Tag Archives | Weeds

the war on Monsanto

The seeds of life are not what they once were
Mother Nature and God don’t own them anymore

So belts out the veteran singer songwriter Neil Young with Promise of the Real on their title track from his latest album, The Monsanto years. What is the old protest rocker raging about? Monsanto and the war on weeds.

What are the weeds? According to the National Invasive Species Council of the USA weeds are “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.” Spearheaded by good intentioned nativists, the war is declared all over the world, on weeds. But are we as qualified as mother nature or god to decide what plants should grow, while others are declared noxious and exterminated?

Assuming that we have a moral authority to pick and choose the arrangement of nature, can we the humans really ‘eradicate’ the invasive aliens? What with? Gallons of glyphosate? Is killing the plants with glyphosate more harmful than  any harm ‘weeds’ do to us? And who makes glyphosate? According to the article Andrew Cockburn wrote for Harper’s magazine, “last year, the federal government (of the US) spent more than $2 billion to fight the alien invasion, up to half of which was budgeted for glyphosate and other poisons.”

shop_beyond_the_war_800sIntriguing stuff. All these questions were recently discussed on Australia’s ABC radio’s Late Night Live program. Taking part in discussion was Andrew Cockburn and David Holmgren.

Environmentalists used to fight against chain saws, bulldozers and poisons. Now they’re fighting ‘invasive’ species of plants and animals – with the help of chain saws, bulldozers and poisons. Who benefits? Mainly the company that was once their sworn enemy – Monsanto.

You can hear the program on ABC‘s website. Cockburn’s poignant piece on Harper’s magazine.

Holmgren’s articles and other writings on weeds are found here, especially recommended for reading are foreword to Beyond the WAR on invasive species by Tao Orion and Weeds or wild nature.

Neil Young also has made a mini doco on the story of Michael White vs Monsanto, Seeding Fear.



Beyond the WAR on invasive species

5976Beyond the WAR on invasive species: A Permaculture Approach to Ecosystem Restoration is a new book by Tao Orion published by Chelsea Green.

Beyond the WAR on Invasive Species offers a much-needed alternative perspective on invasive species and the best practices for their management based on a holistic, permaculture-inspired framework. Utilizing the latest research and thinking on the changing nature of ecological systems, Beyond the WAR on Invasive Species closely examines the factors that are largely missing from the common conceptions of invasive species, including how the colliding effects of climate change, habitat destruction, and changes in land use and management contribute to their proliferation.

The choices we make on a daily basis—the ways we procure food, shelter, water, medicine, and transportation—are the major drivers of contemporary changes in ecosystem structure and function; therefore, deep and long-lasting ecological restoration outcomes will come not just from eliminating invasive species, but through conscientious redesign of these production systems.


Here’s what David Holmgren reckons how this war began and now entrenches us, deep in the environmental conscience.

This new science of “Invasion ecology” informed the education of a cadre of natural resource management professionals, supported by taxpayer funds. These resources mobilised armies of volunteers in aʻwar on weedsʼ. But labour and even machine intensive methods of weed control were soon sidelined in favour of herbicides that environmentalists and ecologists accepted as a necessary evil in the vain hope of winning the war against an endless array of newly naturalizing species.
For the chemical corporations this new and rapidly expanding market began to rival the use of herbicides by farmers, with almost unlimited growth potential, so long as the taxpayer remained convinced that the war on weeds constituted looking after the environment. In Australia the visionary grassroots Landcare movement, started by farmers in the early 1980s, was reduced to being the vehicle for implementing this war on weeds.

Read in full, David Holmgren’s foreword to the book, here(PDF).



Visiting Flood Creek

Recently David Holmgren went up to the ACT and southeastern NSW to speak at several events. He had a good time everywhere he visited and with everyone he met on the road. Some of the new people he met on this recent northern sojourn were involved with what they call “non-nativist landcare” around the town of Braidwood.

The following piece was originally published on the  Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare website. With kind permission from the report’s author, Ben Gleeson, we have reprinted the article here in full (with the pictures).


Last Wednesday (Dec 10, 2014), Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare Group were privileged and delighted to be visited by David Holmgren, co-originator of the Permaculture concept. David had been in Canberra attending a panel discussion and screening of the film ‘Surviving Earth’ as well as giving a public lecture titled ‘Future Scenarios and Solutions’, a topic he discusses in his stimulating book ‘Future Scenarios’ (free to read online). In order to maximise the value of his trip to the ACT and southern tablelands region David also visited Braidwood to touch base with our group and get to know a few of the local Landcarers.

We were especially glad to get his input regarding our plan to conduct a ‘Non-Destructive Revegetation Trial’ along part of Flood Creek, which hosts a diverse natural assemblage of non-native species, including an overstorey of mainly crack willow (Salix fragilis). Knowing how damaging and ineffectual willow removal has been (and continues to be) across southeast Australia, Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare Group are keen to demonstrate some non-environmentally-destructive landcare alternatives.

Flood Creek AerialOn the way to Braidwood, after collecting David from near Bungendore, we were able to visit Mulloon Creek Natural Farms to observe the ‘Natural Sequence Farming’ work that was conducted there in consultation with Peter Andrews in 2006. Tony Coote (owner of Mulloon Creek Natural Farms) showed David around some of the restorative leaky weir structures which were put in place during the first stage of this project. It is simply astonishing to see the ‘before and after’ photos of Mulloon Creek and to realise just how well-vegetated and productive the creek and flood plain have become since these works were completed. The next stage of this project will see an extension of NSF-based landscape repair on neighboring properties further downstream.

Once we got to Flood Creek, in Braidwood, we were joined by a small group of interested Landcarers to walk the site and to discuss past and future Landcare projects in this area. David’s hometown of Hepburn has a similar semi-urban creek, called Spring Creek, where David and other members of the Hepburn community have been working for over a decade on their own community forest management project.


One of the first impressions that David shared about our site was how verdant and fertile it appeared. Due to the effective sequestration of nutrient runoff from higher in the catchment (including the town), the soil and soil-water conditions are significantly eutrophic. David’s suggestion was that these high nutrient levels may well prove an impediment to the introduction of many native overstorey species, which generally are not adapted to them. Jokingly, someone suggested we could always flush those nutrients downstream into the Shoalhaven River and Tallowa Dam if we really wanted to, just by killing the existing non-native vegetation!

Reidsdale’s own Peter Marshall, pointed out that the recent loss of some of Flood Creek’s big willows had opened gaps in the canopy allowing (arguably) less desirable plants like privet, box elder and hawthorn to proliferate in the newly available sunlight. His suggestion, therefore, was that one of the important things to achieve at this site is to establish other useful overstorey species that would bring back the shade. It was pointed out that most native species, especially local eucalypts would be unsuitable to this task due to the sparse shade that they provide. Being adapted to hot and dry conditions, eucalypts will often turn their leaves at right angles to the sun to avoid loss of moisture, thereby effectively allowing more light through. This is why you often see blackberry thriving and spreading under eucalypts, but this doesn’t occur under trees providing dense shade.

Flood Creek pathDavid spoke to us about the potential for real willow management, here and across southeast Australia. This would see willows actually managed for productive benefit. This idea can be contrasted with the inappropriately (mis)named “management” presently practiced by some NRM agencies (which is actually just pointless and counterproductive eradication). Regular coppicing of willows can provide a great deal of highly nutritious and sustainable fodder for local livestock. As well as this, vigorously-regrowing willows will more actively absorb excess nutrients, which are then effectively withdrawn from catchment runoff.

A side benefit of coppicing that I have noticed is that regrowth on coppiced crack willows is much sappier and less brittle than twigs on mature, unmanaged trees, hence coppice management may also help to allay fears of spread by snapped-off vegetative ‘cuttings’. Coppicing is a management technique we may utilise at Flood Creek in future, after alternative overstorey species become established and promoting succession is considered desirable.

Within Flood CreekAnother important point that David emphasised was that Willows (especially the crack willows so numerous around Braidwood) are a pioneering species; they establish and grow rapidly, stabilising soil, and sequestering nutrients, but then collapse, leaving gaps within the canopy for other willows or new tree species to grow through. In the case of Flood Creek it seems this has been occurring over the last 20 years or so (there is still some contention as to whether willow senescence here may be partly due to human intervention). In working with this pioneer species, in a non-destructive manner, we may now have the opportunity to influence our little forest towards an even more diverse, useful and aesthetically-appealing system. It seems strange that some people are determined to work against natural processes of succession and diversification by returning pioneer riparian forests to degraded agricultural pasture or urban wasteland (or, perhaps, degraded agricultural pasture or urban wasteland, plus a few native seedlings). Why not recognise and simply augment the natural productivity and biodiversity that is already present?

Several desirable plant species were proposed for use at Flood Creek as part of our Non-Destructive Revegetation project. Given the diversity of aspect, light exposure, existing species and structure, it will not be a case of us simply converting this entire area to a forest of “X”. It is the nature of non-destructive revegetation that Flood Creek will continue to be a diverse riparian system. Future landcare activities in this area should only add to the existing biodiversity and habitat value.

David at Flood Creek

One of the main goals for this project is to clearly demonstrate (to ourselves, to the wider community, and to ‘the-powers-that-be’) that the establishment of native vegetation can be achieved by natural succession, without the need to turn an existing riparian forest into an ‘ecological ground-zero‘ first. Because of this there will certainly be a number of native species utilised as part of our non-nativist trial.

And why wouldn’t there be? Non-nativist Landcare is an inclusive, logical and holistic approach based upon a sound assessment of existing ecological realities. Bunyas, tea-tree and casuarina are all potential candidates for use in this area and other natives will no doubt be suggested as we continue to observe and interact with this site. Suitable non-native trees will also be utilised and, since many of these can be planted as advanced pole cuttings and will grow rapidly in this moist and eutrophic environment, they will be extremely useful for quickly creating shade, mulch, fodder and logs for structural purposes.

There is already a self-sown apple amongst the Flood Creek forest and more fruit trees will likely prove a great resource for the citizens of Braidwood in future. I recall in the past the number of interested townsfolk who were able to share the surplus harvest of the big quince hedge on Elrington St. These and many other fruit trees would certainly be valued and well-utilised if we decide to establish them here.

After an hour and a half at Flood Creek, we continued David’s journey heading further east, to Reidsdale where we were invited to tour part of Peter and Kate Marshall’s property. As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, the Marshall’s farm is a diverse forestry, grazing and mycology enterprise. You don’t need to walk very far to see a large range of tree species. David and Peter both seemed very much within their element and (I’ll admit) these dedicated and experienced tree-freaks left me feeling it was all too much to take in. What an astonishing wealth of botanical and ecological knowledge there is between these two! Our walk and the day ended back at the house after an enjoyable potted tour and a few insistent showers of rain. We local visitors departed leaving David to enjoy a dinner of willow-fed lamb with the Marshalls before heading to Goulburn to catch the night train south again.

Early feedback from some of the other participants was that it had been a great treat to be able to discuss and assess our site, and the species within it, in a calm and rational manner; without automatically labelling some species as undesirable “weeds”; and without beginning from the ridiculous presumption that this incised, eutrophic and urban creek “should” contain only the native species that were present in 1788.

As I said when I began this post, we felt privileged and delighted to be visited by David. He’s an intelligent and experienced ecological practitioner who has a great wealth of wisdom to share. As an early adopter of the conceptual framework of ‘Ecosynthesis’ he holds perspectives that can be of great use to the Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare Group, and to other landcarers of all permutations. These perspectives provide clear understandings to guide our interactions with Australia’s demonstrably non-native modern-day ecological realities.

David is obviously a naturally inquisitive person and a lifelong learner, he seemed to enjoy his visit to our neck of the woods just as much as we did. We hope to see more of him again soon, either back up here, or south of the border, in his natural habitat by Spring Creek.


Weed Ecology and Edible Weeds Adventure Walk


What is ‘natural’? Can something become ‘native’? What is a ‘weed’? What can we learn from so called ‘novel ecosystems’ that may help us learn to create new sustainable ways of living on this changing planet?

If that sounds interesting (and it should!), come join David Holmgren and Adam Grub on a once-only adventurous walk through a fascinating emergent urban ecology in Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

Not for the faint of heart, or unsteady of foot, the walk will take us along slippery tracks, through crawl spaces, and in proximity to wild bees and possibly snakes.  But if you’re up for a once-in-a-lifetime educational adventure, sign up quick, because places are very limited.

David will be seeing this area for the first time.  Trust us, this will be fun.  Adam will be there to help explain some of the edible and other uses of the plant species we’ll encounter.

The walk starts on Nov 30 at 10am and goes on for four hours. it will cost you $90. Once you register, you’ll be contacted with the secret starting location, a week before the walk. It will be accessible by car, public transport or bicycle.
For the last 25 years David, with the help of the local community, has been managing degraded gullies and creeks near his home in Hepburn Springs, without the use of herbicides, while restoring fertility and establishing timber and food resources for future generations and wildlife (see Spring Creek community forest for more details).

He has spent many years studying the native ecologies of Central Victoria, but he’s also a sometimes outspoken critic of the ideology known as ‘nativism’ (see “Weeds or wild nature” for example).

Adam is the co-author (with Annie Raser-Rowland) of The Weed Forager’s Handbook: Edible and Medicinal Weeds of Australia.

More about the tour and booking, please click here.


More great books in stock

We love good books at Melliodora, and through our online shop, we would love to share some of the good books we find. You know, we choose what we distribute from our online shop carefully, share what we like and what we think deserves to be distributed. In other words, the items for sale you see at our shop carry our seal of approval. You may have noticed that we have recently added three new titles. You can find more about each item in the shop, but we would like to give you a bit of sales pitch.

Before getting into that, we would like to point why it is a good idea to order books from us.

Sure you may find the same titles sold much cheaply at Amazon and other big online distributors. But do they give back fair share to the authors and publishers? Remember “fair share”? If you want to give as much to those who deserve their share, please choose where you purchase books. At HD we do our best to keep our prices competitive, whilst managing our business ethically, so that authors and publishers are rewarded fairly.

the-weed-forager-s-handbookEnough rantings. First up, we have this elegantly produced The Weed Forager’s Handbook by Adam Grubb and Annie Raser-Rowland. Adam is no stranger in the permaculture scene, having founded the Energy Bulletin (which has morphed since into Resilience.org), the Permablitz movement (with Dan Palmer) and Very Edible Gardens. His partner in crime, Annie, is an experienced gardener and dissatisfied foodie, with a background in art. Together, they have put together a beautiful and informative handbook.


Elizabeth Blachrie Blackwell

We especially like the look and feel of the book, maybe partly due to its extensive used of those beautifully detailed old botanical illustrations. (The front cover picture, shown here, is Herbarium Blackweellianum by Elizabeth Blachrie Blackwell from 1757).

David Holmgren says this about this pocket size handbook.

This handbook is the essential text for both novice and experienced wild food foragers. The guidelines, excellent ID photos and choice of most useful and common species will give the novice confidence, while the facts and recipes will extend all but the most advanced weed aficionados. For the gardener tired of joyless weeding Adam and Annie open our eyes to the fact that the problem can indeed be the solution.

And the Gardening Australia presenter, Costa Georgiadis.

….. if you eat, then this book is a must-have companion.

See more about them on the Eat that weed website.

Permaculture4inMENNext up we have the Permaculture Handbook: Garden farming for town and country by Peter Bane. Being a long-time permaculture writer, publisher of the Permaculture Activist magazine, teacher and practitioner, Peter may need no introduction. In this book, he crystallises the concept of “garden farming”, and by applying pattern language, developed by Christopher Alexander et al., he adds a new page to permaculture design methods. Based on his own experience and his extensive observation, the nitty gritty of garden farming in suburbs and peri-urban landscapes are convincingly explained.

Here’s what David Holmgren has to say about this book.

Of all the permaculture books from Australia, America and around the world, this one most completely fills the big space between my own articulation of permaculture theory in Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability (2002) and my earlier intimate documentation of our own efforts towards garden farming in Melliodora: a case study in cool climate permaculture (1995). This book is likely to become the classic design manual for those with the energy and enthusiasm to become the garden farmers of the future.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8zdvj4wxqg&w=560&h=315]

fartThen, the Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz, who the New York Times once described as “one of the unlikely rock stars of the American food scene”. In this book, Katz covers everything from the benefits of fermentation to human health to practical how-tos. The examples of fermented food and drinks are extensive, from alcohol, pickles, yoghurt, sourdough bread, porridge, amazake, tempeh, salami, natto and many more, which makes this book, the most comprehensive guide to do-it-yourself home fermentation ever published.

With full-color illustrations and extended resources, this book provides essential wisdom for cooks, homesteaders, farmers, gleaners, foragers, and food lovers of all kinds who want to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for arguably the oldest form of food preservation, and part of the roots of culture itself.

We at Melliodora thought we had incorporated a fair amount of fermented food in our diet, but browsing the Art of Fermentation, we realised we have only touched the tip of iceberg. We must say, the kitchen without a copy of this, is not a kitchen.

6969And the last but not least. Long out of stock title by Joan Webster, Essential Bushfire Safety Tips is back in stock. It is the third edition, revised after the devastating Black Saturday bushfires which claimed so many lives and properties in Victoria in 2009. If you happen to be living in a bushfire prone area like most of us in Australia, and in vast areas of the US and Russia, then this book is the essential resource to prepare for fire. We need to devise our own fire plans, as fire authories are limited in what they can do, especially their ability  to defend you, your house and property from fire, a threat that seems to be increasing in ferocity and frequency as a consequence of global climate ‘weirding’. Even for those who live in urban areas, it is important to understand bushfire so they can decode media reports, and participate in the public discussions and policy formulations.


Spring Creek community forest tours

Spring Creek Community Forest is the name we give to an informal project by local residents managing a section of public land (part of the Hepburn Regional Park) along Spring Creek between the Hepburn Mineral Springs Reserve and Breakneck Gorge. For over 25 years we have been active in initiating working bees constructing walking paths, managing naturalised vegetation (so called ‘weeds’), planting trees and building gabions and leaky weirs to slow and manage flood waters along tributary gullies and the main creek. Observation, scientific research and  documenting ecological changes over the last 25 years, particularly in relation to willow ecology makes Spring Creek an important reference site in the debate over management of willows along streams in southern Australia.

A tour down Spring Creek with David Holmgren

A tour down Spring Creek with David Holmgren

Continue Reading →


Weeds or Wild Nature: A Permaculture Perspective

David Holmgren presented this report as part of a series of seminars on “Contentious Perspectives on Weeds” at the 45th Annual General Meeting of the Weed Society of Victoria in April 2011. It was subsequently published in Plant Protection Quarterly, Volume 26, Issue 3, 2011, p.92-97, along with other proceedings from the seminar.

His message about nature’s resilience is a counter balance to the orthodox picture from the biological sciences of endless ecological collapse in the face of human impact. He brings these perspectives into the 21st century where fundamental challenges to civilisation are changing the ground rules for how we work with nature.

“Land design and management informed by permaculture principles tends to regard naturalized species of plants as assets that should be managed to stabilize water and soil, build biomass, fix nutrients, ameliorate microclimate and provide habitat, fodder, fuel and food in the early stages of system development. While naturalized species may be given a lower value in permaculture design than species regarded as indigenous to the site and region, the typical designation of naturalized species as ‘invasive species’ or ‘environmental weeds’ is typically rejected as anti-ecological thinking.”

Download PDF (127 KB)

See also the earlier article on the same subject first written in 1997, Weeds or wild nature.