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Brambles

It’s been awhile since I’ve reported on activities, but we’ve got an enormous amount done over the past weeks. It’s been our busiest time of year in terms of number of volunteers, and we’ve been fortunate to have had an amazing group here, both in terms of their numbers and their energy. Although I’ve been pretty much dedicated to cooking gigantic meals and locating lost tools, they’ve done incredible things.

Summer is a funny time of year here. Although the garden is at it’s most lush and it’s a wonderful place to be, there’s not actually that much that needs to be done bar constant watering and weeding. So we’ve been busy with other projects, including getting our last field ready for action. This is half a field which was chock full of brambles and we’d never touched bar planting some willows along the border. I so wish we’d taken some photos before we started!

All the brambles were chopped back then dug out, which was a tremendous amount of work. Brambles grow back astonishingly quickly from even a tiny root left in the soil, so every scrap needed to come out. We now have massive piles of bramble rubbish drying in the sun, waiting for winter when I’ll burn it.

Brambles in stone walls are an ongoing problem. The best solution is to yank them out before they get established, roots and all. When they’re young and haven’t developed a strong root system that’s an easy enough job, but if you’ve the misfortune to already have mature ones it’s not so easy. Pulling them out is sometimes possible with a strong arm and stronger gloves, but risks dislodging stones in the wall. The other solution is to just keep cutting them back. If you keep cutting them back they’ll eventually exhaust themselves and die, or so it’s said. Personally I’ve not known it to work, but the alternative is glyphosphate and that’s a route we’re not ready to go down just yet. We’ve chopped them back, but I went to examine the wall yesterday and it needs chopping back again already. I’m not 100% confident that we’ll stay on top of this enough to actually beat them.

Funnily enough, I’ve just searched a forum I sometimes use looking for advice on combating brambles in walls and discovered a plea for help from myself posted virtually six years ago to the day. Obviously brambles have been a part of my life for some time and I’ve still not found the easy answer.

Back to our field …

Once the brambles and other vegetation were cleared back it was possible to reach some vines which had been growing along the wall. In previous years we’ve only ever been able to access these from the stream, so it’s great to have them accessible.

The bushes you can see in the middle are elderberry. You can never have enough of them as far as I’m concerned, and the fact that these damp loving trees are growing here indicates that there’s a water route underneath.

Finally, we planted potatoes. An odd crop to plant this late in the season on a patch of land which falls into shadow fairly early in the winter, you might think. But they are a leafy crop which will grow fast to protect the newly uncovered soil. The leaves will provide valuable organic material for soil improvement when they die back, and the potatoes themselves, and I’m hoping for a few new potatoes for Christmas, will force us to dig over this patch again and thus discover any bramble roots that we missed first time around.

Whilst I detest brambles and seem to spend so much of my life battling them, I can’t say I’m disappointed that our neighbours aren’t so dedicated to their destruction. The brambles all around us are producing the most delicious fruit just now, a handful of which go just beautifully with our pears in a crumble.

 

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7 comments to Brambles

  • José

    Hello Andrea
    here are some possible solutions that I found in some forums
    cheers
    José

    “Bem para quem queira mesmo acabar com as Silvas por se encontrarem em zonas onde delas não se poderá fazer qualquer aproveitamento, ou possam mesmo representar um risco de combustivel para eventuais fogos, aconselho o seguinte.

    Hipotese 1 – Cortar as silvas deixando cerca de 10/ 15 cm do chão e embrulhá-las em sacos de plástico ( forte ) preto, de preferencia um saco mais apertado, e outro por fora deste mais folgado. Isto impede a luz de chegar á planta e dizem os “antigos” que as seca.

    Hipotese 2 – Cortá-las rentes arrancar as raizes e cobrir o chão com cascas de pinheiro, ou brita por forma a evitar que a luz chegue á terra.

    Qualquer uma destas soluções foi-me fornecida pelo conhecimento empirico de pessoas, que nasceram & vivem no campo, e já tiveram que aprender a “lidar” com as silvas.”

  • Andrea

    Thanks José.

    For those who don’t speak Portuguese, the suggestions are:

    1) Cut the brambles back to 10-15cm. Wrap the remaining stump tightly in black plastic bags to exclude light.

    2) Cut the brambles at ground level then cover the soil with pine bark or gravel, again to exclude light.

    I’m not convinced that method two would be terribly effective with well rooted brambles. They appear through concrete, so expecting some pine bark to dissuade them seems overly hopeful!

    However, method one I’m willing to give a go. The brambles growing back on the wall are the perfect ones to experiment on. I’ll report back in due course. I wonder how long it will take?

  • Peppi

    Haha, that field was definitely one of my favorite jobs during my two months in Portugal. I’m so happy I photographed it!

    • Andrea

      We really appreciate your help in clearing that field, you worked so hard. I think it’s the first time it’s been usable for years and years!

      The potatoes are coming on well and the first batch will be ready to harvest soon. We’ve planted a second row of willow cuttings as the first row are doing so well now they can breath.

      However, there are plenty of brambles left elsewhere for your next visit :-) And next time, we’ll have to make sure you take a ‘before’ photo as well as an ‘after’ one!

      Beijinhos

  • Peppi

    Oh, that’s great. I’m gonna have a huge potato harvesting job this week as well, looking forward to it. Harvesting is always so satisfying work to do.

    Ha ha, that’s nice to hear. I believe I’ve never ever in my life hated any plant like brambles before. Well, at least the berries are delicious.

  • I think this must be a perennial topic of conversation amongst all who are trying to reclaim neglected land in Portugal!! I’m not convinced about the continual cutting back either. It seems to work eventually if the brambles are somewhere that dries right out in summer, but any with a water supply come right back every time. We’ve been digging them up, which works pretty well, and have eradicated them from the vegetable plots.

    With the ones in the terrace walls, I’m trying a new tack with the really big persistent ones. I dig back and wiggle out enough to get to the knobby thick part from which the new stems shoot out and cut right through it with a pruning saw. Then I paint the stump with battery acid. Sulphuric acid is environmentally benign in such small quantities, but I’m hoping the direct application will be enough to do for the bramble. I’ve heard of people doing the same with glyphosate, but like you I do NOT want to go down that route. Will try to remember to report back on progress.

    • Andrea

      Thanks Wendy. All tips appreciated! Please, keep me posted.

      The good news is that the soil under bramble infestations tends to be beautiful. The crop of potatoes I planted on our latest reclaimed patch include the biggest we’ve ever grown.

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