Reading Landscapes #04

Edition #4 of Reading Landscapes is out now!

Good morning, and welcome to the fourth edition of our monthly newsletter, Reading Landscapes.

Every section will be split with this divider

Here’s what we’ve got for you today:

  • The crucial role of plants

  • Onion Weed and how to manage this accumulator

  • Is there a book on Plant Succession?

  • What we’ve been learning

🔎 Looking at the Landscape

Like us to discuss a photo of your landscape? Share it with us here. 

The Crucial Role of Plants

Plants are key to the landscape that we see around us. They are the builders and the managers.

On the farm just the other day, I found the perfect case in point of this in action. As you’ll see in the images and video, I found a legume (Siratro) growing out of a plastic trough with water in the bottom.

What I wanted to share and get people thinking about is sometimes we focus on the complexity too much, especially around soil, and try to make it perfect, but if we let the plants do their thing, they will build the system. Here is a plant thriving without soil because it still has what is essential to it;

💧 Water
N Fertility
☀️ Sunlight
💨 CO2

And within our landscape, it is the same. We can find plants growing in any environment as they are the builders. They created the landscape we see around us and will always find a way to complete the role that needs completing.

A plant can grow in any environment. Without having to think about the soil's quality, the soil's quality will determine the type of plant that can grow. This depends on where that specific piece of land is situated in your plant succession.

Take the photo below; for example, we have moss growing on a rock, and if you look closely at the photo, that moss is breaking down and turning rock into soil; the very beginning of the process, the very start of the succession.

But I hear you saying well, that’s great that the plants can grow in any environment, but I need productive plants to grow. Well, that’s where we can use the plants as a guide to tell us what we could be doing better or what we could change about how we manage our landscape. We use our plant succession as a guide to create a path forward to having the plants we want to grow. Additionally, if you want to dive deeper into the chemical makeup of your soil, you can use the plants as the first indicator, followed by a soil test. Then, maybe you could look to add products to help complete what the plant was doing. But that all comes at a cost, and plants will do it for free, but they generally take longer.

🌳 Learning from Plants

Have a plant you’d like to discuss? Share it with us here.

Onion Weed

Common Names: Wild Onion, Onion Weed, Hollow Stemmed Asphodel, Asphodel

Scientific Name: Asphodelus Fistulosus

Where in the Succession: Late Succession Accumulator

What is it telling me about my landscape?

Thanks to Sheree for sending in this month’s plant species.

Onion Weed is an accumulator species tasked with the role of building fertility.

Where am I going to find Onion Weed growing, and why is it growing there?

Onion Weed is a tough, hardy plant that grows in areas with poorer fertility and enjoys having little competition. In the instance that Sheree shared with us, the plant has been growing in bare, disturbed black soil.

This is a common habitat of Onion Weed, where it often acts as a pioneer species, growing in bare areas and colonising to manage that land for Nature. As the fertility of a landscape declines and more preferential species find themselves unable to grow, species like Onion Weed will often come in to provide ground cover and try to build a landscape back up.

The growing conditions that Onion Weed is often found growing in include;

  • Bare soils

  • Acidic soils

  • Low fertility

So, Onion Weed is coming into the landscape to remedy some of these conditions. The time that it takes to complete will vary between every landscape. Therefore, if we want to run a productive business on that piece of land, we need to step in and try to complete the role of the Onion Weed and build our landscape up to support those more palatable and productive plant species.

How can we manage Onion Weed?

So, how can we manage it?

We need to look at the role the plant is trying to fulfil. Most of the time, it grows in an area that is bare and has lower fertility. So, how can we step in and complete that role?

⬆️ Increase our soil fertility. This can be done through the increased growth of plants, or you can help it by bringing in external sources of fertility (compost, chicken manure, worm tea, etc.) and adding them to your landscape.

🐂 Use your livestock to stimulate change and create opportunities for other plant species to come in and compete

🚜 You can also use mechanical intervention to slash or mulch the Onion Weed and open up the opportunity for competition to come in and out-compete it

🌱 Focus on increasing your diversity and density of plants to out-compete the Onion Weed. In both of the examples above, you could add seeds after the livestock and/or machine were used to promote getting new species into the area.

Overall, Onion Weed is a tough, hardy plant that capitalises on its opportunity to grow and can take some effort to out-compete, but with a focus on increasing your soil fertility and creating an environment for other species to grow, you can look to push your succession forward and create the change you desire.

How to make the most of your Onion Weed

🪨 As a Soil Indicator: Onion Weed favours soils of poorer fertility and slightly acidic. It can show low nitrogen, low calcium, low phosphorus, low potassium.

🐮 Livestock: Onion Weed is of low palatability to livestock, which is common to our accumulator species.

💊 Medicinal: Traditionally, Onion Weed has been used to treat respiratory ailments, burns and skin infections1 .

Researchers have found that extracts of the plant exhibit moderate antibacterial activity against both Staphylococcus and E. coli strains2

More recent studies have looked to the plant family for the treatment of3 ;

  • Hypertension

  • Gastric Ulcers

  • Kidney Stones

🍽️ Consumption: Onion Weed is not a readily consumed plant; it is not a true onion, so it lacks some qualities of that family. People worldwide note that this plant has a mild onion flavour when eating raw leaves.

Learn Natural Sequence Farming in 2024

Upcoming events open for enrolment

Learn Natural Sequence Farming 4-Day Course

Sunshine Coast QLD 17 - 20 June

Charleville QLD 29 July - 1 August

Inverell NSW 2 - 5 September

Springsure QLD 23 - 26 September

🙋 Answering your Questions

Ask the Team! Share your question here, and we’ll answer it in a future newsletter.

💬 Tim Asks:

Do you have or know the name of a book with all the weeds/plants set out as we have in our Reading Landscapes editions?

🎙️ Hamish’s Answer:

Thanks for the question, Tim! There isn’t a book that sets out exactly the same way as we do regarding a greater succession or change in plant species. But maybe that is something I could look to create. If that interests you, let me know in the poll below.

So, there isn’t a book that covers that exactly, but several influential books focus on weeds and what they tell you. I’ll list some of the main ones below ⬇️️.

  • Weeds, Guardians of the Soil - Joseph Cocannouer

  • The Wondrous World of Weeds - Pat Collins

  • Weeds, Control Without Poisons - Charles Walters Jr.

  • When Weeds Talk - Jay L. McCaman

  • The Weed Forager’s Handbook - Annie Raser-Rowland, Adam Grubb

  • Weeds and What They Tell Us - Ehrenfried Pfeiffer

📚 Would you be interested in a book covering plant succession like in this newsletter series?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

🧩 Trivia Time

Have a crack at this week’s question!

How much biomass can Phragmites Australis (Common Reed) build at its peak? In material both above the ground and below the ground?

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.

4 I’d like to dive a little deeper into this month's trivia as I think this is a crucial fact we can all look to implement in our landscapes. Find that at the bottom ⬇️

📚 What We’ve Been Learning

A quick list of our favourite things we’ve been watching, reading, listening, and writing.

Restoration Agriculture by Mark Shephard: I recently finished listening to the audiobook version of Restoration Agriculture, which is well worth a look at. Mark discusses the importance of plants and their role in building soil, as I touched on at the start of this newsletter. He also shares about plant diversity, how to incorporate additional income streams through plant diversity, and how it can all be managed through a Sheer Total Utter Neglect system.

To follow up, Justin Rhodes also has a great video touring Mark’s farm, where you can see everything in action.

David Marsh on The Regen Narration: An interesting conversation following David’s journey from conventional to regenerative system and the changes he has seen on his property over time.

The Confusion and Limitation of Labels: Nicole Masters wrote an excellent post on LinkedIn about labelling and what questions we should ask. This is worth a read and something I am always thinking about - should we define ourselves or focus instead on showing what we are doing and letting others decide?

#755–Dr Phil–What Happened To The Education System?: An interesting discussion with Dr Phil covered many on-topic topics, from the education system to social media.

Tim Thompson: Secrets to Restoring Dry Land Naturally: We enjoyed Tim being at our Avenel course at the end of March, where he also created a video about the course and using Natural Sequence Farming to restore our landscapes.

Diving Deeper on our Trivia Topic

So of the 250 tonnes/ha, even if you only harvested 40% of that material (leaving the below-ground biomass and some of the above-ground), that’s 100 tonnes of material per hectare that can be collected and moved back to the top of your landscape.

The fertility that grew these plants has been lost because of gravity from the surrounding landscape. Now it has fed the reeds and created that biomass, which you then collect and move to the top of your landscape to start the process all over again, but in the meantime, that fertility that starts to move down is feeding your property all over again and for very little cost.

  • The wetland collected the fertility over time just because of natural processes

  • You spent a little money on machines to harvest and move it

  • And now you have the fertility that would have been lost anyway to somewhere lower than you to use all over again

A corn silage crop yielded 39 tonnes/ha5 as a means of comparison. That’s a significant difference in biomass, and you can grow phragmites in the parts of your landscape that are sensitive to your livestock and harder to graze. So, by setting up your filtration areas to function correctly with the correct hydrological process, you will create a wetland and an environment for plants like phragmites to grow of their own accord whilst providing you with a free source of fertility.

That’s all for this edition. Thanks for stopping by.

Looking to learn more? Check out our blog

⛰️ Take the next steps to restore your landscape with our on-ground Learn Natural Sequence Farming course, or add your name to the waitlist for our upcoming online course.

👋 New to Reading Landscapes? Subscribe or read our previous editions

Before you go…What’d you think of today’s email?

Rate today's edition to help make future ones even better

Login or Subscribe to participate in polls.