Anyone who has ever worn socks in Summer or owns a pet will know Burr Medic (Medicago polymorpha)! It’s spiny little seed cases get stuck in anything fibrous weather man made or furry. It is equally a curse for folks who like their lawns immaculate.
But that’s all a human centred view. In our ecosystems, it has several valuable uses.
We just have to face it, Nature doesn’t like bare soil and does whatever she can to cover it. Bare soil is seen as a wound and needs to be protected and restored. That’s where Burr Medic comes in.
This tough little plant is a coloniser that excels at its job. Its mat of leaves act as a bandaid for the bare soil, covering it and protecting it from further damage. Burr Medic has other uses too. It has a deep taproot that penetrates deep into the soil, breaking up compaction. This taproot brings nutrients to the above ground parts of the plant which, when they die, add them to the surface as organic material which can be further broken down my various microfauna. This organic material also protects the soil from damage as well as increasing its water retention capability . When it dies, the taproot provides convenient food for soil fauna and when digested, leaves a path for water and oxygen to penetrate into the soil.
Burr Medic is a Legume too and, like the other well known members of that Family (Leguminosae) Beans and Peas, provide nitrogen to the soil which is invaluable in so many biological processes. The nitrogen fixing bacteria which do this job are located in nodules on the roots and when the rest of the plant does or they are broken off, they decay and their valuable cargo of nitrogen makes its way into the soil. The bacteria need to live inside these nodules because the process by which they gain energy and fix nitrogen is an anaerobic one (that is, without oxygen) and the walls of the nodule keep the oxygen out.
The tiny Pea flowers (which help to define its Family) of Burr Medic provide a food source for many tiny creatures, both pollinators and predators, greatly increasing the biodiversity that would be lacking on bare soil.
As with many coloniser plants, Burr Medic produces a prolific amount of seeds and has an effective dispersal mechanism the tiny hooks on the seed pods snag into anything furry that brushed against them and they are, thus, transported further afield.
Interestingly, at Ligaya Garden, we have only been graced with the presence of Burr Medic since I started regularly mowing the road verge. Before that, we saw it only in neighbours gardens and in other verge areas but now it’s here. It’s a pain to have and even the kindest thoughts and recognition of its role don’t endear it to me but it does it’s job well and I’ll leave it on the verge and just pick off the occasional specimens that pop up inside the fenceline.
If you must remove Burr Medic, there are several methods that you can try before reaching for the herbicides.
Because it is a coloniser, it tends to minimise its presence once the soil is repaired. Adding goodly amounts of organic material to increase water holding capacity and soil structure is a good way toward deterring it or getting rid of it.
The seed pods are a problem that is best dealt with by regular removal such as mowing before it sets flowers and seeds. removal of the crown at the soil level leaves the organic material of the taproot to decay in the soil. Once seeds have been set, laying an old blanket over the area can pick up a lot of them. Then you just need to pick them off of tee blanket and dispose of them.
Burr Medic germinates in late winter so observation and removal of the young seedlings can help stop it from getting a foothold. At this stage, I pour boiling water over more established plants and that kills them off nicely.
Some plant species are very very easy to propagate – they barely need any help. The technique shown here works for a wide range of woody stemmed plants including Grapes and Devil’s Claw (which a lot of folks use as a rootstock) it’s especially good for harder stemmed members of the Solanum Family such as Tamarillo, Kangaroo Apple and Eggplants.
All you need to do us cut lengths of older stem about 1/2 to 1 cm thick and 5 -10 cm long. Make sure the cut is clean and there are no bits hanging off. If there are any leaves on the cutting, remove all except for the top two. Cut these in half.
You do this so that the leaves can continue to photosynthesise and provide a little energy to the cutting. Snipping them in half reduces the amount of moisture that is lost to evaporation. You can remove the leaves entirely, but I like to give the potential new plant a boost.
Give the newly cut end a rinse in clean water and dip it in natural, preferably organic, honey. Yes, honey!
Honey is a great healer for plants as well as people, it is antimicrobial and will help protect the wound from bacterial and fungal attack until it heals. It also promotes growth.
All that you have to do is dip the cutting in the honey so that the wound and the lower centimetre is lightly coated. Easy! You can also add a small touch of honey to any wounds on the cutting, from removing branches, stems or leaves. That’ll help them heal nicely.
Make a hole for the cutting in damp potting mix or compost and place the honey coated end into it, then firm up the potting mix around it. Don’t water for a couple of days so that you don’t wash off the honey while it’s doing its job. The moisture in the potting mix should be enough for now, unless the weather is very hot,then you may need to lightly water.
Keep the potting mix damp but not wet. It may take a couple of weeks for roots to grow, it depends on the time of year and the type of plant.
Place the container with the cuttings into a greenhouse or put it into a sheltered spot. I like to use these deep plastic tubs that help keep a little extra humidity in to stop the cuttings from drying out. That’s a trick I learned from Joe at Joe’s Connected Gardens.
In a couple of weeks, the majority of your cuttings will have grown roots and will be ready to transplant into pots or your garden.
An Elder Tree (Sambucus nigra or S. canadiensis) is one of the most useful trees that you can have in your garden, whatever size the garden. They grow big when left to their own devices but can be grown equally successfully in a large pot.
They’re so useful because every part of the tree is medicinal! As times have progressed, we don’t use the roots anymore – they are a premiere purgative that will clean you out from both ends but purging has gone out of fashion. Nowadays, folks prefer a gentler action but purging used to be all the rage.
The leaves are great for minor wounds and are also a gentler laxative and the flowers are one of the best herbal remedies for colds that you’ll ever come across. The berries for which Elders are famous are full of vitamin C and antioxidants. They also contain a compound that prevents viruses from combining with human cells,making Elder trees particularly relevant in these times of pandemic. You can find out more here. Elders also have a reputation of helping plants growing around them grow better.
The best thing about propagating and Elder Tree from a cutting is that every branch that you take a cutting from will form two new branches. As the flowers and then the berries develop on the new growth, when you take a cutting, you are increasing the productivity of your tree.
Propagating an Elder Tree is easy! All you need is to cut some of the older, woody material, a piece over 5 cm long is best (shorter pieces will work but 5 cm is a handy, manageable size). Young, green wood will work, though the results aren’t as predictable as the brown stuff.
After you have taken your cuttings, all that you have to do is to stand them in water, damp soil or potting mix for a couple of weeks. I’ve had success just sticking cuttings straight into the ground!
You can add a tiny drop of Seasol or similar seaweed tonic to the water that you keep the cuttings in. This can give things a boost but it isn’t really necessary, the cuttings will do OK by themselves. Change the water a couple of times until the process is finished to keep things fresh and oxygenated.
When it’s ready, your cutting will start to get white lumps on it where it is below the water level in your container. These are new root buds that have been sitting dormant underneath the bark. After a few more days, you will see roots growing form these. Once these roots have formed, just transfer the rooted cutting to the place you want your Elder Tree to grow.
Give your newly planted tree a good water and maybe add a little Seasol or similar, just to give it a boost. You will possibly have flowers in the first year and berries shortly after, though I recommend picking the flower buds off before they open in that first year in order to help the young tree direct its energy to root development and leaf growth.
Note: Parts of an Elder tree contain cyanogenic glycosides which can break down to release cyanide. This is especially true of the bark. The bark, unripe berries and seeds contain small amounts of substances known as lectins, which can cause stomach problems you eat too much. Elder trees are extremely useful but should be used medicinally with caution.
Like the previous method, this method raises the level of the overflow before it reaches the overflow pipe that runs to your stormwater. Unlike the previous method though, this one is adjustable and doesn’t restrict the outlet at all. It uses three 90 degree bends (one of which you are using already) to create an adjustable dogleg which allows you to set the height of the overflow and, thus, the height of the water stored in your tank.
Start by sourcing 2 x 90 degree bends. and two short pieces of pipe to join them. You will already have the the third one connected to your tank and existing overflow pipe.
You will need to join the pieces together to make a dogleg like in the picture. Don’t use glue for this project because you will be needing to twist things around a little. I’ve included a third bit of pipe in the pic to show the complete thing. You won’t use this because it will be replaced by your overflow pipe.
Fit the assembled pipes to the outlet on the outside of your tank and downpipe as shown.
Twist the new bends so that the (horizontal) joiner in the centre is at the same level as the desired water level in your tank.
You can see that you have created a restriction that the outflowing water must climb to before it can flow into your stormwater pipes, this effectively raises the water level in the tank.
Don’t set your level too high, though, or the water in the tank will flow out through the inspection hatch and cover on the top of the tank and flood the ground around the tank. You still need the water to be able to flow away.
Capturing and storing as much water as possible whenever we can is the only way we can keep gardens and home food production going. The extra litres saved may not seem like a lot but all of the climate projections point to less rainfall coming in heavier downpours because the warming atmosphere can hold more water and is more reluctant to let it go in small amounts. Because global heating adds a degree of uncertainty to any projections, we may see increased localised rain in some areas but, overall, things will be drier. Saving water will become a necessity.