Last year I took my first permaculture course. I live in Northern Thailand and my partner and I own some nice land (almost 2 acres). Nice, except for the unmanageable, overpowering elephant grass, which grows almost everywhere. It is expensive to cut, and my partner, who has been fed up with the grass for over a year, has proposed a poison, which is used by most local farmers and villagers when they want to prepare the land for other purposes. I asked for a postponement while I came up with a plan (surely there would be a plan!). But my efforts at some hard core mulching were gradually taken over and now after a four-week trip, that section of tall plants is barely visible through the elephant grass. In another area, I dug out some of the crazy root systems and planted tua brasil ground cover with some other plants and small trees. Every week was a battle and again, after 4 weeks away, it was like I didn't do anything. I noticed that the elephant grass almost seemed to sense when new plants were entered and competed because it would grow right through them.
After consulting with a local permaculture group, who said 'well, maybe sometimes you have to do this once so you can move on' and after all of these attempts, I have finally given in to the elephant grass poison.
All to say, I have two questions:
1. Any other last ditch efforts?
2. How can I repair the soil once we put the elephant grass poison down? Farmers practice this here, and I too want to plant food. I am not intending on selling my food or labeling it as organic, but I do want to minimize the amount of toxicity in my own food, especially what I grow.
This forum is not for any discussion of using any poisons. So, therefore, all discussion here is for the assumption that that is not happening, and that it will never happen.
Can you send us some pictures?
If your permaculture system is not yet established, then, yes, it will be overrun by unwanted plants. It seems that an abundance of something seems like generally a good thing. In this case, your patch of soil is pumping out lots of mulch!
Rather than convert the whole two acres to permaculture overnight, let's focus on converting one tenth of an acre into permaculture in a week. You can use all that elephant grass from the rest of the two acres as thick mulch material for the starting patch.
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my questions.
I probably didn't express my situation very well. The poison has not yet been used, and this is something that I am desperately trying to avoid.
I am new to permaculture, having just taken my first permaculture course last summer. It opened my eyes to a whole other world of possibility, for which I am grateful. For the past year, I worked on small sections of land, which I strategically picked. Using the grass for mulch was difficult at times because it often seemed to be seeding, but we used it when we could. Additionally, we built swales in a few places.
I think our challenge stems from the reality that, at this point anyways, we can only work (and be) on our land one or two times per week. This is definitely a disadvantage in creating permanent systems. A friend recently suggested that we make our home on the land open to traveling permies, exchanging free housing for some help to really get moving. This idea makes a lot of sense regarding truly establishing systems and I love the idea of sharing our space and sala, which is in a beautiful jungle.
I posted on this forum to reach out to a community, many of whom have a wealth of experience, for support and ideas. I was so lucky to experience a loving, helpful, and warm group of teachers during my first course, all of whom I felt comfortable asking any kinds of questions as I started to learn about permaculture. This is my perception of permaculture communities.
We are all at different stages in our growth in permaculture; some of us have vast experience and knowledge and some of us are still very much at the beginning of the process; some of us may be fully immersed while others of us are in a transition state. I apologize if I have offended some members of the community in how I described my current situation; but that said, how do we grow if we can’t openly communicate the situation that we feel we are in? How can we feel comfortable asking sincere questions in the hopes of getting help when we have to worry about being judged?
Thank you again for your feedback. I appreciate it.
I´m new to this forum and to Permaculture. However I do know of a VERY effective way of controlling elephant or king grass. Currently we are working to reforest a few acres of tropical rainforest close to Bogotá, Colombia in "La Vega" area at 1,200 m. altitude (25 C average temp). We are also slowly cultivating more and more land, but the reforestation is a priority.
The whole land was completely overrun with king grass which had been planted there for bovine forage. And there is the answer to controlling it. A few cows will do short work of the grass in relatively little time. The cows will have to be removed after the grass mowed since they will eat everything else growing in between after the grass is gone. The key is planting good pioneer species after the grass has been decimated by the cows, as it will regrow quite rapidly, even from broken pieces of stem and root. There is no choice but to manually cut the grass until the pioneer species have taken hold and successfully competed with the grass. Cutting all the grass by hand without the cows will drive you nuts, you can use the cow dung later for fertilizer and compost.
It is a terrible idea to use poison, which will likely be glisophate (roundup) It will poison your land for years, which totally defeats the purpose. I´ll post some images of the land pre and post cows and also in the middle of the process soon.
same way you get rid of bamboo takes time but just leave it shaded for a year to a year and half. using a large tarp. it will turn into mulch over time. no light uses root system to stay alive then it dies.
stay on the lookout for elephant grass seedlings once you take the tarp off. I always take the tarp off a few days let the ground good some good sun and let the weeds come up then put the tarp back on before it can really kick it into high gear. I do it once every 2 or 3 months until everything in the area is dead. make sure to create a buffer zone. you want to plant a wind break.
Elephant grass is horrible stuff. I did battle with it when I lived in Cameroon. It would grow 12 to 15 high in the rainy season. It's crazy how fast it would grow. For those who have never fought it, think of it like clumping bamboo -- slightly less woody, but tall and thick and hard to walk through. It can be a bit sharp too --- it scrapes you up and can even cut you. Hacking it down with a cutlass is hard hard work, and it just springs back from the base.
As was suggested above, cows will knock it down and graze the green stuff/leaf ends, but the stalk is like bamboo—they won't chew that. Once you've cut it down to the ground, then they'll graze it as it comes up out of the ground, but cows are not able to yank full grown elephant grass up. If your land is on hillside, it's tough to eradicate. Most farmers in our area burned their fields at the end of dry season to try to give their corn a chance to compete with it, but even a hot fire does not kill the roots. Several years of fires would eventually help them get the upper hand.
Non-African's hear of slash and burn agriculture and tsk-tsk about how horrible this is, but they've never had to deal with it and try to keep their family fed. There is a time and place for fire, even in permaculture.
Suggesting that you use it as mulch is short-sighted: if you lay a stalk of elephant grass on the ground, it roots. In a year, you'll have a dozen clumps of elephant grass from a single stalk that laid on the ground. If you try to use elephant grass as a mulch, you are basically creating a nursery for it. It's so woody, it really doesn't heat up if you try to compost it.
But elephants like it.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
Anderson gave himself the promotion. So I gave myself this tiny ad:
1st edition of Living Wood Magazine--Now free for a while