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

Mulching with coppiced elderberries

Elderberry leaf mulch

Summer leaf mulchThis is the time of year when the weeding starts to get ahead of me and I have to cut corners.  For example, a couple of spots in the forest garden had turned into such weed pits that I figured the understory plants were detrimental to the trees above.  Without an hour per tree to root out each weed, I hunted down cardboard and paper feed bags to lay down a quick-and-dirty kill mulch instead.  But what organic matter could I put on top to weigh the kill mulch down and give it some longevity?

Our core homestead was entirely wooded when we got here, and many stumps are still sprouting back from the base annually.  At this time of year, new sprouts are easy to rip loose --- one minute of yanking and I had enough box-elder branches to mulch the little apple tree to the left.

Forest garden

For the forest garden, I instead turned to elderberries.  It's actually part of traditional Guatemalan agriculture to allow elderberries in your fields, then to coppice them regularly to mulch the plants you care about.  Our damp homestead means elderberries spring up everywhere, and I cut down all of last year's stems from the patch in front of the barn in just a couple of minutes.  At this time of year, elderberries are easy to snap across your knee, so the leafy stems are what I ended up topping off my forest garden kill mulches with.  Since I left this year's stems on the trees, they should have plenty of gumption to keep growing, allowing me to repeat the easy mulch-gathering next year.

Last year, I made a similar mulch out of wingstem and ragweed, and the berries mulched thusly stayed much more weed-free than I would have thought, considering that leafy stems tend to dessicate down into a very thin mulch within a few days.  I'm hoping my forest-garden quick fix will have similar results.

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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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