To burn or not to burn - Getting the property in order

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by Peter Warne, Aug 6, 2003.

  1. Peter Warne

    Peter Warne Junior Member

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    Writing at last from our new home in Nimbin, after the smogs and crowding of Hong Kong the atmosphere on our 13 acres with forest covered mountains around us is therapeutic. We are working on getting the house and property in order. The land is grassy, scattered with native trees which I have not yet identified, but mostly self-seeded eucalypts, wattles, some casuarinas etc. When we arrived it was almost entirely covered in thick grass with patches of lantana, plus some bracken, crofton weed and tobacco plants. Our kindly neighbour has gone round with his tractor and slashed a lot of it – more than half, but the remaining areas are either too thickly weeded, too boggy or too steep for him to take on. The suggestion is – burn off, so that from then we can keep it in hand. Particularly now the burning will not get very hot and will cause less damage below the soil.

    Everything I have heard in permaculture circles says never to burn. I’d like to know if it’s really that bad, and if there is any effective alternative. Our plans for growing things are limited to our own needs, and will only cover a relatively small area around the house. The rest I would like to get to a point where it is as self-maintaining as possible, possibly growing a few trees for cropping in years to come, but nothing too labour or money demanding. This is where I would like to ask Darren what you meant when you said recently: forest management is less time consuming than tree crop management. What is involved in forest management? Do you mean just managing what is already there, as opposed to the kind of intensive tree farming which your work involves? Does forest management include planting the forest? What sort of things does it require? Can it include some timber harvesting etc as a sideline interest?

    That’s a lot of questions – as you can see we are still orienting ourselves to the demands and benefits of living on the land and forming our ideas. I will be doing the Permaculture Design course at Diversity Farm in September, so I am hoping to get a lot more ideas there.

    In the meantime, hoping for some pointers,

    Regards

    Peter
     
  2. d_donahoo

    d_donahoo Junior Member

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    dear Peter.

    i personally wouldn't burn...while the plants you have there may be regarded as 'weeds' - simply burning them means you are going to lose a #### of a lot of nutrients and all that ash into the sopil would make it alkaline - that being said - i have no claim to expertise - what so ever.

    one thing i'd say is take your time. you've obviously done a lot of thinking and planning in Hong Kong - but if you are going to only need a small area for your own food production and sustinance - they focus your energy on this. get the 1 acre around the house really productive and then worry about the rest.

    from what i've read and heard the inital couple of years establishing a forest for cropping does involve a fair amount of investment - time and money. and this is time and money that may be more productively spent on fruit trees close to the house, or establishing a system that allows you to feed chooks and other animals at no cost.

    - in the meantime, instead of burning, just get a couple of goats - maybe even one for milking, and teather them every coupld of weeks on wide ranging chains and they'll get through the lantana and the rest in no time!!! while fertilising as they go.

    just a few alternatives?

    dan
     
  3. Jeff Nugent

    Jeff Nugent Junior Member

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    Hi Peter,
    I'd always prefer to plant something out than burn it out. Sounds like having half the block worked is going to keep you busy enough for a year too. I do agree with Dan that you need to spend some time taking in the situation.
    Having said all of that, why not do a relatively small area of burn so that you can assess first hand the effects and effectiveness of burning. Try to look at it from every aspect and become a serious observer. Steep land could easily erode after a burn, so I would do narrow strips on contour in those circumstances. Have your seedlings ready to go in straight after the burn. Pioneer planting straight into some of the problem area would be another small trial I would do.
    Let us know how you get on and oh yes - Welcome to rural Oz. :D
    Cheers, Jeff
     
  4. Mont

    Mont Junior Member

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    G'day Peter. It must be very exciting to finally be on your property. I put together some info from various sources (not including my own experience though) for some friends about getting rid of lantana without herbicides - email me if you want me to send it to you.
    Mont, Sydney
     
  5. Batz

    Batz Junior Member

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    So do goats eat Lantana?

    Batz
     
  6. dryland dweller

    dryland dweller Junior Member

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    Hi Batz yep and blackberry etc just not grass :D
    Pete
     
  7. Guest

    :idea:
     
  8. Tamandco

    Tamandco Junior Member

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    Hi guys,

    just a tiny contribution here.

    I'm under the understanding that certain native flora require a fire to activate the seeds to germinate. I guess if there's no fire for a long time, certain species could become threatened.

    Tam
     
  9. SueinWA

    SueinWA Junior Member

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    If you do burn, what do you intend to do with that section afterward? Are you wanting to replant? Are the grasses annual or perennial? Are they just sitting there, waiting to come back, or are they dead and have reseeded? Is erosion likely? If so, how do you intend to prevent it? Can you get help from people who know how to do that type of burn properly?

    Would a mix of sheep & goats be a possibility? Sheep eat grass, goats eat nearly everything else. If you don't want to invest in buying animals, is there anyone nearby that might be willing to bring them onto your property to clean it off?

    Sue
     
  10. Batz

    Batz Junior Member

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    Burning is not an option for me , the area where the Lantana is growing is native rainforest and very steep.

    If goats would eat the Lantana , even enough to open it up a bit I could slowly work on getting rid of it.
    It smells quite strong that's why I thought goats may not eat it.

    Batz
     
  11. Guest

    :?
     
  12. Richard on Maui

    Richard on Maui Junior Member

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    "the only safe fire is a compost"
    -Geoff Lawton

    don't know if it is original geoff lawton, but he says it a lot!
     
  13. Batz

    Batz Junior Member

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    No Batz is not the same person , sorry to confuse you

    I used the search funtion on lantana and found d-donahoo's post , then I hit the quote key
    This is why is says "d-donahoo" said above the window of his quote

    He mentioned goats eating lantana , this was what I was interested in , not burning off , I did ask only about goats and lantana.

    Sorry about that
    Perhaps I am used to other chat boards that use quotes often

    Still I am interested if goats will clean up my lantana

    Cheers Batz
     
  14. SueinWA

    SueinWA Junior Member

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    I Googled GOATS+LANTANA and found this site: https://netvet.wustl.edu/species/goats/goatpois.txt

    Go down to #19 & 20 where it tells about Lantana causing problems in goats.

    It's quite an interesting article and lists a lot of common plants and how it affects livestock.

    Sue
     
  15. Richard on Maui

    Richard on Maui Junior Member

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    The whole aboriginal land management with fire is an interesting one... For sure, they worked out a system of land management invloving the use of fire that shaped the ecology, and found a kind of balance, but possibily at the expense of many species... I think that the description Rainbow Farmer gave of it is a little bit too forgiving. I had always been under the impression that they also used the fire as a method of hunting, but who really knows?
    The point that some native flora requires fire or smoke to regenerate is also interesting. It is certainly true for a lot of euc's and some wattles and plants adapted to grow with them. But as Batz points out, your rainforest trees sure don't like them! I would think that the cultivated ecology a Permaculture is trying to create would much more like a rainforest than a eucalypt woodland.
    The equation is really simple and obvious. When you burn organic matter you are taking nutrients from the soil and destroying them! When you allow the same organic matter to break down in situ you are building soil, and all life (well nearly) on this planet is dependent on a thin layer of healthy topsoil...
    So, is burning really harder than cutting, raking and composting/mulching?
     
  16. SueinWA

    SueinWA Junior Member

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    The U.S. Native Americans did the same things with fire as your Aborigines. IMHO, they did it because they liked the results for themselves, not from any altruistic ideals.

    Sue
     
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    ...
     
  18. Ichsani

    Ichsani Junior Member

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    Debating the burn....

    Fuel for the fire...

    The debate over burning as a componant of land management is an interesting, tricky and loaded one. In terms of Australian native flora (and fauna) fire regimes are often essential in both seed set and regeneration of plants, and play an important role in long term ecosystem health. But remember its relative and a tool to be handled with care.

    Some general whitecoat info on fire....

    #Yes, fire does mobilise nutrients, yes some are lost (mostly as gases and some wind/water erosion) and no they are not all 'destroyed'. In semi arid environs fire actually plays a very important part in nutrient cycling because of the lack of water to independantly form humus. Alot of the liberated minerals are present in the ash which is why native sprout so well after fire (note that excessive burning does deplete all the goodies in the soil and does more harm than good)

    #The ash from burnt plant matter is alkaline but this is not such a bad thing for Aust soil which is quite acid (in part due to its age) and adjusted pH (5.5-6.5) actually allows the release of locked up phosphorus, the major limiting nutrient in Aust. Lack of phosphorus has led to the evolution of nearly all sclerophyllous plant species in Aust, (refer to the work of N.W.C. Beadle if interested, a frequently referenced chap)

    #Temperature, size, and frequency of fire alter its effects. Generally low temp, small size, and patchy fire works best. Fire induced succession can be incredibly beneficial in kickstarting a 'stalled' ecosystem (where the presence of successional species doesn't facilitate the entry of new species without environ. disturbance). Unfortunately many pioneer species (often the rampant exotics) fall into this catagory. I couldn't find anyone with fire and lantana experience but it was suggested that manually cutting out the canes after burning might bring it under control (sounds painful).

    #There is a chemical in smoke (that was isolated by some smart fellow in WA only recently) that is responsible for cueing seeds in the seed bank to germinate. This discovery is having major benefits in the raising of native plants from seed for regeneration. Apparently a very expensive chemical as yet, and I hear smoke works just fine....

    Fire tends to restart the successional clock of the ecosystem which facilitates change. How to manage the conditions (the fire, the seeding, the tending) is the challenging part. Someone well versed in 'burning off' in the local area would be invaluable even if they are 'traditionally minded' they will know how to control the fire. If handled with care fire can be used to quickly and efficiently 're-set' an area onto a different biodiverse pathway, but a word of warning- use once, and only once, if land is burnt too often many positives turn quickly to negatives (as some graziers have discovered). Fires that follow in quick succession will kill the seedlings and drastically alter the seed bank, but so will not burning at all. Generally if plants in the burnt area have the chance to reach maturity then its OK. For a permie system much focus is on the humus part of the soil so fire would be a good initial tool to begin rehabilitation to the desired point, but after that probably not very helpful.

    For native bush management on a small scale (property wise not National Park wise) less is best, as is patchy, but attention to fuel loads is necessary for personal safety.

    For those interested in this subject i would suggest aquiring the current issue of Ecos magazine (vol. 125) for an example of biodiversity management utilising Aboriginal knowledge. The before and after photos of Boggy Plain in Kakadu (pg 16) are amazing. There are email contacts for the CSIRO research officers involved who should be able to refer questions to local collegues.

    Peter, best of luck with whichever avenue you decide is right for you and your land.


    Regards, Ichsani.

    :D [/i][/b]
     
  19. Richard on Maui

    Richard on Maui Junior Member

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    Ok, perhaps not all the nutrients are "destroyed" as I said. Perhaps "lost" would be a better choice of words...
    If lack of water is the main reason to promote fire, don't we have a bit of a downward spiral? If you conserve the organic matter as mulch or compost rather than burning it, you are also conserving moisture, and building soil.
    Has Peter been involved in this discussion for months?
     
  20. Ichsani

    Ichsani Junior Member

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    Hi Richard,

    Its very nice to hear such clear common sense! :wink:
    Is fire beneficial or deleterious? The answer depends on the state of an ecosystem (robust/fragile), and the purpose of the fire.
    Fire is an inefficient tool in the tropics and you are right, humus is by far and away the grand champion. But fire is more suitable when working with flora already adapted to a fire regime. Most native vegetation responds well to fire if its not too hot. Unless one is cropping aust natives, or prairie grass fire isn't necessary, except for fire breaks or bush care that franky needs it. I don't think I could rake up that much litter! Good or bad Australia's not called the sun burnt country for nothing!

    Is Maui near Hawaii? Must be lush, we might be sunburnt, but I heard you guys have got fire in your mountains!!




    ....WARNING!!! RANT... (sorry, I don't mind if anyone passes it over, just felt the need to get it out there)

    An aussie sheila's perspective, fire and Oz.....

    Stopping the bush burning was the conservation policy for a long time in Australia. This led to many very damaging fires (fuel build up) that burnt at much higher temperatures and killed many plants adapted lower temp, more frequent fires. Many people died over the years too. Conservation operated with a very 'hands off the Nature' approach. But as we are rediscovering (!), Australian ecology has been shaped by fire. I'm avoiding the bunfight over how human occupation of up to 100 000 (!) years has worked with climate in this shaping, but at this point in time Australia is in a semi arid climate phase with relatively poor soils. The poor soils bit is due to Oz missing out on the last big ice age (~ 18 000 ago) and general lack of very recent volcanic activity relative to other continents (the oldest rocks on the planet are in Western Australia~4.3billion years). Not to a fire regime of a mere 100 000 at most.

    So no, in a fire adapted regime the plants themselves have adapted to low nutrients, more oils, gums, resins, lignin which all burn really well any drier timesbring about the succession we see. Theres no steady state in ecosystems. Balance! Bah Humbug! Try harmonic through time.

    Tricky concept for Australia as there is much political/scientific/cultural angst about the relationship of fire to conservation management and the role of Indigenous knowledge, and some resentment over Aboriginal methods, which usually sounds like- "look how they've messed up the place, all those extinctions and drying out in Oz coincide with aboriginal occupation, how could those savages know anything! Ridiculous!"

    Pretty ugly sentiment huh? What I'm trying to say is that this old-school (antiquitated?) view generated alot of what is now becoming misinformation. Australian plants generally like fire, but things start going wrong if its grazed by cattle after, and as far as I know, once land was burnt by Aboriginals, it was left. I don't think it was fire flushing out game, I think it was ecological regeneration after nomadic occupation.

    Remember that scientists were the ones who told the farmers to use chemical fertilizers, petrol machinery etc etc because it worked! Look at those yeilds! Breakthrough, everyone is happy, everyone has lots and lots of babies.... people began to notice that something was wrong with their land, and questioned for themselves (yay the grass roots!) now the scientists are singing a different tune to their predecessors that sounds remarkedly like the what most of the grass roots movements have said all along..... (sigh) thankfully me thinks the tide might be turning....?

    :brave:

    ok all better now, hope you're ok too
     

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