By Bruce Simmons
Andy Vinter’s Bush Regeneration Handbook provides terrific practical information for anyone interested in arresting the progress of weeds, and Buffel Grass (Cenchrus ciliaris) in particular, on their block, streetscape or local feature. So you might go there as a starting point if you are interested in ‘bashing the Buffel’.
My history with weeds goes back to early childhood times helping my father remove couch, three corner jacks and onion weed from our big three quarter acre block in suburban Adelaide. In spite of frequent ouches and an occasional protest, I think the rewarding experience of companionable times and visible wins became an entrenched part of my DNA.
When it comes to gardening and gardens I have never viewed invading weeds as all bad, though I think couch is the real villain in many ways and should be addressed with a big mental alert KEEP OUT sign! But most other weeds, including Buffel Grass, can be recycled as greens for the chooks, valuable compost or mulching materials… some are pretty nutritious for humans too I hear, though I haven’t explored that option seriously as yet.
Skilled weed spotting and assessment is a virtue and potentially a stick for one’s own back. My grandma always used to helpfully remind me “one year’s seeding, seven year’s weeding” and the message reverberates and drives me on in so many ways most days of the year. So I might decide to leave a weed to grow for a while for its potential recycling value but once its seeds start to mature I have an urgent or even an EMERGENCY bell ringing in my head. I’m confident those bells ring for many keen gardeners.
The bullying potential of Buffel Grass is unfortunately extreme. Over time, Buffel Grass muscles everything else out of its way even without the additional support of fire. The good news is that the native vegetation is not obliterated so much as hidden in seed form. With good conditions, and a Buffel-free zone, many interesting natives return in abundance to reward the worker. And from my experience they’ll stay on – so long as the Buffel is kept at bay!
I have always either pulled or mattocked out the Buffel Grass, depending on its size. Sometimes a spade or hoe works well on smaller plants in dry soil. I’ve not adopted poisoning but I know some very keen Buffel Grass bashers who do an effective regular hunt for ferals in their patch with RoundUp spray packs on their backs.
When tackling a new field of established Buffel Grass I have a sturdy old Toyota HJ45 tray top to which I add galvanized iron ‘hungry sides’ so that I can pile, stomp and add more and more Buffel Grass until I have a ‘decent load’ ready for mulching or composting. It takes me in effect a full day of steady labour, generally spread over a few vigorous Buffeling sessions to get a load. Sometimes I’ve been lucky enough to have my sister Jenny help or I find a fellow traveller who shares some time with me clearing a patch and filling the tray. Hopefully they feel as good as I do about the experience. I’m confident it will stay memorable!
What to do with your Buffel Grass once removed? I have taken a few tons to the Alice Springs Community Garden as a major component of our new plots. Combined with cow manure, watered and covered with a layer of compost it composts down, virtually without any regrowth, while veggies grow above. I have also used it to mulch our fruit trees, piling it up 50 cm or more. Neighbours have simply heaped it up with very little subsequent regrowth. I’m not inclined to simply leave it where it’s been dug up as logically I’d expect a lot more new seedlings from leaving the seed heads on the soil.
To keep Buffel Grass from coming back there’s no alternative to eternal vigilance. I do a monthly feral hunt around our block and along Schaber Road verges where residents and I have cleared all the Buffel Grass. After the recent heavy rains we’ve had a heap of new seedlings come up. But if you can see it as a bit of friendly competition and rewarding exercise then there’s no problem with keeping on the job.
Every year it gets a bit easier, especially if you extend your Buffeling to include a few extra metres beyond your natural boundary. The only question for me then is whether or not to surrender to my keen desire to strike further into enemy country! Giving in and going further is generally met with appreciation from grateful neighbours, some of whom have been encouraged and strengthened to become more passionate Buffel-hounds themselves.
I’d be curious to learn if the new environment attracts more wildlife. Certainly, we have many birds and lizards on our property and a diversity of flora on our verges that we couldn’t have imagined on our arrival to Schaber Road twenty plus years ago.
Many happy outcomes from a rewarding addiction.
~ Bruce Simmons