Monday, March 29, 2010


The popular trend seems to be to favour indigenous plants and tearing out all exotics. There is almost a superior sense of righteousness expressed to those lower mortals who do not give over their land completely to this worthy cause. I find it sadly short-sighted. I understand that the motivation is to help the earth, but little is really achieved toward such an admirable goal.

I ask myself: This all sounds pretty good in casual social banter, but is this truly ecologically sound? A landscape filled with wild plants that give no human food makes the landowner dependant on the farmer who has no such ideals of natural and indigenous planting. If we are not feeding ourselves as much as possible we are feeding into a system of agri-business that is destroying land and soil structure in rapacious greed that balances inputs and outputs with short-term cash flow objectives alone. We could always buy from the organic market, it is said. But how many do? Personally, the travelling involved rather defeats the purpose.

How many locally indigenous plants will feed us? We are most often fed by exotics. We need to expand our vision to a wider perspective: How do we reduce pressure on planet wellness?

I believe we should create natural habitats tweaked with enough exotics as food for the landowner to sustain himself as far as possible. If enough people do this it will reduce the demand on agri-business products and thereby decrease land for this kind of use. This now is something to feel good about. A feel good that is more sensible in terms of effective return.

I often hear it said that exotics just take over. In an ecologically balanced environment they do not. They take hold where land has been disturbed and new sun-filled edge created, and where nature strives to use pioneer plants to cover the bare earth as fast as possible. Nature will use whatever is available; whatever will grow fastest without deterrents. These will be exotics if the seed bank of the soil has such seed available. There are not the usual checks and balances in terms of pests, etc. to keep such plants in check. Get ahead in the game and plant - in co-operation with nature - a mix of plantings that are not invasive but will crowd out weeds and exotics, and you will watch with each succession more and more balance returned to the disturbed landscape. The key is balance: increase yield while preserving natural habitat by creating a landscape that works just the way nature does.

Plant exotics that feed us, within a diversity of multi-level natives, and you will have created something that is truly adding wellness to the earth; you will be partaking in the age old joy of abundant food produced with care and understanding.

Until next time,

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Back in August I wrote about this miracle tree, the Moringa. I am designing my Food Forest largely around this tree, among others.

Moringa seeds do not need sunlight for germination. I soaked my seeds for 24 hours and then placed them in nursery bags where daily watering was easy. They are drought resistant when mature but thirsty when young. They should surface between 1 to 2 weeks. I have had some come up even later than that, when I thought no more would come up. I placed the bags in good light under some trees to shade the young trees. They love sunlight but at this stage need protection from scorching heat.

Instead of planting straight off into nursery bags you could place the soaked seeds in a clear plastic bag and store in a warm dark place, like a drawer. This way you can see those that have germinated and those that have not. The see-through plastic will enable you to do this without disturbing moisture levels in the bag. They are viable for a year and have no dormant period, so unless you have old seed you should have a good percentage germinate. Add no extra water when doing this, but check them daily for sprouting. Once sprouted it is easy enough to see which side of the sprout is leaf by the little ruffles. Care needs to be taken not to damage them as they are very fragile at this stage. Plant them in nursery bags one and a half centimeters beneath soil surface. Use the best quality potting soil. They will break surface very quickly. This last time around I lost some at this early stage of growth because bugs find them tasty morsels. In future I will guard against this by placing cardboard tubes over the young seedling breaking ground, and see if this helps.

Plant out at about 8 weeks. This must be done with great care because they hate having their roots disturbed. Should roots tear in the transplanting it can set the tree back some time, or even kill it. Never water just before breaking the bag to plant. Guess how I know this..... This will almost guarantee soil falling away and tearing off roots. Now I leave off watering the day before transplanting - to tighten the soil - and only water for that day when transplanted. I have planted mine in beds built with the lasagna style of layering: Browns, greens, manure and soil in layers, with enough soil on top. Do not put the manure right near the roots after planting; let them establish and mine for it. This is basically like planting them in a compost heap and those grown this way get a head start way ahead of those just planted in the ground. Ensure they get the maximum sunlight you can give them when planting out.

You can plant them out to accomodate full tree size about 3 meters apart, or plant them closer should you be planning on cropping consistantly for leaves. One thing that is important to mention is that they naturally shoot up to as high as 12 meters, and then you just wave goodbye to those precious leaves ...... unless you know how to climb trees as well as the monkeys. : ) You can of course salvage this situation by pollarding [this is merely cutting back at a desired height and allowing shoots to grow]. Coppicing [cutting back at ground level] will give you a very low growing bush. This is not an attractive tree and so more suitable for commercial enterprises. To tame the rapid upward thrust I pinch off the growing tip when they get to about 60cm in height . The pic above is at the right height to start doing this. The tip is so tender you can just use your fingers. This will ensure that the tree branches off and bushes out instead of shooting up. I then further encourage this by harvesting off branches after the second set of leaves on each branch - cut back to about 20cm long. This can be done up to 4 times to keep increasing bushy-ness. Stop then to allow for flowering.

Another way to get trees started is by using hardwood cuttings that are about half a meter to one and a half meters long. These can be planted directly in sandy soil with about one third buried. This is a good way to get many new trees, but the down-side, I have heard, is that they are more easliy uprooted in a storm due to the inferior root development.

Happy growing! : )

Until next time,

Monday, March 15, 2010


I watched the movie "Far and Away" again with Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise, and even second time around felt the thrill of the great pioneering age of laying claim to land and building that homesteading dream. The possibilities are imagined as endless and idyllic.

Real life carried on after the movie.... and I got to thinking about what life must have really been like out there on those lonely plains. No internet to cruise, no happy-making movie to watch. And no-one to talk to all day for most of them - men or women. The workload would have been exhausting as pushed by the demands of each season. It took great courage to face that aloneness, I think, and still keep the dream alive. When children came the demands would have grown at first as each new-comer made its own demands. But as the family grew each member would have had an increasingly important role to play. The family would have become closely knit in the common struggle to make a living. Honour and character had meaning and value back then.

Were they self-sufficient? They had to be, or they would not survive. But is it possible today? Would our mindset accept the many limitations imposed by producing everything for ourselves? Do we have the same scope for success in such a goal in this age, or is it a myth?

Personally, I think it a myth in today's world for most. We do not have the huge range to go and hunt our meat. We do not have the freedom to make the choice to do so even should we be near such wild abundance, nor even every choice we might want on our own land. Every part of life is regulated in order to be taxed and re-taxed. We would have to fall off the grid as a person and go and live in one of the remaining wildernesses. I have read some interesting books by some who have done just that for a while. The loneliness was a real enemy to be faced, especially when snowed into a tiny cabin with only a dog, beloved and faithful though he be, as company.

But that all said, I still believe a shift toward self-sustainability - no matter how partial - is a wonderfully enriching experience. And if done in community, then the increase in benefits is exponential. Skills and produce can be shared or bartered. People can become valuable and appreciated again; from the youngest to the oldest. Society could heal its wounds slowly and surely. Could I give up the advantages of our techno age? Nope. And why should I? It can be incorporated into the dream. We would not be sharing ideas right now without it!

Just some thoughts...

Until next time,

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I have a border running cross contour up the hill with my neighbour at a gentle angle. I want to fence it ..... and have been pondering how to effect a living fence but still harvest downhill rain water while accomodating the water pipes along this border that carry our water to the house. (One thing I must add is underground is bedrock at different rising levels so need to get the land flat as it slopes down for the pipes to lie well.)

This is what I have come up with:

Dig pits along the upward sloping border to trap rain water coming down hill. This is off contour and so I need to dig intermittent pits and not swales.

Fill with rocks until flat. This should also hold the water long enough to sink into the earth.

Lay house water supply pipework flat on top.

Cover with serpentine shaped Talus (pile of rocks sloped as a mound) wall - the wider and higher I can manage the better. This will look like a serpentine wall climbing up the slope at a +/- 30 degree angle. This will collect dew, act as windbreak, protect pipes from extremes of temperature, create microclimates in the curves, and give edge. The one negative I am trying to think through is if a pipe should leak somewhere I need easy access. Might have to buy really long strips of new pipe to lay this way and then where it joins... the point it gives in season changes due to expansion and contraction..... have an easy access point. The hope is that this talus wall covering the pipes will protect from all extremes of temperature anyway - but I would rather prepare in case.

I have seen Chinaberry grow through piles of rock and so could probably get them to grow at the top of the talus wall... They are pest resistant and I have tons of seed so an easy choice - thus turning a pest into a blessing. Once they achieve a good thick post height I will pollard them off and rub salt into the cut in hopes of preventing further growth.

The plan is then to grow honeysuckle, which grows like a weed here, in between and weave into a living fence on top. The trimmings are good fodder. To get the honeysuckle to grow I might have to offer the rootings a bit of soil base laid over some thick mulch. I don't want to build the living fence inside of this whole talus wall because it will block off the micro-climates created in the curves. On the back side will be well shaded and watered and on the front a warm micro-climate. A lovely thick living wall.... well that is the plan anyway!

Until next time,