At one stage, loaded with inspiration after last year’s overseas trip, we finally decided to go ahead and Frenchify the front yard. It would have entailed establishing a Provence-inspired potager garden, but of course using organic and permaculture principles. So, think tall thin conifers, lots of French lavender, summer vegetables, shady pergolas (maybe with grapes!) and neat square paths, symmetrically around a calming water feature. It would actually work very well in our climate. I drew the design and everyone was on board.
So that was the dream and the vision, but somehow we had to get rid of the existing kikuyu lawn first. I remember, we were still so proud when we established the green front lawn from scratch ourselves, after installing the underground grey water irrigation. We also successfully used biodynamic weed teas to get rid of the burr weed on the lawn. However, before the last summer we had already diverted said grey water to the back and hoped that the kikuyu grass would have died off and disappeared! Which is of course easier said than done – kikuyu is a very strong and very persistent grass.
First prize would have been to get some pigs in to dig out the kikuyu, but that seemed impossible to organise in a semi-urban setup. Believe me, I did ask around, a lot… So, we had to settle on an approach of first solarising and then ripping out the kikuyu. But finding suitable materials to solarise a 25m x 15m lawn proved to be quite difficult! I got amazing support from the Lara community. My mate Scott gave me rolls and rolls of big plastic bags, Gaë from next door gave me huge thick black plastic sheets as well as a big roll of cladding paper. People all over Lara had what we all thought were large sheets of plastic which I went to collect. However, with all that, we only got 1/3 of the area covered.
And then the summer winds came! Even though I had a brick on every second join between Scott’s plastic bags, they still ripped along the perforated lines. After a few hard winds, it looked pretty chaotic and the kikuyu continued growing through all the slits.
Fortunately, we did some new plantings at Dreamland, which released quite a few square meters of weed mat. The weed mat is not ideal, because it “breathes” and allows water to get through, but at least it is black and gets very warm. Other than doing another round of tarpaulin / plastic sheet “crowd funding”, I decided weed mat was the way to go. Besides, I had a lot of it available at that stage, so I might as well have used it. When we had a forecast for two days in a row with 37⁰C on the Thursday and 42⁰C on the Friday, I had to get the weed mat in on time. Something happened on the Wednesday (it was school holidays) so I remember getting up early that Thursday morning and starting at 5:00am on the weed mat before rushing off to my “day job”. At that stage, I was so happy that we have “tame” bees! I was hammering the weed mat into the hard ground, literally 2m from the hives, right in their flight path… and some of the gum trees were in flower, so they were really, really busy, even that early. However, they just merrily carried on with their work as if nothing was going on. Anyway, by 8:30 I was done with all the weed mat I had, and it was already drenching hot – so at least the covered kikuyu should have gotten sizzled. At that stage we had about 5/8s of the area covered, either with weed mat, cladding paper or with what we thought was thick plastic.
But as I suspected, the weed mat didn’t work too well. In addition, the harsh winds and sun seriously perished a lot of the plastic as well as the cladding paper. In the end, only small patches got properly solarised. The rest was just a useless mess. The plastic blew to bits, the cladding didn’t last and the kikuyu was growing up everywhere.
So, recently when we needed bricks for the “chicken coop path” at Dreamland, I lifted the remaining weed mat too. So now with the winter rains, the grass is growing back furiously, not that it had died back all that much over summer anyway. My conclusion – solarisation for really small areas at a time is a great idea! But for a large area, unless you have massive amounts of UV-proof and really thick plastic, preferably as a single piece, as well as the means to weigh it down, it’s not worth the effort.
So now it looks like in the photo at the top… argh!!!
Alas, so now we’re back to square one… again. Literally, we’re back to the drawing board, again. Suddenly the French potager garden idea isn’t in vogue anymore. And to add insult to injury, we’ve just had access to new updated aerial photos on Google Maps, and on there you can really see how much space we are not using effectively. It’s such a pity the pigs didn’t work out. Or maybe at the time I should have just bitten the bullet and rented a bobcat and dug out all the kikuyu (and no doubt the greywater pipes too) and got it all carted away. The pottager would have been great – it would have been planted this spring, which is so much better than “the nothing” we still have now. Anyway, we’re now in for a long cycle. Again. Here’s to take two of who knows how many…