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How to plant into a kill mulch

Moving mulch

I get a lot of questions from folks asking when to take apart a kill mulch and how to plant into it.  In general, I like to lay down kill mulches that will rot in place and never be messed with again, but now and then I make more temporary kill mulches.

Mulching to a tree's dripline

As an example of a temporary kill mulch, I laid down sheets of cardboard covered by straw to kill the last of the ryegrass about six weeks ago, and now I want to plant rye there to keep growing biomass over the winter.  So I simply scooped up the straw and moved it to another part of the vegetable garden, then peeled back the partially rotted cardboard, which I piled up to make a more permanent kill mulch expanding a peach bed.  The grass underneath was all dead but only partially decomposed, so I raked it to the edge of the bed to keep rotting before scattering rye seeds on top of the damp soil.

Temporary kill mulch

If you don't have a reason to direct-seed into a young kill mulch, though, you'll get more biomass into the soil by leaving the cardboard in place.  During a damp, warm summer, cardboard completely disappears in a few months, and a cold, wet winter will do the same job, if more slowly.  (Counterintuitively, newspaper rots less quickly, but even it will dissipate in a few summer months.)  Then you can simply rake the straw to the edge of the bed for later if you're going to be scattering seeds, or open up a small hole for transplanting tomatoes or garlic bulbs.  Instant no-till garden!

Our chicken waterer never spills in coops or tractors.


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It will be interesting to see how well, or not, my new kill mulches rot over the winter in this extremely dry climate. hopefully we will get good snows this year to keep things wetter. Things have been down about a month now, with no signs of breaking down yet. :-(. In fact, the kill layer, even though covered by at least 6 inches of mulch and manure, is mostly still dry. As a further experiment, I left one section of the new garden without a kill mulch layer... Just adding all the biomass and manure I can get. And one small area is receiving the benefit of daily chicken visits also.

Comment by Deb Sat Oct 27 11:16:15 2012

I was the beneficiary of roles of old carpet. I mow the old hay fields and lay a thick layer on the proposed bed. Rolling the carpet out on top allows the rain to soak slowly through and keep the light out to that any seeds in the grass don't sprout and take over. This fall I rolled up the carpet and raked the remaining mulch to the sides and seeded winter wheat for the chickens. then I put a lighter grass mulch over the seeding to discourage weeds and birds. This past summer it was entertaining to watch the large rooster bend the tall wheat stems down so that the shorter hens could beck the grain off. Hans @ Qberry Farm [pictures on Facebook]

Comment by Hans Albert Quistorff, LMP Antalgic Posture Pain Specialist Fri Nov 9 23:35:51 2012