Bracken….a valuable resource

Permaculture teaches us to see resources wherever we can and to use them to build self-sufficiency into our lives.

On my bush block, one of the understorey plants is bracken. It isn’t an introduced ‘weed’ as many people think; it was probably growing here long before humans came to this country. It’s a member of the fern family of plants and they are a very ancient family which evolved long before flowering plants. It’s hard to see how it could ever have been introduced anyway, since it doesn’t flower and produce seeds and trying to get a section of root established and growing isn’t easy.

Bracken grows from a long underground rhizome which puts up a single frond in spring, at intervals from points along the rhizome (nodes). Each frond grows for a year or two and then dies. Dead fronds accumulate and new ones come up each year to replace them. The mass of dead and dying fronds becomes perfect fuel for a fire and this is probably why most people don’t like it. A bushfire cleans out the whole mess and new fronds will appear almost straight away. It’s role in the post-fire ecosystem is to protect the soil from compaction by heavy rain and to shelter and shade the slower-growing plants which result from germinating seed.

Bracken growing in my bush :


All those white ‘spots’ amongst the bracken are a local wildflower called Milkmaids (Burchardia umbellata) a member of the lily family. This year, probably because of the good rains, there are hundreds of them :


Here’s a better close-up (image from Wikipedia) :

Image result

Bracken is one of the most valuable resources I have. Each week I aim to cut and mulch about 300 stems. That’s a lofty ideal only achieved in a good week; if I can get at least 200 done, I’m happy.

Ready for the mulcher (about 60 stems) :


All done :


From here I can use it for mulch on the garden or I can add it to the compost tumbler with chook poo and compost it. This lot is destined for the chook run as deep litter, which saves me buying sugar cane mulch or pea straw :


I’ve spread it out here to show what I mean; usually I toss it in a heap and the Girls spread it out for me (they think there might be a treat in there somewhere!) :


By cutting it regularly I keep the property free of fire fuel and get a valuable resource in return. Win-win!

13 Responses to “Bracken….a valuable resource”

  1. narf7 Says:

    At the moment we don’t have bracken on our property BUT there is a frond just outside the front gate so maybe I am kidding myself after reading this post ;). I, like you, am loving finding new ways to turn “waste” into something valuable. Our 4 acres is heavily treed and we get a wealth of tree debris that I am currently trying to find uses for, other than burning (our neighbours favourite passtime when he isn’t welded to his whipper snipper πŸ˜‰ ). I recently found an excellent thick round metal plate that someone had tossed into the bush. There are some serious benefits (other than health) to being towed around behind the back of Earl. We brought it home and I am contemplating the best way to construct a rocket stove for summer outdoor cooking. Rocket stoves allow you to heat quickly and very efficiently using the twigs and small branches that we would otherwise burn. Likewise, we raked up our driveway near the house and ended up with a huge amount of sticks and leaves that we used to fill the bases of our fridge wicking empire. Prior to the fridge wickers, this would have been burned in small piles but it suddenly saved us a stack of money in having to buy stones and geotextile etc. We also found a new use for some old rectangular plumbing pipe that fell off our old shed. It has been repurposed as water infill pipes in our wicking beds.

    I have been thinking a lot about how to use what we have and streamline our processes here after reading your last few blog posts. We use an electric jug in the summer (until we build our rocket stove) and I have always felt guilty about leaving boiling water in the jug to go cold and then reboil again so I have been pouring the boiling water that is left over when we make a cuppa etc. into my dad’s old stainless steel work thermos. It keeps the water boiling hot for at least a day and when I get enough in the thermos, I use it to fill up the kettle for a quick boil or to wash the dishes. At the moment it’s still officially winter here in Tassie (60ml of rain in the last day) so I am still using hot water bottles to warm me up. Brunhilda went out in the middle of October but I am starting to wish we had kept her going! The hot water bottles get stashed under the doona and are usually still warm when it comes time to wash the dishes. We use all of the water from washing the dishes on our potted plants and in the garden. Still to work out how to use the grey water from our washing and bathroom but at least we found the pipe that takes it to the septic now so I am sure we can nut out how to use this valuable resource to it’s full advantage.

    Thank you for sharing what you know/learn here Bev. It truly is an incredibly valuable resource. Showing people how to reduce their footprint on the earth gives people hope and also affects positive change. If my lone bracken starts to invade Poland, at least I will cheer now and will start harvesting it for positive/valuable usage πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • foodnstuff Says:

      How about hugel beds with all the sticks and leaves…have you tried that? I’m trying to burn less and less, just creating piles and letting them rot slowly in situ. Eventually the bottoms rot down and I can take off the unrotted top and rake out the good stuff to use.

      I love your idea with the thermos and will try it on. Trouble is I only boil the jug once in the morning for herbal tea and use the microwave to make coffee the rest of the day. But the water left in the jug I can put in a thermos and keep for washing the dishes at night which will save me on gas for heating water.

      We learned how to make a greywater bed in our permy course. I have done something similar…will do a post about it.

      Liked by 1 person

      • narf7 Says:

        We haven’t been doing much so far this year with all of the rain as the property appears to have relocated itself to the bottom of the driveway (along with most of the blue metal ON the driveway that council so kindly then scraped up and took away…sigh…). We have had a lot of older wattles in the back part of the property fall over as there are a lot of rocks in the soil up there and it was so wet that their roots just didn’t have anything to cling to so over they went. I guess that’s natures way of forming hugels πŸ˜‰

        I would love to read about how to make a greywater bed as we have a garden under the deck which is just before where the pipes empty into the septic tank and it gets very dry in the summer and would be perfect for using grey water in. Its full of native raspberries that the local birds scoff when they produce fruit and then spread elsewhere. Its been a bit of a problem area as it is a “created” garden and made from a base of rocks collected on the property with a little bit of soil on top which means that the plants can’t put down deep roots and it gets very hot and dry as well as being compacted as the chooks take their dust baths there. If I could keep it a bit moist I could grow some hardy plants there that would prevent the chooks from scratching it all up. Glad to share the idea about the kettle. I was just frustrated at how much boiling water went cold and wanted to find a way to keep it for when we needed it πŸ™‚


  2. Yvonne Kelly Says:

    Great photos & simple instructions that even a novice can follow.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Chris Says:

    Is that some lomandra grass I notice in your wheelbarrow too? I use it as mulch as well, although I don’t tend to shred it. I’m sure doing so, makes it extra soft, for the girls in their coop though.

    I’ve got to say it looks great, and it also feels great, not to have to part with money in order to line the chicken coop.

    Do you have a Greenfield’s shredder? Mine is a cheap Talon shredder, and doesn’t have much hard yakka left in it. So was wondering what your model is and if you like it?


    • foodnstuff Says:

      No Chris, I think what you’re seeing is the bracken stems sticking out the end. I wouldn’t ever try mulching lomandra as it would tangle around the cutters and bring the whole thing to a dead stop. Most grassy things are the same when it comes to mulching, they just gum up the works. The fibrous stems just aren’t made to be mulched, not with my type of machine anyway.

      The mulcher is a Rover Muncher. It’s my second one. The first one rusted out and I bought the same brand again because I liked it so much. It came from up your way (Qld) as I remember, because it was no longer available down here and I had to get the local store to order it in.


      • Chris Says:

        Thanks for naming your mulcher, I’ll have to keep an eye out for it around these parts. Sounds like it’s got a lot of gumption.

        I find if I place strappy leaf material (ie: bamboo, arrowroot and dianella/lomandra grasses) with a high percentage of twigs, then it doesn’t get wrapped around the blade.


  4. Jane Says:

    I wish I had bracken here to munch up like that. I too have piled up sticks and leaves to see if they would break down into something useable as my trees are mainly gum trees. I have been pleased to find they work quite well and plan to make more piles from now on. The witches kitchen blog has instructions on how to build a rocket stove.


    • foodnstuff Says:

      Hi Jane, thanks for the comment. I have mainly eucalypts here too. They take a long time to break down but they get there eventually. I only use small sticks and I stomp on the piles occasionally to break them down. The bigger ones get used for kindling in the fire. I’d love to build a rocket stove, but haven’t really got a sheltered outdoor space to put it in. Witches Kitchen blog is great; I read it too. She has a lovely outdoor bathroom.


  5. Jane Says:

    We’ve had so much more rain this winter and spring in some places the capeweed is up to my knees. I’ve been pulling it up and piling on top of the stick piles to see if that helps break them down quicker. It is very lush and juicy capeweed.


    • foodnstuff Says:

      I’m lucky I don’t have capeweed here, but I have just about everything else. Nitrogen will help break down those sticks more quickly. Do you have a male about the house who can oblige by er…using the pile of sticks as a toilet?


  6. Jane Says:

    Unfortunately no, just me here so I’ll just have to have patience.


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