Envirohub’s Public Food Forest Permablitz Report
By Kat Gawlik, Lead Designer
15 March 2015
Although we had a lot of competing events happening on the same day because of Sustainable Backyards month, and the looming threat of Tropical Cyclone Pam, the mini-blitz at the Envirohub food forest was an intimate and successful morning that finished with a shared lunch including a salad of greens and herbs from the Envirohub gardens.
This was to be the first Permablitz to happen in a public space, and we had an intimate crew of around 10 people; including a few regular ‘permablitzers’ as well as some new to the Bay of Plenty and for whom it was their first Permablitz.
After moving the seedlings and supplies up to the food forest slope, we started the morning with an introductions circle at 9am, a few clouds in the sky but no sign of the wind and rain that were forecast for later that evening.
The Rampant Immigrant
Before we tackled the rampant Kikuyu grass smothering the recently planted citrus trees, we heard from Catherine Dunton-Mcleod about the history of Kikuyu arriving in NZ with the early settlers on ships that on the long journey had stopped in South Africa where the South African grass made a ‘splendid’ substitute for the grasses and plants that had already perished on board. Little did they know that in the future the rampant and hardy grass would become a bane to many gardeners. We looked at possible methods to control Kikuyu grass including using black plastic to ‘cook’ the grass in initial site preparations, using a slurry of hydrated lime to immediately alkalise the soil (Kikuyu likes more acidic soil), using a physical barrier of sheeting iron dug into the ground, digging a deep trench, and shading it out with rambling plants like choko (chayote), orangeberry or nasturtium.
But we can’t be too hard on poor old Kikuyu, it was doing a great job in stabilising the steep bank and being the protective ground covering for the soil ecosystem beneath. So, once we removed the kikuyu grass from around the shallow rooted citrus trees we needed to replace that competitive yet protective soil covering with a diversity of beneficial ground covers, mineral accumulators, nitrogen fixers, pollinator attractants and pest repellents which would make up a fruit tree guild.
The Citrus Tree Guild
During a well deserved morning tea of juicy nashies and kiwifruit water we heard about what a fruit tree guild is and talked about the role each plant would play in the citrus tree guild. Comfrey, rosemary, sage, strawberries, tagasaste, wisteria, echinacea, asparagus, lavender, thyme, rose geranium, globe artichoke, horseradish, mint and oregano were strategically planted around the now cleared citrus trees according to height, sun angle, and root depth, while the live piano music from the nearby Historic Village market permeated throughout the blitz site.
With their claustrophobic collar of kikuyu removed, the citrus trees looked much happier with their new plant companions- a quick mulch of compost and grass clippings was laid and we were out of time! We knew the new plants would get a good watering-in later that night with the predicted heavy rain the cyclone would bring. There is going to be a bit of on going maintenance to keep the invasive kikuyu away while the guild plants get established – get in touch with Noel Peterson from Envirohub if you would like to assist!
We finished the day with a yummy shared lunch while hearing Noel’s take on planting by the moon, and we got to take home a lucky dip of either dehydrated apples or cover crop seed of lupin, oats and mustard.
Thanks everyone who came! It was a productive and fun morning!
Noel Peterson, Envirohub, Historic Village
Kat Gawlik, Lead Permaculture Designer, Permablitz Bay of Plenty
Catherine Dunton-Mcleod, Design Guild Leader, Plenty Permaculture