Hi, We've recently moved into a new (old) rental and together with the owner are wanting to turn the backyard, which is currently in a totaly state of disrepair and full of weeds, into a food-producing oasis! We will do chooks, vegies and fruit trees, and are mostly interested in an organic permaculture method but have MUCH to learn. Our first problem is the massive weed infestation. I THINK its stinging nettle and yellow dock and it's OUT OF CONTROL and spreading rapidly. I really really don't want to spray, because I'm worried about the impact of the sprays on the food and eggs we will eat, but my husband really really doesn't want to spend weeks of backbreaking labour digging out the weeds! He's rung some gardening centres today and been advised repeatedly to spray with Weed 'n Feed or Bin-die and told that it mostly goes on the leaves and that hardly any of it goes into the soil anyway. I'm not convinced but the alternatives don't sound easy. Any helpful ideas or information?

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Chickens will help you sort those weeds out. Mine have been decimating the wandering willy and grass. They would probably have a go at dock, I'm not sure about nettle.

You could harvest the nettle (wearing thick gloves) it's great nutritionally, or see if you know anyone who wants to help themselves to it - you could put it on your local freecycle network and tell people to help themselves. It grows from the roots and does not like extremely dry conditions. Nettle can be picked without gloves if you move your hand upwards (the spikes point up and are covered with some kind of irritant) After it is dried you can leave it in a plunger with hot water for a few hours and drink it as a tonic. I think yellow dock is the antidote for nettle prickles (?)

My local permaculture booklet advises to put down thick, wet newspaper or cardboard then compost and mulch and begin planting - out competing the weeds.
nettles are a great biodynamic compost plant, the 'tea' from leaving them in water for a couple of weeks is a very good plant food, best to strain the liquid before using so seeds don't get transported. , A chicken tractor would be a good idea for tackling a certain area, but then the seeds of these weeds are very enduring and will regerminate afterwards so as jessica said mulching on top to smother is the best idea.
I've been reading some info online about using vinegar on weeds. Anyone tried this? It's apparently useful for organic garden, although it does cause some soil acidity. Or some people use vinegar, salt & detergent together. Or vinegar and lemon. Anyone got any helpful info about this?
What about getting hold of old rolls of carpet and spreading it over the weeds to sufficate them. I have had sucess with old carpet underlay that was made from cotton scraps. Look out for things to use when there is the shire rubbish pick-up.If you kill the weeds by covering them up for a few weeks then what is left will be easy to pull up.
Dont tackle it all at once, it took us a year to get our place to a recovering state, as things take time to sort themselves out, tackle each job one at a time and try not to look at the whole thing all at once as it will be daunting.
our place was covered in felled dumped trees, over grown trees twice as high as the house weeds a foot high and rubbish dumped at the end of the garden, dont despair you will get there!
Hi Karen,
(I REALLY hope you didn't spray!!!)
I've recently discovered a whole new way of looking at and managing weeds. I strongly recommend DirtDoctor – www.dirtdoctor.co.nz
I resumed this method on http://ooooby.ning.com/group/organicgardeningforbeginners/forum/top...
And it works just as well for any weed, not only lawns!
The idea of chickens seem very good. I would like to add that using a LOT of mulch material (hay) in the coop/chickentractor is absolutely necessary, both for the joy of the chooks, and for the soil life.
The use of cardboard/newspaper/carpet can be very disappointing. If the soil is clay, with little topsoil, you end up creating a hardpan where the roots can't go through, it can also lead to waterlogging, and the layer of new soil+mulch that you will have to create on top of the weed suppressing sheet dries out quickly, and may even need to be imported.
Try to get hold of Lynda Woodrow's "The Permaculture Home Garden", it's full of good advice and inspiration! Best book on Permaculture for beginners that I've ever seen.
I fully agree with Daniel's advice: don't bite off more than you can chew. Starting by the backdoor, always keeping a clear perimeter of the cultivated part so that you can stop the surrounding growth from invading, and regularly mow the "weeds" to stop them from going to seed, that's what I'd do. Lynda gives advice on a border guild planting, that keeps surrounding plants from entering your vege patch. Trees can be planted with a low fence around. Creating the final layout of the garden (with succession, thinking of how big trees etc will become in 10 years) before staring to plant anythig is very important, and placing plants/structures in a way that at least they don't compete, at the best cooperate.
If you really want to start all at the same time from scratch, get a rotary hoe and go over the whole place, and IMMEDIATELY afterwards sow a mix of green manures, very densely. They will outcompete the "weeds" and you can cut and let lie later, before they go to seed, and use as mulch in your vegebeds.
The untidiness of "weeds" are just nature. See them as hot compost material! :-)
Feel free to contact me for Permaculture advice across the ditch!
Good luck!
Hi again Karen,
just a shortie:
Vinegar lowers pH, that's how it kills weeds – and any other pH sensitive plant.
Detergent rises the pH, that's how it kills weeds – and....
Salt stops plants from metabolising, binding minerals in the soil, and kills soil life. Round up is actually a salt! You can see the situation naturally along the coast: only hard, inedible plants accept conditions with a lot of saltspray. When salt accumulates in the soil, it becomes infertile and the result is called a desert...

Focus on getting rich soil LIFE wherever you want to grow foodplants, and use weeds as indicators of the health of your soil. Many are accumulating specific nutrients, making them an excellent addition in your compost heap. And they aren't really competing with your foodplants. On the contrary, they're holding moisture, opening the soil, providing food for your earthworms (and other soil life) as well as imporving soil structure.
"The problem is the solution"...

Karen said:
I've been reading some info online about using vinegar on weeds. Anyone tried this? It's apparently useful for organic garden, although it does cause some soil acidity. Or some people use vinegar, salt & detergent together. Or vinegar and lemon. Anyone got any helpful info about this?
Don't worry - we haven't sprayed! :) Hmmm, someone commented about a potential problem of carpet etc on top of a clay soil causing the ground to get too hard. We definitely have clay, so perhaps I should pass on the wonderful old wool carpet I got on Freecycle?

I'm beginning to wonder if the best bet is to slash the weeds (not even sure what kind of implement to use to do this!) and use it for compost (hot compost?), then mow down the stubble and do a no dig garden?

Man, I have SO much to learn! I just borrowed "The Wilderness Garden' by Jackie French, from the library. It looks so wonderful!

I've been really despairing about the state of the yard, yet in reality it's one large section but there are still nice, usable parts of the yard. So..... I'm thinking we could at least plan SOMETHING now - even just our passionfruit vine which is currently sitting in a pot, just to get the feeling of "we can do this" started!!!

Karen
Hi Karen,
some ideas:
"perhaps I should pass on the wonderful old wool carpet I got on Freecycle?"
I think you can use it to smother the weeds and thus weaken them before, or after, cutting them, if you're not going to sow the whole area straight after cutting the weeds. When you're planting out, just take away the carpet so that it doesn't suffocate the soil. I wouldn't leave it in place for more than 3 months, as it is far better for soil life that something, even weeds, grow in the soil.

"I'm beginning to wonder if the best bet is to slash the weeds (not even sure what kind of implement to use to do this!) and use it for compost (hot compost?), then mow down the stubble and do a no dig garden?"
"So..... I'm thinking we could at least plan SOMETHING now - even just our passionfruit vine which is currently sitting in a pot, just to get the feeling of "we can do this" started!!! "

Sounds like bright ideas to me! My approach would be:

1) Make a full permaculture design, taking into account flows in/out of the yard (water, sun, wind, compost material, "waste", food, enjoyable spaces/people....), previous use of the soil (possible contamination, extra fertile or compacted spots) and existing microclimates (northfacing walls, shady corners, wetter/drier areas).

2) Deciding on what goes together among the perennials you wish to grow, and where to place them (according to previous design), then looking at spaces and organisation of annuals (simply interplanting is or crop rotation more suitable? how much to grow, how big space, how much time? what varieties work well for other people in the area?)

3) Make an implementation plan, organising what needs to be done in what season (planting trees in winter, create beds in time for spring planting, build shadehouse before staring to raising seedlings, making loads of compost before building raised beds etc.)

4) Start with things easy to grow, that are ok with heavy soil and local conditions, and grow them close to your backdoor, using waste water, making compost / wormfarm. The idea is to get a feel for what it is like to grow food, and to not get exhausted by it, and to nurture the soil life. If you're interested in biodynamics, start to use the preparations on appropriate dates on the whole section. Also build structures and define where you want your paths to be.

5) Start to open up the soil by double digging and laying out permanent paths, to create no-dig, no-tread beds. Work slowly, step by step, moving outwards from the back door in concentric circles, always keeping a "weedbarrier" planted around the outer border, and the whole area planted and paths covered (sawdust, old leaves, pebbles, shells... anything that weeds won't invade too easily). If you're going to have fruit trees or other "early implementation" features in the far end of the garden, just clear the area around where you're going to place them. Keep a deck or a small piece of lawn close by your door, sufficiant for a group of people to gather and enjoy the view of the rest getting more and more beautiful!

6) Cut weeds on the rest of the section regularly, either withh a scythe, sickle, hedge scissors etc or, once they're reasonably low, with a strimmer. See to that they don't have the time to go to seed, as far as possible.

7) Try and evaluate how big an area you can cope with opening per year, and move on from there. If the rest of the section is cut low (and maybe sown with some beautiful wildflowers in between weeds?) it won't look too nasty. There's nothing worse than biting off more than you can chew, and end up having weeds constantly re-invade your newly opened, compost enriched, recently planted, soil!!! All your hard work opening, double digging, undone in 2 weeks by perennial weeds!!! So move slowly, but keep moving.

Bill Mollisons "Permaculture" is, as you know, the "bible" in the domain. I can send you, if you wish, the worksheets I use when designing. I could also help you do the design, communicating by email & skype, (to a modest price), but if you've got some permaculture designers in your area it would be far more useful to contact them!

Wishing you the best of luck!
Linnéa
Wow, Linnea, such wonderful helpful ideas! A friend has JUST done a weekend introductory permaculture course and she's gonna come around and have a look with me, so it'll be fun to have some IRL advice too.

In the meantime, guess what's happened? Another gardening buddy came around and we got started with hacking the weeds down to create hot compost, which we'll then use to start gardens with. It was really encouraging to get one section cleared and some compost started.

BUT (and it's a big but!), what we found under the weeds ain't pretty! Well, there's two good things: one is a seedling of a large grevillea type tree (from next door) which we may leave in place. The other is what looks like Wisteria, growing up near the garage wall. Again, it may be something worth keeping - will think about that (because it's smack bang in the middle of where I was hoping to put a garden shed!). But the problem is this: the large weeds (which I'd thought were Yellow Dock, but now I'm pretty sure they're not) actually grow to TREE size. There are about 4 trees around the yard all exactly the same as the weeds. I knew that already. What I didn't know, prior to hacking the weeds down, was that theyr'e spreading from the roots of very large trees (same as the weed, obviously). So basically, what's obviously happened in the past is that they've let the "weed" (wish I knew what it is) grow to the size of trees, then chopped them down, but the weeds keep sprouting up from chopped off bit! And the trunks (each one is actually made up of lots of separate trunks joined together into one mass) are QUITE large. My friend was thinking that really the only way of actually killing them off might be to pour some Round Up directly into the trunk base after creating a fresh wound to the wood. Does that make sense?

I still don't want to, but I just don't know what else to do.

Any other ideas for this kind of problem (these ain't your average backyard weeds!)

Karen

Linnéa Lindstroem said:
Hi Karen,
some ideas:
"perhaps I should pass on the wonderful old wool carpet I got on Freecycle?"
I think you can use it to smother the weeds and thus weaken them before, or after, cutting them, if you're not going to sow the whole area straight after cutting the weeds. When you're planting out, just take away the carpet so that it doesn't suffocate the soil. I wouldn't leave it in place for more than 3 months, as it is far better for soil life that something, even weeds, grow in the soil.

"I'm beginning to wonder if the best bet is to slash the weeds (not even sure what kind of implement to use to do this!) and use it for compost (hot compost?), then mow down the stubble and do a no dig garden?"
"So..... I'm thinking we could at least plan SOMETHING now - even just our passionfruit vine which is currently sitting in a pot, just to get the feeling of "we can do this" started!!! "

Sounds like bright ideas to me! My approach would be:

1) Make a full permaculture design, taking into account flows in/out of the yard (water, sun, wind, compost material, "waste", food, enjoyable spaces/people....), previous use of the soil (possible contamination, extra fertile or compacted spots) and existing microclimates (northfacing walls, shady corners, wetter/drier areas).

2) Deciding on what goes together among the perennials you wish to grow, and where to place them (according to previous design), then looking at spaces and organisation of annuals (simply interplanting is or crop rotation more suitable? how much to grow, how big space, how much time? what varieties work well for other people in the area?)

3) Make an implementation plan, organising what needs to be done in what season (planting trees in winter, create beds in time for spring planting, build shadehouse before staring to raising seedlings, making loads of compost before building raised beds etc.)

4) Start with things easy to grow, that are ok with heavy soil and local conditions, and grow them close to your backdoor, using waste water, making compost / wormfarm. The idea is to get a feel for what it is like to grow food, and to not get exhausted by it, and to nurture the soil life. If you're interested in biodynamics, start to use the preparations on appropriate dates on the whole section. Also build structures and define where you want your paths to be.

5) Start to open up the soil by double digging and laying out permanent paths, to create no-dig, no-tread beds. Work slowly, step by step, moving outwards from the back door in concentric circles, always keeping a "weedbarrier" planted around the outer border, and the whole area planted and paths covered (sawdust, old leaves, pebbles, shells... anything that weeds won't invade too easily). If you're going to have fruit trees or other "early implementation" features in the far end of the garden, just clear the area around where you're going to place them. Keep a deck or a small piece of lawn close by your door, sufficiant for a group of people to gather and enjoy the view of the rest getting more and more beautiful!

6) Cut weeds on the rest of the section regularly, either withh a scythe, sickle, hedge scissors etc or, once they're reasonably low, with a strimmer. See to that they don't have the time to go to seed, as far as possible.

7) Try and evaluate how big an area you can cope with opening per year, and move on from there. If the rest of the section is cut low (and maybe sown with some beautiful wildflowers in between weeds?) it won't look too nasty. There's nothing worse than biting off more than you can chew, and end up having weeds constantly re-invade your newly opened, compost enriched, recently planted, soil!!! All your hard work opening, double digging, undone in 2 weeks by perennial weeds!!! So move slowly, but keep moving.

Bill Mollisons "Permaculture" is, as you know, the "bible" in the domain. I can send you, if you wish, the worksheets I use when designing. I could also help you do the design, communicating by email & skype, (to a modest price), but if you've got some permaculture designers in your area it would be far more useful to contact them!

Wishing you the best of luck!
Linnéa
just noticed you are in OZ so probably not a weed we have seen here, going by your description. Some photos might help people to advise....
I finally identified the weeds in our backyard! Our land owner thought it was privet, so I looked it up, and in the process discovered what they actually are: GREEN CESTRUM. A noxious weed. And it grows more prolifically if the trees are chopped down (they grow to 3m) without having the roots removed or destroyed, so basically the former owner did the worst thing by chopping them down, then leaving them there to grow by suckers all over the yard!

Anyway, we've been gradually digging them out, and today we even dug out 3 root systems! So we're getting there.

My big thing now is how to design the garden!! I'm keen on the idea of the "food forest", plus chooks, plus veggie beds, but where to put everything and how to set up the systems (eg. chook tractors to fit the veggie beds? a deep litter hen house? runs/free range? ). Hmmm, it sounds like I need to post something on the chook forum!

Oh, one thing I'd like some advice about is this: we now have MASSIVE piles of all the weeds we've removed. I read on the internet that the roots of green cestrum should preferably be burned (we're just going to send them to the tip because we are under fire restrictions), but I'm wondering if the rest of the green matter from the weeds could be turned into hot compost?

I really don't know how to do this. I read somewhere about how someone simply piled up the weeds where they were going to put the veggie beds, so they would compost right where they were needed. But I really don't know how to go about this.

I have SO much to learn!

Karen

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