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I have a 1.5-acre section that has not been properly maintained for many years. It is covered with high grass with some shrubs of willow, gorse and broom:

enter image description here (the grass is actually much higher now as the photo is 1 year old)

The plan is to either make it a nice and clean green lawn that would be regularly maintained, or food forest, or both as I am actually planning to build on the land. Either way, the section needs to be easy to traverse, so the vegetation needs to be kept under control — especially gorse; the soil would have lots of gorse seeds now.

What would be the steps and what machinery would need to be involved? Does it need to be bulldozered/plowed/harrowed first? Or can the vegetation be simply cut somehow so that mowing and/or tree planting could proceed right afterwards?

  • looks like quite a slope there. that will make mowing safely a little tricky – kevinsky Feb 2 '18 at 1:05
  • @kevinsky That has been a concern indeed! Don't really know how to keep the slope clean apart from letting sheep graze there. – Greendrake Feb 2 '18 at 1:10
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    Why would you want a high maintenance thing like lawn? – Graham Chiu Feb 2 '18 at 3:54
  • @GrahamChiu two reasons: 1) to keep vegetation under control — weeding gorse out would be easier by not letting it grow and blossom for a few years rather than killing adult plants; there will be lots of gorse seeds in the soil now; 2) to make it look nice and easy to traverse as I am actually planning to build on the land. But if you have better ideas please speak out. – Greendrake Feb 2 '18 at 4:36
  • If I had 1.5 acres I'd plant out a food forest that becomes self maintaining. Who wants to spend their weekends endlessly mowing grass? Your land is also contoured so you can setup ponds to collect water etc. And with drought throughout most of the country, you won't be able to maintain a lawn over summer. – Graham Chiu Feb 2 '18 at 4:47
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Luckily you live near one of the largest and oldest food forests in NZ. This couple started also with broom, gorse, and coxfoot grass which they gradually replaced with locally source fruit trees and other plants.

"We live on the exposed south coast of the South Island of New Zealand and feel the bite of the chilly winds that blow in from the sub-antarctic ocean. Our forest-garden is shaped by the need for shelter from those conditions. Our canopy needs to be open, in order that our food crops can receive enough sunlight to be productive. The windward edges of our forest have to be tight and pliant in order to survive long-term and consist of coastal native species that are salt-resistant. We’ve planted our shelter belts in ‘waves’ across the property, rather than in a single tall edge. Our nearness to the ocean means we are mostly frost-free, in contrast to the rest of our region, so we enjoy an advantage there. The freshness of the winds also mean we have few pest insects. Our rainfall is sufficient such that we don’t need to create swales. ‘Maritime’ plants such as seabeet, asparagus and sea-rocket do especially well here. Our northerly aspect and complete protection from the winds from our leathery-leafed shelter plantings mean we are warmer than anywhere else along the south coast. This means we can grow fruits such as figs and feijoa which are generally found further north." — Robert Guyton

Your conditions may differ if you're not on the coast, and you'll need to modify your planting to suit your microclimate. The basic plan is like this:

enter image description here

You should find that canopy trees will stop the gorse and grasses growing, and your ground cover will also prevent them growing where there is no shade.

The basic idea is to populate the area with perennials (permanent culture or permaculture) and keep your vegetable and herb garden close to your house.

And here's another SI food forest in Nelson

  • So should I simply plant those 1-7 along with the grass and gorse, or do I need to clean up first? – Greendrake Feb 2 '18 at 10:06
  • You'll need to clear some ground to start planting the trees. The grasses can be used to make straw for mulching. It's a big project and you'll need guidance from someone who has done this before – Graham Chiu Feb 2 '18 at 19:17
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If I were you I would focus on the immediate property next to your home. I would definitely leave the 'natural' biome alone for now. There are animals and plants and insects that have been living in and on your property for centuries? It would be a shame to go and bull dose all those slopes and cause major erosion, decimation of habitat.

Get to know your property before making big decisions about change. A lawn would be very ostentatious and will cost lots of money for upkeep.

A better solution would be to seed with pasture grasses, or rather to promote one of your grasses to be a primary denizen. I'd promote one of the clump grasses, the tallest or find a species similar to what is already loving your land. Blowing grasses are beautiful, only need to be cut down once per year. Talk to a grass seeding company. They would know and spray grasses that thrive in your area.

A lawn would be high high maintenance and would replace all the habitat now enjoyed by little guys and gals who would have to find another home. Would you install automatic irrigation? Has to be done for lawns until lawn is established. Fertilizer 3 or 4 times per year, aeration...a lawn is a creature that needs to be taken care of.

Once you've decided to change your land you will be the one in charge and responsible for all failure and paying the bill. Right now, your land is protected from erosion and all the animals, insects, plants are in harmony. It is easier and more successful to 'go with the flow'. I always tell people to live with their land at least one year if not more before they try to change the land, soil, plants, animal life drastically.

A successful home and landscape is one that nestles into the land and is hard to tell where humans have changed the environment and where the natural landscape begins.

New Zealand biomes

Gorse has become an important habitat in New Zealand. Missionaries brought it there and life developed around and within Gorse. Easy to 'mow' to keep in check, once per year. Grass meadows are breathtaking. All it takes is tweaking the seeding and fertilizing a bit to promote the longer grasses. Beautiful and you wouldn't have to be 'terraforming' your land. I would caution you from trying to make your bit of land different from all other parcels in the same area.

Food forest? There is a problem with those two words. Food for humans doesn't not grow in any forest. Permaculture means humans creating some sort of a permanent botanical/soil ecosystem that frankly is completely out of our realm...unless you want to expend lots of bucks on something totally unnatural.

The best thing you could do is live with your property for a year or two before landscaping.

  • I bought it to live on it. There is no rush, but if I let it "go with the flow" it will soon be wholly covered with gorse. – Greendrake Feb 2 '18 at 8:35
  • That is actually a very unnatural landscape right now. The whole area should be covered in native forests of rimu and totara. I'm guessing that this was removed and turned into pasture for grazing at one point. – Graham Chiu Feb 2 '18 at 9:09
  • But Graham, Gorse is now the natural landscape. Animals, insects, whole communities are dependent upon Gorse habitat. Who are we to say this isn't 'progress' or 'evolution'? From what I've been reading on Gorse, this stuff is downright wonderful in the desert tropics/subtropics. This subject is very fine tuned 'should it live or should it die' decision stuff. "We" started the gorse thing but it seems the flora and fauna of New Zealand and Australia love this exotic addition. Which has now become indigenous? Landscapes are evolving just as everything else is evolving. – stormy Feb 3 '18 at 2:51
  • I looked up Food Forests and arghhh, I am not at all impressed. 50 year old orchards do not a forest nor a balanced food source make. Annual vegetables have to have sun and water and a bit of elbow grease...and fertilizer...to make food for us humans with which to survive. There is no way humans will be able to make a permanent culture. NONE. Everything we touch has to be artificial. Nice to understand the difference between artificial and 'natural' but in no way can humans grow food and pretend we are making a NATURAL ecosystem that is self sustaining. None. – stormy Feb 4 '18 at 6:40

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