How to Reclaim Overgrown Land Without Chemicals

Growing your own food is one of the best things any individual can do to live a more sustainable and eco-friendly way of life. But one of the main barriers to growing food is finding land that is suitable for the purpose. Land is often in short supply, and what land is available is often overgrown and degraded. When we want to grow food organically, chemical treatments for overgrown land are not suitable, so we must look to other methods in order to reclaim land for growing food. Fortunately, there are ways to reclaim overgrown land without resorting to harmful chemicals. Below are some tips to help you do just that.

overgrown plotClearing Land By Hand

Often, disused land will become incredibly overgrown, with trees and shrubs, briars, brambles, and pernicious weeds. The first thing to do is to establish which, if any, of the existing plants you wish to keep in place. The next job will be clearing the rest away to leave an area suitable for planting. You may well also find human rubbish in the mix. It is important to protect yourself by wearing a good pair of gardening gloves while undertaking the work and taking care to avoid injury. While creating rubbish, think about any scrap materials that could be used to your advantage in creating your growing areas.

Begin by digging out unwanted trees or woody shrubs. If possible, try to cut through the roots around the base of these trees and shrubs and remove as much of the root system as possible with the plants. Where this is not possible, you can also cut off trunks just above the soil surface, and drill holes in the top to facilitate rotting.

Next, clear away the briars and plants as much as possible, and pull up as many of the weeds as you can, taking particular care to get rid of any invasive or particularly problematic varieties. After a lot of hard work, you will be left with an area of (mostly) bare soil and can begin to prepare the area for planting.

HugelkulturWhat To Do With Biomass

Before we go on to discuss how to ready the soil for planting, however, let's take a brief look at what to do with all the biomass you have removed from the site. The woody material could be useful in order to create hügelkultur growing areas. Alternatively, you could Biocharburn the material – but rather than wasting it on a bonfire, you could dig a pit and burn it to create biochar, which can be used to amend the soil to improve nutrient availability and moisture retention. Some of the weedy leafy material could be used to create compost, while other weedy material could be useful to make a liquid plant feed. Take care not to reintroduce weed seeds or weeds that propagate from root sections through any composting system.

Cover cropPreserving and Improving the Soil

Remember, you will not be able to entirely clear an area of weeds and unwanted plant life quickly, and this will be a long-term process. Expect to tackle weeds for several years on a newly reclaimed site. You can, however, reduce the number of problem plants by taking care to avoid leaving soil bare. Nature abhors a vacuum and will quickly recolonise denuded sites. Planting cover crops is the best next step towards a productive growing area. Sow cover crops such as phacelia, rye and mustard to quickly cover and protect bare areas of soil. Then chop and drop these crops to improve the fertility of the site.