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

Kill-mulching annual ryegrass

Ryegrass roots

Kill mulchThe good news is --- I'm very happy with my annual ryegrass cover crop.  The bad news is --- I really couldn't manage to keep all those beds fallow for more than three months.  I just wanted extra this and that, and decided to steal back about half the fallow space for succession planting in the midsummer garden.

We haven't been managing the ryegrass optimally, but it has held up well under some abuse.  You're supposed to let the grass grow pretty tall (just short of bloom) and then mow the plants down to four inches, but I've been letting Mark treat the ryegrass like part of the lawn.  That means he cuts the ryegrass pretty short at pretty frequent intervals, but it has always bounced back.

As you can see from the photos at the top of this post, the root structure of annual ryegrass is pretty inspiring.  People often use the plant to hold soil in place after construction projects, and I noticed the brilliant yellow-green along our country roads in a few places  last fall once I knew what to look for.  I'm always guessing at the effects of cover crops since I'm too lazy to measure organic matter content in the beds before and after, but I know these copious roots can only help my problematic clay as they decompose.

Since I'll need some of the ryegrass beds in about a month, I waited until after Mark mowed, then laid down a simple kill mulch of cardboard and straw.  I consider kill mulches Under a kill mulcha tool for the lazy gardener since they're so easy, but (unlike most things we do out of laziness), kill mulches really pay off in the health of the soil.  This last photo shows a weed-covered bed I kill mulched instead of weeded a couple of months ago --- the cardboard has degraded enough that I can tear right through it, there's mycelium everywhere, and the worms fled by the dozen as I cleared a path for sunflower seeds.  If my ryegrass beds look half that good at planting time in a month, I'll be thrilled.

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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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