Friday, April 15, 2016

Establishing plants

We have a lone Brazilian cherry, which has managed to survive an incredible amount of neglect. We ate a decent amount of fruit last year, for such a small tree (more of a shrub) and its been in the ground, roughly 5 years.

November 2015

It's been declared a weed in the coastal regions of Queensland, but I believe the rest of the States in Australia have unsuitable climates for it to thrive. We are slightly inland from the coastal regions, and it has not presented a problem here. It doesn't get wet enough for the seedlings to survive, as I've experimented with planting the seed myself.

They can germinate from the seed, easily, but where they're vulnerable is needing shade and moisture, while establishing. Our original plant, was purchased from a nursery, so it was at least 18 months old when it had to fend for itself.

But if you are worried about it being a weed in your location, I have a link with suitable native substitutes. I've given Lilly Pillies a try (as suggested via the website) but they're very short lived here. We don't get the reliable moisture they need for longevity. So make your decision, based on what climate factors are at play.

 Brazilian Cherry ~ April 2016

I'm not a fan of calling any plant a "weed" though, because nature will always fill a niche with the plant that suits best. If its edible, even better! They may well feed people, if it ever came to famine like situations again. My edible weeds are my insurance, whenever our managed edible systems fails. And they do. Quite often.

But I'm not too concerned this location, can make Brazilian cherry a weed. As I unsuccessfully tried to plant out a seedling (germinated from seed) last spring. It died by summers end. I decided to try again though, with a little more assistance on my part. Planting in autumn was one strategy. As it gives roots a chance to spread with the still warm soil, but without the extremes of summer plaguing it.

It's location, was going to be next to the parent tree, so I had to do something about the clay soil and the slight slope. Which is where my recent hugelkultur bed making, came in handy. As it turned up a decent supply of ageing wood around the place.

Having wood covering the soil, helps shade the western sun from drying it out. Especially, next summer. But it also allows for soil microbes, fungi and insects a place to hang out too, and hopefully start transforming the soil to a more friable consistency. The logs assisted in raising the soil level up, so I could add more compost behind it, at the time of planting.

There's also a brick in this crude creation, because it was there and filled the niche nicely! It will provide insects another place of habitation. Insects love to live under hard surfaces, such as rocks and bricks. What seems like a messy, insignificant structure though, is going to provide the means to improve the soil, and that's what I want.

 Hardwood, ironbark log

More about how insects help transform the soil, and this time, one with a bit of a bad reputation. Termites! They are a home owners' worst nightmare, if they ever get into your house. But they really just want to do one thing. Eat! Actually, two things. Eat and reproduce, but that's their job in nature. They consume wood, and reproduce, so their offspring can consume more wood. The above image demonstrates why.

Without the use of a petrol driven wood-chipper, termites have managed to turn a piece of hardwood into weak, paper-like, fibre. Bad for a house, but extremely good if you want to naturally decompose carbon and turn it into soil. Once the termites move out, the microbes in the soil have a better time, breaking down what's left. Giving friable humus at the end. A supremely better soil for growing plants in.

While some people may fear the termite (and rightly so, if they haven't got anything in the environment to eat, but the house) our particular location of depleted soils, which can only grow hardwood trees, actually needs them.

I used a lot of this wonderful, termite eaten wood, as backfill, in my retaining wall. But I also collected it with some mulberry leaves, which have fallen on the ground, and starting to decompose. I'm hopeful they've been colonised with the microbes and fungus under the mulberry tree, so they can start working in the soil of my new planting area.

I planted the new seedling in a hole, I've improved with compost. This compost was made from all our waste products, including egg shells from our chickens. So it will receive a dose of calcium for a little while. But the fine tilth is perfect for new roots to start developing in. It will have approximately nine months to get roots down, before the next summer arrives, so it better make the most of it.

Next, I spread the bits of decomposing wood and mulberry leaves, around the new seedling. By adding material from other parts of the garden, it will introduce new, beneficial soil organisms. It was like giving the new seedling a welcoming gift, as they moved from the container, to my garden. Some transitions are made easier with a welcoming gift.

I topped it all off, with a cover of sugar-cane mulch and a can of water. Making sure to wet the logs as well. That way, this small and messy system, can get to work, improving soil conditions for the new plant sooner. Those logs might not be there in a few years time, after decomposing, but that's all part of the plan really.

Rather than having logs sitting on top of grass, and becoming potential tripping hazards, I can move them to where they will benefit my edible plants instead. And in creating habitat for my soil microbes and other beneficial fungi and insects, the plants, ultimately receives the benefit.

Because I no longer believe, a plant can survive if its given compost and water, at planting time. Even with adequate water during its establishing years, that little bit of compost at the beginning, isn't going to last very long. It needs active life in the soil, to continue feeding it. Sometimes you'll forget to water or you won't have enough compost to go around, saving it for the new plants instead. Only to find a few years in, your plant ultimately didn't make it.

My experience gardening, in unforgiving conditions, has been to build systems that will continue working, long after I've been distracted by another project in the yard. My plants live longer that way.


  1. I ,love how hard you are working on your soils, its so important isnt it? Gardening is easy if the soils are right and alive. I like how you are using the logs and timber to create the right environment and avoid runoff, interesting and something I will certainly be doing once we establish our bush garden area down the back. Our block is mostly flat but there is a slight slope down at the end of the block.

    We are trying to improve the soils around here after many, many years of neglect - considering when we bought the place it was covered in moss, which is never a good thing considering moss grows on rocks, and rocks are dead.....The other day I was digging in one of our little beds and noticing the soil was darker, looser and more fiberous after only a few months and I saw a big far worm! My goodness I was excited! LOL!

    1. Thanks Emma. We've been slowly improving our soils over the years, but we still have a long way to go. But you start somewhere, and that's the important step to take. Starting.

      I think I might be a little excited if I found moss growing in my location though. Only because its an indicator of moisture and shade. Two things we desperately need here. But I agree, its a lot nicer to add plants in those conditions, than just having rocks. Diversity makes for a better equation. :)

      Well done for improving your soils in that regard, too. Making the soil-critters happy, makes our job as gardeners easier. Because they're doing most of the work for us. Here's to many big, fat, worms in the future!


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