Permaculture – the wild side

Last year we enlisted the good people at Backyard Abundance to design a large permaculture plot for us. We hosted a well-attended workshop to get it all started with the requisite cardboard and wood chips. That foundation seems to be holding down the fort against the brome grass.

comfrey fending off brome
Comfrey up against brome next to a young tree

Against one of the main principles of permaculture, it’s not in a zone close to the house, but it is on a popular path to the Cedar River and we are developing something of an edible walkway to the river. We planted northern pecans in the valley, and mulberries, elderberries, hazelnuts and black raspberries growing wild along the way. So we thought an intentional plot of apples, cherries, hazelnuts, aronias, paw paws and persimmons would fit the bill nicely.

But this effort is more challenging than some:

  1. Wild things are more likely to browse, graze and tear out our plantings.
  2. Brome grass, planted by a farmer long ago to feed his cattle, is a highly aggressive grass that doesn’t die easily or quickly.
  3. We had to consider the effects of introducing plants species that would “escape” or become a problem because they would become too aggressive or harm the surrounding reasonably balanced environment.

Here’s where we are so far – 

  1. Most of the trees survived this harsh winter. We lost a Chicago fig and one pear tree.
  2. Comfrey (Russian Bocking 14 – a sterile cultivar) and sunchokes planted last summer to create a barrier to the encroaching brome began to stake their claim this summer, but the brome still grew faster and higher than the newbies on the block. We hope as they get more established, they’ll be able to fend it off better.

    comfrey sunchoke and aronia 2014
    Aronia in foreground, sunchokes on inside, then comfrey then brome after mowing
  3. It’s time to start moving some of our sturdier permaculture plants from our first bed, close to home, to the lower plot. Here’s what some of that bed looked like a few weeks ago:
    upper orchard late spring 2014
    older permaculture plot – with peach, plum, apple, marsh mallow and more

    These will include marsh mallow, more comfrey, mint and maybe thyme. Our biggest plants are tansy and yarrow, but tansy has been identified as invasive and toxic. Yarrow is simply aggressive without proper competition. I’m not sure we want to move them. In fact, we’re considering removing them entirely from the place. Here’s tansy growing under one of our pear trees.


tansy under hosui pear
the bushy stuff under the pear tree – tansy, soon to be removed