The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Improving our mulching system

Oat mulch

Winter is a good time to put more thought into systems within your homestead that need a little tuneup. What do I mean by "systems"? Well, mulching is a good example. In our garden, the advantages of a permanent mulch vastly outweigh the disadvantages, but cost and time mean that I don't always keep the ground fully covered. A good system would make mulch easier to come by, ensuring that our garden soil stays in tip-top health.

Forest gardeners talk about chop 'n drop as their primary mulching system, but in my own experience, the result is a lot of work without fully covering the ground. In our wet climate, halfway-mulched soil is almost worst than unmulched soil since weeds come up through the mulch and you're stuck trying to rip out the former without removing the latter. In drier regions, chop 'n drop might work, but around here, we need a more serious mulching campaign.

For the annual garden, my favorite winter solution is a fall cover crop of oats (or oilseed radishes if I want to plant into the ground in the very early spring). So, this year, I decided to try the same thing in our perennial beds. The photo at the top of this post shows the result, which is good but not yet perfect. The flaw came about because the soil around my blueberries was already partially mulched when I sprinkled oat seeds onto the ground, so germination wasn't perfect, leaving me with a partially-mulched situation. But the experiment is a good start, and suggests that perhaps if I raked in the oat seeds when I planted them rather than scattering the seeds on the soil surface (which seems to work fine in the vegetable garden), then I might get better mulch coverage around the perennials. The possible negative side effect that I'd anticipated --- oats competing with the blueberries during the growing season --- didn't seem to be a factor.

Inquisitive goat

Goats are the other new addition to our mulching system. In the past, the manurey deep bedding from our chicken coops has served as a partial mulch solution, but the greater quantities coming from the goat coop should increase the amount of garden area we can cover with this prime amendment. As an added bonus, deep bedding acts as fertilizer as well as a weed suppressant, which means we won't have to haul in as much off-farm manure this year. Yet another system that I've been wanting to tweak....

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I wonder if the raking in of the oats will have any detrimental effect on the blueberries shallow root system.
Comment by Brian Sun Dec 28 15:08:01 2014
Brian --- That's an excellent point! Perhaps better just to go with so-so coverage rather than risking affecting the blueberry roots.
Comment by anna Sun Dec 28 16:54:04 2014

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