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

The allure of mulch

Roof with rafters and cross-pieces, ready for tinWhy, you ask, are we out cutting wood when we're trying to hurry up and finish our homemade storage building?  Well, Monday it poured all day and the creek went up, so when we headed out to work on Tuesday, we were chagrined to discover that the screws we'd bought last weekend were on the other side of a raging flood.  Then we started pondering how to seal in the skylight over Mark's loft in the new roof, and realized that none of the roof sealants are going to dry properly at temperatures hovering around freezing.

And, of course, there's the siren song of mulch.  We got in touch with one of our neighbors this weekend and have decided to go in on renting an industrial chipper one weekend soon.  (At a lot of the rental places, you can take a piece of equipment home on Saturday morning and not have to return it until Monday morning for the price of a single day since they're closed on Sunday.)  We want to get the most bang for our buck, so that means consolidating all of the brush into a few big piles for easy access.

My mouth starts watering every time I think of the chipper, and I keep having to remind myself not to count my chickens before they hatch.  But every brush pile is already earmarked for a project.  We've got two big piles of pine limbs that I figure will make an awesome, acidifying mulch on our blueberries, and a pile of freshly cut and fallen branches that will make a great substrate for the King Stropharia spawn we plan to order in a few weeks.  Then there are the three year old brush piles that we originally planned to burn like our neighbors do, but instead decided to let rot down --- I figure that these will turn into instant, semi-composted mulch to go straight on perennials.  Hopefully, we'll have a few more afternoons to build our brush piles before the chipper comes through.

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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 think I need to make a t-shirt declaring it, I love mulch that much! So, you're not alone, I also think mulching is the best thing ever.

Do you till the mulch in at the end of the season or in the Spring or just move it aside and plant through it? We didn't do anything with the garden in the fall, other spread some more mulch and manure in some places, so now I'm faced with deciding whether to till in the big mat of straw where the squashes were, or just weed and plant in the same hills as before. Thoughts?

Comment by Bethany Wed Jan 27 10:57:14 2010
I wish I had neighbors like you
Comment by brett Wed Jan 27 11:45:41 2010

Bethany --- such a perfect t-shirt idea! Or maybe a bumper sticker. I very rarely find things I care enough about to put on a bumper sticker, but that would be one of them.

To answer your question --- we go no-till, so the goal is to just push back any mulch that hasn't rotted in when planting direct-seeded things (or planting through it when transplanting. That's mostly theoretical, though, since this year is the first one I've gotten my act together and actually mulched the annual beds. :-) (With perennials, I just keep layering more on top, with some manure thrown in for good measure.)

For your squash, first of all --- do you have another spot to rotate them to? You might get into disease trouble by planting them in the same spot for two years in a row. If not, I'd just rake back a little bit of mulch to plant the seed --- after all, squashes take up such a huge area beyond the part where you plant, and it's really nice not to disturb ground you don't have to so that you don't get weeds.

Brett --- you should wish you have neighbors like my neighbors, not like me. They're the ones with the big truck to haul the chipper, and who are hopefully even going to lend us their tractor to get the chipper back across the creek. :-)

Comment by anna Wed Jan 27 12:16:29 2010
Please be careful and follow all safety precautions using that machine. It is very dangerous. Last year around here there was an incident where a "professional" got caught in one because he put the tip end in first instead of the butt end (cut end). He was caught in it and sorry to say he is no more. Stay well clear, use sturdy gloves, and put the butt end in first, always. Then you will have all the well processed mulch you could want. You should consider wearing eye and ear protection also. I worry I do!
Comment by vester Wed Jan 27 18:40:36 2010
Don't worry --- Mark's very much into safety first!
Comment by anna Wed Jan 27 20:31:28 2010
Hope yall are ready for round two. Ice and snow is coming through here in Arkansas on Thursday night and should get to you over the weekend.
Comment by Erich Wed Jan 27 23:08:20 2010
I hauled a big rental chipper/shredder for a friend once who wanted to mulch some leaves. After four hours and three bushels of mulch, my friend gave up in disgust. I wish you better luck.
Comment by Errol Thu Jan 28 11:04:11 2010

Erich --- we'd better get that roof on, then!!!

Daddy --- I remember you saying that. It must have been a leaf-specific experience --- the neighbors we're going in with rented one of these for tree limbs a few years ago and said it was awesome. Or maybe it was the quality of the machine?

Comment by anna Thu Jan 28 11:31:39 2010

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