Kicking my Achilles heel

It seems that we have a central theme running through our winter projects this year – kikuyu. My biggest “project” for this winter has as objective to “de-kikuyu” the driveway orchard. But illness, school holidays, rain, other more urgent projects, cold and a horde of other excuses have kept me for long from starting. However a short while ago, despite the howling cold winds and the odd squall of rain, I just had to make a start. This post was written in drips and drabs as I slowly worked my way through the job, so it’s a bit of a de-kikyuing diary.

This was a massive job – the driveway is more than 100m long and the orchard strip is about 4m wide – so that is about 400m2 that had to be de-grassed. To make things more interesting, there are more than 40 fairly young fruit trees along that strip, as well as a good 15 or so tagasastes, around which I have to work carefully. About ¾ of these are under a huge net, which I had to lift and tie up first, which took a good half a day. Each tree and shrub is irrigated with circular drip irrigation and rabbit-protected by a little trellis fence anchored by three wooden pegs, which break if you look at them too intently. It is all supposedly mulched, but in patches the mulch was too thin (at about 4 inches!) and the grass had grown a thick mat over the summer. At a few places there are daffodils, garlic and some comfrey planted too. So, in addition to the kikuyu, the odd patches of couch and of course the ever-present weeds and rocket, there is a lot to contend with.

Driveway - length view

“It stretches forever… like a week in the desert…”

For one, you can’t rip through there with heavy machinery – not that we have many of those. So the most mechanised tool I could use was the whipper-snipper to clear some areas of the longest grass and weeds before starting the manual process. Unfortunately, as it so often happens, I didn’t take a “before” photo, but the following photo, taken after the whipper-snippering, still shows how long the grass was if you look inside the rabbit fences.

Driveway 0 - before

With the drip irrigation, you can’t just stick the garden fork in anywhere either – you have to be careful not to puncture the drip irrigation. Fortunately I have a pretty good idea where the pipes are, and I can always trace from the fence where the connections to the trees run.

The main aim of phase one is to clear each tree, if possible to replace the rabbit fencing with a tree guard (and not lose the label which was often clipped to the rabbit fencing), remove as much grass as possible and finally to open the mulch (and then remove more grass and runners) and then cart half a wheelbarrow of compost in for each tree. Finally I make sure to put the drip lines on top of the compost again. I started at the side closest to the house – which I know is wrong – psychologically anyway. You should start at the furthest end and work towards the home side. It’s all the same labour, but it just works better when the distances you have to walk and cart the grass and compost become shorter the closer you get to the fed-up stage. But so be it.

On the first day I did eight trees. When I hit a particular bad patch of couch late in the afternoon, Markus came and asked me to help him with a project as a squall came down. Easy excuse to stop.

Driveway 2 - eight

Eight trees

Then Jet died, and a few other more urgent projects popped up… The next batch I tackled were the couch-ridden trees, and a few others who were next in line. No skipping of difficult ones allowed, although I was very tempted to skip the couchy ones as I did in past years… This section also included two slightly more mature figs, where I literally had to cut the rabbit fence out among the low branches. So much for reuse and no plastic waste… Anyway in this batch I did 7 trees.

Captain’s log, Wednesday 31 July. (I’ve always wanted to write that… I really should have written this like a journal.) Yesterday after doing the “coop-hygiene” run, which invariably includes turning over a big heap of compost to incorporate the fouled fowl bedding, coffee grinds from the local church café, some shredded paper and the non-chookable kitchen scraps, after lunch break I carried on in the driveway. So by now I was heading into the area with really thick kikuyu. I only got to do 4 trees, but I really had to work hard to get the kikuyu roots out among the treelets’ roots. One of those was still a really small little tree and every time I pulled out a kikuyu root, the whole tree would shake and shudder. So I staked it with a strong stake as well. Two loaded wheelbarrows of roots carted away. Slow but good progress. In fact, I would go mad if I had to do the whole thing non-stop from end to end, and I would probably work less effective the further I go. Small handle-able chunks of the hard slog works better for me.

Driveway 3 - four

Four trees – into the thick of things

Last week we had a lot on – again – it just seems to be that way this year. Anyway I had my day-job days swopped around, so Wednesday I could jump in after lunch again (after some other chicken-related work – but more about that soon). I was now in the midst of the thick kikuyu mat and every tree took more than half an hour to clear. I must have broken off some tree roots in the process too – to my great dismay – but the kikuyu was so thick around the roots that it was really hard to get it all out. I did five trees before it got time to do the chooks and in that time I filled the green recycle wheelie bin. We don’t cycle the kikuyu roots through our compost. Never. I do use the clippings from the lawn, and they work well to heat up the compost heaps, but I don’t want the roots anywhere near our compost.

Thursday we went to watch our kids on their school band tour, performing at their headmaster’s previous school. Two shows with half an hour break in between. Real little rock stars. I think they pulled it off amazingly – but then I guess I would. J Anyway so Friday I got onto the trees again, and between the squalls I did another five in the heavy kikuyu section. More of the same… so I won’t bore you (or me) with the same detail. I do have to add, we’re getting some consistent winter rain – thankfully much better than during last winter.

Driveway 0 - compost fodder

“Onward forward brave soldier…”

OK I’m going to stop the log here. It’s getting very repetitive (as does the job itself!) At this stage I have ten treelets to go – two hard ones in the thick kikuyu part, six easy ones in almost dry mulch and then two hard ones right at the end near the gate in a hard always-dry kikuyu-couch mix. I should be able to complete that in one day. I hope. After that, I have some other projects lined up, so I’ll get back to phase two in a while. Its goal is to take out “the rest” of the kikuyu, whatever that means… No doubt you’ll hear about it when it happens.




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...

6 Comments on Kicking my Achilles heel

  1. you certainly need to make sure that the grass goes from between the trees as well, and along the inside of the borders (or between the trees/road), otherwise you’ll be doing exactly the same job next year. my golden rule with kyuku (if it is one), is that yes the job is big; but it should be much easier the 2nd time round. If you do too much at once, you won’t be able to stop it growing back, and in 12months you’ll be back to where you started.

    • // August 19, 2019 at 8:50 pm // Reply

      Hi Goshen, that’s exactly what happened – I hurriedly cleared only around the trees last year springtime, and not the areas in between – now I’m paying kikuyu tax again! The goal now is to keep at it whenever I get a gap until it’s all gone. Ambitious… 🙂

  2. The list never ends, does it?

  3. How did you go with the slasher trial? I found your blog by googling slasher and couch…

    • // September 18, 2019 at 9:21 pm // Reply

      Hi Vicki, I found slasher only killed the grass on the surface, but didn’t have much effect on the roots – it just grew out again. Maybe if you keep at it it will eventually die off, but in the driveway I’ve just decided to bite the bullet and dig it out.

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