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

Taking apart a temporary kill mulch

Effects of mulch on soil

A month ago, I laid down a kill mulch over an annual ryegrass cover crop that I wanted to turn into bare ground for this week's planting.  The results were inspiring.

We've had very little rain during that month, and even though I water most of the vegetable garden, I've opted to leave this plot unirrigated in 2012.  A nearby bed that wasn't kill mulched is dry as a bone when I dug into the top few inches, but the soil under my kill mulch had just the right moisture content for planting.

Decomposing ryegrassThe photo at the top of this post makes the kill-mulched soil look a little cloddy, but it's really not.  Instead, the dirt is held together with just enough fungal bonds that it keeps its shape, but when I pulled the hoe through to make a planting furrow, the earth split like the red sea.

Under the kill mulch, just about all of the ryegrass had died due to the absence of light, leaving a thin layer of dead leaves on the soil surface.  Lower down, the roots had rotted and created a loose, crumbly soil totally unlike what this awful area used to be like.

In case you're curious about what to do with the cardboard and straw from a temporary kill mulch like this --- it's all reusable.  I raked back the straw, carefully lifted the layers of cardboard off and transferred them to a new plot of ground, then put the straw back on top.  A few pieces of cardboard tore, but the layer is just blocking grass and clover in its new location, so I suspect it will do its job all over again.  (I wouldn't put secondhand kill mulch cardboard over serious weeds.)

Small mammal tunnels under kill mulch

The one potential problem amid all this glory of kill mulching is small mammals.  Burrows of voles, moles, or shrews are obvious as soon as I lift up the cardboard, and a few gardeners report these little guys harm their crops.  However, I've yet to see any damage from my furry kill mulch neighbors, which makes me think my garden may only be home to the insectivores (moles and shrews) rather than the herbivores (voles).  I'll let you know if I start seeing nibbled carrots and potatoes.

Protect your flock from heat exhaustion!  Our chicken waterer provides copious clean water so they don't run dry on hot days.

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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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