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NZ Food Forest Support Species

Evan Ward


Joined: May 31, 2011
Posts: 5
Hi Guys,

We have just planted a series of swales using the technique described by Geoff Lawton in his Permaculture Food Forest DVD. 

In preparing for the massive planting that he advocates, I was struck by the lack of information on the support species for our area, which is in New Zealand.

Many, if not all of the fast growing nitrogen fixing species he described are not present or are not available in NZ, and it occurred that this would probably be the case in other countries.

We have done research and have thrown together a simple guild of Lupins (initial cover), Crotolaria, Russel Lupin, Tree lucern, Sweet Pea shrub (grandifolia), and kaka beak.

I will follow this up with all the species names - I know how frustrating it is getting obscure common names - and reports on effectiveness.

But;  What I hope to start off, is a discussion on what plants people have used in different situations, and comments on effectiveness and problems. 

I am a weeds ranger working for the Department of Conservation in NZ and have a keen awareness on invasive plants - which happen to be really suited to the types of jobs Geoff describes.  But in many cases there must be native alternatives, and less weedy species that do the same jobs, and that is what I'd love to draw out on this thread.

PS - not sure the name for the thread is right - any suggestions?
Alex Slater


Joined: Jun 03, 2011
Posts: 7
Evan,

I'm from NZ too (Waikato originally) but have been living overseas for quite a while. But we're heading back home to NZ this year and plan to settle into a rural property (somewhere around the BoP) where I'm intending to set up a food forest.

Anyway, because of this I've been planning/daydreaming/researching and have ran into the same questions you have around species - especially for Nitrogen fixers.

The standard options recommended widely (Elaeagnus etc) I'd not be comfortable putting in NZ due to the their rampant nature and basically invasive properties (I know that's a bit of a divisive term around here, so apologies!).

After a bit of a search I think the best bet in NZ (depending on where you are) is to use Kakabeak (Clianthus). It's a native NZ Nitrogen fixer, looks great, is generally available (in NZ), is basically at risk in the bush, grows to a reasonable size and is really insect/bird friendly.

Your other NZ native options would be Kowhai (Sophora), NZ Broom (Carmichaelia), and the Scree pea (Montigena). Due to the toxicity I wasn't keen on the idea of Kowhai (though it's a lovely tree), some of the Brooms could be a reasonable choice (notably C. aligera and C. williamsii) but I wonder about it's shade tolerance in a food forest, the Scree pea is a mountainous plant so not really suitable.. thus I ended up at Kakabeak.

I originally was thinking of some sort of alley cropping idea with Kakabeak and fruit/nut trees.

I'd be keen to hear your thoughts.

Cheers.
Jan Sebastian Dunkelheit


Joined: Aug 08, 2010
Posts: 201
Location: Germany/Cologne - Finland/Savonlinna
Evan Ward wrote:But in many cases there must be native alternatives, and less weedy species that do the same jobs, and that is what I'd love to draw out on this thread.


Hallo, I'm from Germany and also gardening in Finland. I always thought ground cover hast to be weedier than weeds to get the job done. The job of ground cover is outcompeting weeds.

Lupins are great. Partial perennial, I use them a lot in my gardens. There are a hell lot of support species but near to no nitrogen fixing trees or perennials for our zones. Black locust is one, Siberian Pea Shrub is another one.


Life that has a meaning wouldn't ask for its meaning. - Theodor W. Adorno
Matt Banchero


Joined: Jun 12, 2011
Posts: 10
Are there any problems in New Zealand with native trees that hamper efforts to replant with commercial species.  In California bay laurel, tan oak, madrone and a variety of other oaks will quickly occupy the site where conifers are desired. 

With adequate pruning and thinning for desirable form these "weedy" trees can become an asset.

Can I assume that you are not interested in Radiata Pine?  As I understand it, Radiata pine does extremely  well in New Zealand climates with limited frost. 
Evan Ward


Joined: May 31, 2011
Posts: 5
Finally the full species list and densities of the support species planted:

Cover Crop: Lupin 15kg (no species name found - what you can buy from garden centre or agricultural supplier)

Low Shrubs: 15x Lupinus arboreus (Yellow Bush lupin) - should have had more
                  30x Senna - maybe (Small 1m high fabaceae thing that looked like a Senna)
                  30x Ugni molinae (chilean guava)
I would have liked more of these, at least 100 if not more, and had less sweet pea

High Shrubs: 120x Clianthus puriceus (Kakabeak)
                  30x Solanum aviculare (Poroporo)
                  10x Charmichaelia aligera (NZ Broom, North Island)

Small Trees: 86x Polygala grandifolia (Sweet Pea Shrub)
                  30x Crotalaria sp. (Rattlebox)

Medium Tree: 30x Chamaecytisus palmensis (Tree Lucerne)

These were planted into 2 swales with a total combined length of 100m, the mound was 1.5m wide but a total surface area of about 2m.

So total was 380 trees into 200m2

Evan Ward


Joined: May 31, 2011
Posts: 5
ajsl wrote:


Your other NZ native options would be Kowhai (Sophora), NZ Broom (Carmichaelia), and the Scree pea (Montigena). Due to the toxicity I wasn't keen on the idea of Kowhai (though it's a lovely tree), some of the Brooms could be a reasonable choice (notably C. aligera and C. williamsii) but I wonder about it's shade tolerance in a food forest, the Scree pea is a mountainous plant so not really suitable.. thus I ended up at Kakabeak.



You legend!  Who would have thought we had a Scree Pea!  I wonder what it would do if introduced to a more cultivated environment though - it would be great to find out.  We really need a perennial legume native ground cover for these systems.  Something tells me that it wouldn't like to be shaded though.

I have planted Kowhai beside our fence posts just above the swale with the hope of them becoming our new living fence posts.  Chickens are just above them - so in 2-3 years I'll let you know if toxicity becomes a problem...

NZ broom turns up inside the bush up here in the far north all the time, so shading doesn't seem to be a problem, its just not that vigorous.  Especially compared to the other alternatives around - but I have included afew to see how they work.

As for alley cropping kakabeak - sure, I'd give anything a go.  I just wonder if it would grow tall enough to do the business.  Tutu, would definitely get up there and is nitrogen fixing too - but if you're worried about kowhai being toxic, then I don't think you'd be too enamored with Tute.

I would also investigate the food forest idea before going into an orchard row situation - but that might be a bias towards massive polyculture, that and the fact that I have just planted 380 trees in 200m2
Evan Ward


Joined: May 31, 2011
Posts: 5
This is a great link to a wikipedia page listing all nitrogen fixing plant families; legumes and non legumes - Essential reading

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nitrogen_fixation
Alex Slater


Joined: Jun 03, 2011
Posts: 7
Evan, that's a sweet looking list. Consider it cut and pasted into my archive.

Interesting about the food forest vs. alley cropping as that's pretty much how I ended up here. I was researching apple trees and liked the idea of alley cropping but now I'm pretty certain I'm going to do a food forest too.

About the Kowhai, to be honest I was surprised to find out that it was toxic given there are loads of them about the place as garden plants (I never remember any trouble with them as kids!).  Landcare research NZ has this to say :

"Kōwhai (Sophora microphylla and S. tetraptera). The yellow seeds are very poisonous if eaten, but only if they are ground or crushed before swallowing. Otherwise, they pass through the digestive system and cause no harm."

That worried me a tiny bit  thinking of chooks (which of course I'll be having!)  - but what's the likelihood of a chicken's crop being sufficient to grind the seeds and kill it..

Basically a case of me being too far from the actual land and having too much time to theorycraft rather than spade-craft!  But I've booked our flights home, so this is getting a bit more real now

I'm really interested to see how you get on, how far North are you? Also, do you have any photos of the planted swales?

Evan Ward


Joined: May 31, 2011
Posts: 5
Dunkelheit wrote:
I always thought ground cover hast to be weedier than weeds to get the job done. The job of ground cover is outcompeting weeds.


Great observation, but not necessarily.  First up some definitions.  A weed is a pretty loose term to any plant that is growing somewhere you don't want it.  Different plants grow in different conditions, ie some germinate after fire (eg fire adapted shrubs like Hakea sp), some germinate in compacted soil (eg Dock), some in cultivated soil.

The ones we usually call weeds in gardens are the early colonizers filling the gaps in recently disturbed soil, or in orchards - they are the understory shrubs moving back in.

An orchard, where there is one tree crop, and little or no ground cover (in NZ, it is usually mown grass or sprayed out) is a very unstable system and requires alot of maintenance to keep it in that condition.  It will constantly be invaded by plants to fill the ground cover layer, the shrub layer, the small tree layer and probably also the canopy tree layer because in many orchards the trees are planted so there are gaps between the trees to increase production.

Now, there is nothing "wrong" with an orchard, it just takes energy to keep it an orchard.  Left alone, it will become a forest, and not necessarily have the plants we want in it. 

To return to your statement "The job of ground cover is outcompeting weeds." I would say no, and it would be difficult to find one that did.  A different way of excluding weeds, is to occupy all the niches that weeds could grow with plants that you wanted there - to plant a "forest" by design.  This would mean there would be much less space for weeds to occupy.  The only plants able to get in would be a special type of weed that I call an "Invasive weed": those plants able to infiltrate an already intact ecosystem - and the only plants I really consider weeds.

Geoff Lawton observed that in a Food Forest planted this way, you get fewer fruit off each tree than in a traditional orchard system.  However the total yield measured against energy input is much higher, because - you are harvesting multiple species over the same area and the reduced weed interaction means there is much less maintenance.

I haven't experienced this myself - I'll let you know in 4-5 years.

By the way, check out that previous link on Nitrogen fixing plants.  Do you have alder?  That is nitrogen fixing, even though it is not a legume.  Broom, gorse are both European nitrogen fixers.  Eleagnus, not a legume but N2 fixer.  I'm sure there are more - but I'm not familiar with Finland

(Please excuse the essay :wink

Evan
Alex Slater


Joined: Jun 03, 2011
Posts: 7
Evan, bit of an update.

Check this article http://researcharchive.lincoln.ac.nz/dspace/bitstream/10182/2710/1/ipps_v51_pp94_97.pdf

Notable in that article are three other non-legume NZ natives that fix Nitrogen via an actinorhizal association. They are :

Tutu ( Coriaria arborea notably as it's the tree form) - but it's extremely poisonous so probably not a good idea. There's even the chance of the honey made from it's blossoms becoming toxic - it's that poisonous...

Then there's Matagouri (Discaria toumatou) which seems to fit the bill though it's really thorny (as you'll probably know) so probably not ideal.

Lastly there's Tainui and Golden Tainui (Pomaderris  apetala  and Pomaderris  hamiltonii) - these look ideal! Not only nice looking (especially the Golden Tainui) but no thorns, not poisonous.

A mixture of Tainui, Kakabeak, and perhaps some Brooms would be a pretty impressive looking N fixing understory

By the way Evan, Wikipedia references that Alder (A. glutinosa and A. viridis ) are classed as environmental weeds in NZ. Which is a shame after reading about them!
 
 
subject: NZ Food Forest Support Species
 
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