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Simon Websters shows us how to maintain a permaculture swale

Swale maintenance

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SIMON WEBSTER gives the fruit trees in his permaculture food forest some much-needed tender loving care.

Our swale is a little over a year old and looking very different from how it appeared in this post early in its life. 

The perennial ground cover – sweet potato – has taken over from the annual ground covers and has been doing a great job of keeping grass out of the food forest.

However, during a summer of neglect (guilty, your honour), alas, it embraced its duties somewhat overenthusiastically, clambering over fruit trees that were beginning to look a bit put out by such rough treatment.

It was time for some serious maintenance. Fortunately, with the indefatigable assistance of Kiwi Wwoofer Craig Gallacher (who also happens to be a permaculture designer – he is teaching in New Zealand in August), I managed to do a bit of tidying up. We cleared space around each of the 40-odd fruit trees, fed them compost and an organic fertiliser blend (blood and bone, lime, sulphate of potash and so on), and mulched them with newspaper and wood chips. Craig is pictured chucking some compost around a carambola, or star fruit.

The fruit trees are looking happier already, and my enthusiasm for food forests is restored. With nitrogen-fixing pioneer species such as pigeon pea, acacia, crotalaria and casaurina thriving, and starch staple plants such as Queensland arrowroot and cassava among the other plants going great guns, the swale is again looking like it is going to turn into something special.

As a bonus, I can guarantee we’re not going to run out of sweet potato this winter.