tagasaste be prolific! Next on our list for nitrogen and nutrients is : multiplying our comfrey and looking into growing Lucerne. All the best, J.

    • Hi Julian, yes lucerne is an interesting one, especially now with spring approaching. I gather with its deep roots, you have to plan carefully where you put it. Are you going to plant it in a dedicated patch? My neighbour reckons I can just put some seeds in the ground like in a thin line all along the fence. Cheers, Martin

  5. I have the room for a little patch of it here and there. I just need to get it going. All the basic soil building strategies are working wonders for us at the moment.

    • I’m going to try mine all along the fence line (we have a long driveway) to try and break the soil up a bit and grow some buffer from my neighbour’s roots. I glad your soil strategies are working!! It’s good when it all gets together.

2 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Repurposing projects – Our pursuit of real living
  2. Tree lucerne harvest – Our pursuit of real living

Leave a Reply