Mulching the Garden--Questions

Discussion in 'Gardening' started by 2boys1homestead, Oct 2, 2014.

  1. 2boys1homestead

    2boys1homestead Chillin' With My Peeps

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    So, I have been reading about no-till gardens and I was wondering what your take on mulching was.

    What kind of mulch do you use? Does it work? Do you have any pest problems (slugs, rats, whatever).

    For some reason, I've read that straw mulch causes rats and slugs and that leaf mulch gets a lot of bugs and wood mulch never breaks down.....so I really want to talk to people who have some experience in this area instead of books filled with here-say.

    Thanks!
     
  2. Rosa moschata

    Rosa moschata Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I don't veggie-garden, but I do garden. I can tell you that the no-till mulch-heavy gardens will take a couple of years to really get going if you simply apply layers of mulch. Last year, I put together a new ornamental garden (based upon mostly antique roses as the "bones") from scratch, and the soil here in my new home is awful -- imagine bricks, smashed. The band-sized roses were potted with a mix of equal parts peat moss, shredded hardwood mulch, and Bovung dehydrated manure, with organic granular fertilizer mixed in. Cardboard was laid down where the beds would be, and then topped with a few inches of snipped branches and green leaves from a Callery pear I was hacking back to bring sun in to the yard. When the grass and weeds underneath were dead, the roses went in the ground (late Summer). In mid-Autumn, I had 15 yards of composted shredded mulch delivered, and put it down to about eight inches thick. By Spring, it had settled a couple inches lower. Before I planted perennials, I worked composted manure into the mulch.

    Lessons learned? If I had to do it again, I'd have put down a layer of organic fertilizer on the tree trimmings before adding the mulch to speed up decomposition. I'd also have used a layer of "Mel's Mix" from Square Foot Gardening over the top of the mulch before planting -- the mulch did a great job of keeping things moist down below, but it severely diminished my germination success with direct-sown annual and perennial seeds. "Mel's Mix" is equal parts peat moss, vermiculite, and compost. The vermiculite is good because it's inorganic (i.e. it won't break down) but helps retain moisture. It's a bit expensive to use on its own, however, so mixing it with the peat moss and compost helps to stretch it for the garden. And being inorganic, once you have the amount you want in the bed, it doesn't need replenishing -- you add only the organic stuff as it breaks down.

    Throwing down one thick layer of mulch was what I did because it wasn't practical for me to do things in multiple repeated layers, but it's really better that way. And I'll be adding alternate layers of nutrient-rich fertilizer and manure with nutrient-poor peat moss, vermiculite and mulch as I continue to move along. You want layers because it encourages the earthworms to move throughout the bed. If you have to do things the way I did (thicker but fewer layers), put the largest-particle-size on the bottom, working your way to the finest stuff on top. Rain and earthworms will do the mixing for you.

    Wood mulch is not all the same -- the bark nuggets take the longest to break down, whereas the shredded stuff may be half-gone by the end of the season (if you get lots of rain). If you want the mulch to break down faster, you'll need to add organic fertilizer that's high in nitrogen. This could be used chicken litter thrown on top, or organic lawn fertilizers. The wood will sop up nitrogen as it decomposes, but will then re-release it gradually into the soil. If you are veggie gardening, don't remove the tops of the plants at the end of the season -- just snip them into bits with a set of pruning clippers, throw down some organic fertilizer, and smother with mulch or tree leaves for the Winter. For my garden, I do the same with the top-growth on herbaceous perennials and annuals at the end of the season.

    Pest problems? Not really an issue for me where I live, and what I grow, so I can't really comment there. But I can tell you one thing -- while pests seem to be able to thrive in disturbed and chemically-altered environments (e.g. conventional gardening, even with pesticides and herbicides), their predators are more picky. So when I decided to go organic, the first year the pests were out of control. But then the predators came, and as long as I keep their needs in mind, the damage is minimal. For example, the first year, rose slugs were an epidemic. This year, the wasps and mantids and birds have discovered good hunting grounds in my yard, and I haven't seen as many rose slugs as last year.

    Long story short -- going no-till and using the layered mulch approach does work, but not immediately. It takes time for everything you throw on the bed to decompose and get incorporated into the existing soil. But once it gets going, and your first layers have fully composted, it's great.

    :)
     
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  3. 2boys1homestead

    2boys1homestead Chillin' With My Peeps

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    That is fantastic advice, thank you.

    I'm thinking of cardboard/mulch/compost layering my garden. I'm figuring the first year, I'll basically be setting up a buffet for the wildlife. It will be a veggie garden, so I will probably go ahead and either build raised beds, or I'll till the garden the first year (and cover it with fine-ish wood mulch) and just go to town. But it will be a one-and-done sort of thing.

    Thanks so much for your insight! :)
     
  4. Rosa moschata

    Rosa moschata Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I'll add something that will work for you (with veggies) that wouldn't work for me (with ornamentals) -- give yourself a year to get the soil in the bed going before you plant. In Spring, frame out the area you wish to use for a plot, and then turn it into a big open compost bin. Throw anything that can be composted into the plot -- non-meat and non-dairy food waste, poultry litter, grass clippings, etc. Sprinkle some organic fertilizer on it, then cover with a mix of equal parts peat moss and vermiculite. Keep doing this throughout the season. If you want, plant a cover-crop in Autumn, then till everything together for Spring planting. Or simply cover the plot with a few inches of mulch and plant directly in Spring. As the growing season continues, when a crop is finished, snip up the top growth and cover it with compost and/or mulch, and plant the next round on top.

    All this is easier for veggies since most will be done by Winter, and you start planting all over again in Spring. For me, however, I'll be weaving through the rose canes to get the soil ready for next year.

    :)
     
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  5. 2boys1homestead

    2boys1homestead Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thank you, I'll keep that in mind!
     
  6. lazy gardener

    lazy gardener Flock Master

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    Now is the perfect time to be preparing the soil for your garden to be. You might want to read "Lasagna Gardening" by ? Lanza. My gold standard reading is "The no work garden" by Ruth Stout. Any thing she's written is worth it's weight in gold. I only bring out my tiller when preparing a new garden bed, or doing a heavy duty task, like digging holes for posts or to lay electrical cable. Your first year, and maybe your second year, don't be shy about using commercial fertilizers. A bag of 10-10-10, or a couple shots of miracle grow can turn those first few years into a garden bonanza. IMO, it's better to use a little fertilizer to help things along than having to buy your produce from the grocery store. I have been a mulch advocate for at least 15 years. In the early years, I used straw... until everybody started using it, then the price shot up to $8.50/bale. Now, I use mulch hay, and can get excellent quality hay from a farm about 4 miles from my house for $3.00/bale. I'm not very concerned about weeds. If you keep a deep mulch over the soil, those weed seeds aren't going to germinate. You just have to pull the mulch back when you plant your seeds. Then, after they're up, gradually snug the mulch up around the seedlings. For extra weed insurance, you can lay newspaper (at least 8 layers thick) or cardboard between the rows or garden beds. Fallen leaves are a mineral bonanza for the garden. If you can run them through the lawnmower or a shredder, so much the better. If you can mix them with grass clippings, you've got a great blend of carbon and nitrogen. Got a farm near by? Manure! I wouldn't waste my time buying bags of processed manure, but that's just my style. I'm a country gal, and not used to thinking urban. Heap as much organic material up on your garden site (aim for a 2' deep layer) give it a healthy dose of nitrogen, cover it with plastic, and it will be well on it's way to being a fantastic garden by spring. 2 guys should be able to come up with plenty of liquid nitrogen to get that garden site cooking.

    Wood chips in the garden. I tryed a mini Hugelkulture bed using wood chips heavily laced with chicken manure. Piled it 6" deep and covered it with soil and leaves. The flock uncovered it last week, after it sat for a full year, and it looked pretty much like it did when I put it down last fall. I'd save those wood chips for permanent paths. However, an other resource for you to check is "Back to Eden" gardening. This guy is a gardening pioneer: taking a concept as old as time, and producing wonderful results in a controlled environment.

    Chickens entered my mix in the spring of 2013. I've seen an incredible decrease in garden pests. Slugs are inevitable in a mulched garden, but in my area, they're inevitable anyway! I don't have as many since gardening with chickens. If you really want to make an impact on the slugs, get a couple of Kahki Campbell ducks. They crank out more eggs than chickens do, and they LIVE for slugs. When the chickens are kicked out of my garden for the season, I use Sluggo around my slug attracting crops. Be sure that any product you use has Iron Phosphate as the ONLY active ingredient. The chickens get turned into the garden after the first killing frost, and are allowed to work the garden until the following April. When the ground freezes, I block them out of what ever area I intend to grow greens, or any plant that has close contact with the soil and is eaten raw. Any weeds that do sprout in my garden are not eliminated unless they are impeding crop growth. I consider them to be a source of green manure and chicken feed. Garlic? I let it stay in the ground year round, harvesting only what I need. I allow some of the scapes to mature. They set bulbils which fall to the ground and produce a bountiful crop of new garlic. I can pull clumps of garlic that are 8 - 10" across.

    Future plans: More garden space! With an area dedicated to stuff that I don't want the chickens to have access to. Someone gave me some Egyptian onions a year ago. They got lost in the garden jungle, and I recently found a single little 1/2" bulb... can't find any other shreds of the plant. So, hope to have a single bed that is chicken proof.
     
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  7. carolb5

    carolb5 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    One thing I do also when trying something new, do 1 bed. Compare it to the regular beds side by side. I use mulch, applied in the fall to save time in the spring. I used to till under the mulch, plant, and then mulch again. I just didn't always get it done before having to deal with weeding. Now, in cooler weather and more time I'm mulching like crazy, grass trimmings, leaves, chicken yard and house clean-up, and manure, hay.

    My soil is already great. Mulching works so well for me.

    Lazy Gardner gave great advice. As did Rosa Moschata.

    I was excited to see this topic!!!!!

    Carol
     
  8. 2boys1homestead

    2boys1homestead Chillin' With My Peeps

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    Thanks for all the great advice! Unfortunately, we won't be in a home until spring so I might have to deal with the land I'm given for the first year. I will look up those books you mentioned, I love gardening books.

    I have watched "Back to Eden", I found it really fascinating. It's actually what made me want to do no-till gardening. I didn't really care for the religious overtones, but the information for the garden was good.

    Chickens will come in winter of year one at the homestead, I will make sure to put aside leaves and stuff so they can get to breaking them down for me. If I can manage, I might even try to get a couple pullets in the late summer or early fall.

    Thank you! All these ideas coming in are great!
     
  9. 2boys1homestead

    2boys1homestead Chillin' With My Peeps

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    This is one of my favorite gardening topics. I really don't like heavy machinery, so I'm trying to find ways to do it without that cost or the bother of learning to run them or care for them.
     
  10. carolb5

    carolb5 Chillin' With My Peeps

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    I see you follow the Oldworldgardenfarm. Just found them myself. Like their style. About equipment, we have and I have used them all. I have a 52" tiller on one tractor. I could till every year. But!
    I personally detest hoeing weeds, no matter how advanced the tool is, I still have to stand out there and use it. So mulch does it for me, plus enriches my soil and I don't need to build compost piles.
    Carol
     

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