March 24, 2023

The Problem is The Solution

Bill Mollison, the Father of Permaculture, is credited with that concept. I confess it's often puzzled me because I was raised with the consumer-discard-and-buy mindset; problems are discarded and solutions are bought. But the longer I homestead, the less the consumer model makes sense, especially considering everything we're now being told about the environment.

Anyway, we have two problems. Here's the problem.

Perennial native grasses

These are clump grasses, so-called because they grow in clumps rather than an even carpet-like ground coverage. They are hardy perennials, tolerant of most weather conditions, and the goats will eat them. Not their best favorite, but definitely deemed edible. The problem with clump grasses is that they are difficult to cut, with either lawnmower or scythe because the clumps make dense bumpy mounds on the ground.

We pretty much leave the clumps alone in our pastures, but in areas where we want to grow grain or hay, they are in the way. We don't plow, so they become a growing problem. The clumps in the photo above were a problem because they were growing between the garden and hugelkultur bed, where a path is supposed to be. But the clumps made it too bumpy for the wheelbarrow.

I've tried transplanting these clumps to the pasture, but the goats zero in on them (Look! Something new to eat!) and the grasses don't survive. Instead, I wondered if we could use them to address another problem - soil erosion.

I know I've mentioned that our property is a series of ridges, sloping downward to the back of the property. These tops of the ridges are where we see the most soil erosion, and we needed a way to keep it from washing down the hill. One idea I got from Sepp Holzer's Permaculture, was to make what he calls humus beds to catch soil, sediment, and natural debris runoff on his mountain. My adaptation has been to make a barrier of sorts at the bottom of the ridge, using old branches and boards discarded from Dan's sawmill. The trees hold them in place, and I fill it in with sticks, branches, weeds, and various cuttings.

The topmost ridge, below the pasture in the goat browse.

We do see some washed soil build-up in these beds, and eventually, it will all decompose and we'll plant something here. Even so, I still see erosion is at the top of the ridge, above the brush. How could we address that?

The path above the ridge is on the left, my bed of branches and sticks are on the right.

I first read about using clump grasses as a barrier to rain and soil runoff in a discussion about swales on Permies. One suggestion was to plant a dense row of vetiver instead of digging a swale. Vetiver is a dense clumping grass that is used successfully in tropical and sub-tropical areas instead of dug swales. Rather than invest in vetifer, why not use the clump grasses we already have?

Filling in the top of the ridge with grass clumps.

So, we've been digging up clumps from places where they're in the way and moving them to the "ditch" where the top of the ridge meets the bed of branches and sticks. Then we mulch them above and below the row.

A row of clump grasses for erosion control.
Functional, and I think it looks good too.

But will it work? I think it will, if it survives transplanting. We chose the spring rainy season for this project, so it should get plenty of water, and we're keeping the goats off of them for now. If it can get established before our summer dry spell hits, it should have a chance, and a problem will become a solution.


daisy g said...

Genius! I love your solution!

Leigh said...

Thanks, Daisy!

Ed said...

I usually associate clumping grasses with needing a lot of direct sunlight so I wonder how they will do. But it is an interesting solution if it works out.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Part of me Leigh is trying to go back and find the origin of that line of thought - I really think it is a Stoic concept. That said, that seems like a great solution to the problem - here is hoping they take the transplant!

Leigh said...

Ed, yes, that's a question. They will have morning shade and afternoon sun, so I'll just have to watch and see. The clump grasses under our fruit trees have thrived, so hopefully it will work out.

TB, you mean the problem becoming the solution? I would be interested in that myself.

Another example of a Bill Mollisonism; someone once asked for a permaculture solution to a slug problem. His response was, "you don't have a slug problem, you have a duck shortage."

tpals said...

Fascinating: problem solving in action. Will be interesting to learn if this works or you find another solution.

Leigh said...

Tpals, if it does work, I have a bunch of other places I can do the same. Summer will be the test. These grasses ordinarily do quite well in summer, so if these thrive, I'll know they pass the test. I'll do an update then!

Michael said...

Clump grasses around here grow in cleared areas.

Have you ever fed your goats tree hay? Pruning some of the trees to give that grass idea a chance to thrive would yield some tree hay.

Leigh said...

Michael, thank you for the link! I have on occasion fed dried leaves, but I think it's an idea I need to expand.

We have cleared out quite a bit of the area in the photos. When we first bought the place, it was thick with brush. We'd like for it to become silvopasture. The clump grasses will get lots of afternoon sun, so maybe they'll work their way toward the pasture.

Nancy In Boise said...

Great idea! Always good to work with nature :) Fingers crossed they'll settle in...

PioneerPreppy said...

Anywhere you have clumps that make the ground uneven just layer it with a thick mat of hay and then allow it to compost away. It will eventually level the whole thing out and kill the grass clumps. My entire large hay field is bermed so large in fact that the upward side is large enough to be a row for hay cutting on it's own. It takes a bit of practice to get used to cutting it but it holds the water well. Outside of those that is the only ridging I am familiar with but I have used layers of hay to smooth out rough areas a lot :0)

Leigh said...

PP, that would do a fantastic job of soil building as well. Good idea!