Tuesday, June 11, 2013

From brown thumbs green things grow

Blackberries, blackberries, blackberries! Those sweet, luscious, juicy, t-shirt staining fruits! I loved looking for them alongside saffron milkcap mushrooms in the pine forests. Deep in the New South Wales hills, they always seemed to pop up just about the same time pine mushrooms would be ready for the picking. Those idyllic forest forages for fungi and fruit are long behind me and I must admit, I would be happy if I never see another blackberry bramble again. You see, the property we’ve bought is over-run by the introduced European blackberry or rubus fruticosus. These suckers are so prolific that they've made the list on the weeds of national significance register.  

Gullies are full of them – these European blackberries are so tall the shrubs tower heads above me (remember that these are growing from a gully up!). They sprout from between the cracks in bitumen, they strangle fruit trees, smother slow-growing natives, shred the succulents to smithereens and like jungle vines – from the trees hang sinister trailing super-sharp vines- all entangled – metres up in the air! It’s threatening to impinge upon the dams – some are actually growing in water! There isn't a stop button for the growth of these plants. There doesn’t seem to be any downtime for this rampaging perennial. Its flowers are beautiful and delicate, and yes, its fruits are delicious but these positive aspects are negated by thorns so fierce they rip flesh like tissue paper. Vines when pulled hard occasionally whip back – lashing me in the face, arms and legs. It can be dangerous business clearing blackberry by hand. 

(blackberry obscuring silver wattle and banksia)

(close-up of spikiness)

(carpet of thorns, post-brushcutting)

The only benefactors here seem to be the rabbits and hares that have burrowed and made their homes under these thorny shrubs. Basil the dog has been tramping through these shrubs in search of rabbits and often comes back completely bloodied from being ripped by thorns. We often pull out thorns stuck in his head and his poor soft ears will never be the same again – having been shredded over and over again.

 (holes big enough for wombats to burrow, let alone rabbits!)

We have eschewed heavy machinery and the use of pesticides and toxic weed killer in the quest to rid our land of weeds. We plan to go down the organic/natural road for our fruit and nut trees in the future so spraying isn't a logical choice or fit. Instead, we’re opting to hand clear the weeds – the locals might laugh at our methods but I don’t see an easy way out. The previous owner had completely neglected the land and its upkeep. It’s sad to see a perfectly good piece of land being left to neglect. There are some interesting and beautiful plants on the property – all overtaken by weeds and blackberry. Slowly we’re clearing one patch at a time and discovering and uncovering all manner of plant life, and an incinerator  in the process (!) under thick blankets of blackberry. With the use of a heavy duty brushcutter and some muscles, we’re finally seeing progress. While S slashes away like a frenzied Freddie Krueger in the gully – I watch the sea of thorns parting like the red sea. Meanwhile, I have the job of freeing up and disentangling the fruit trees and other plants from the clutches of the evil berry.

(the parting of the blackberry sea)

(hillocks of vines raked up) 

(a birthday candle uncovered after a clearing) 
( a clump of native grass and tree ferns uncovered, albeit a little worse for wear after a brushcutter haircut - these were previously hidden!)

(life's little ironies - on top a pile of vines, a healthy crop of nasturtium has spread its canopy. Now to figure out how to get rid of vines without disturbing the lovely spread!)

They say it’s the simple things in life that matter most and in this case, it’s the small things that really a difference. The relief and joy I feel every time I clear the vines from a tree – I can almost hear the tree breathing a sigh of relief! So the clearing continues and the berries will no doubt sprawl again through its vast network of infinite roots; this time though, we’ll be there ready with hardy gloves, a pair of secateurs, mattock and shovel.

It will be some time before I look fondly at a blackberry again. I intend on gorging on them when summer arrives as my act of revenge for all my pricked fingers, bloodied hands and multiple scratches.

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