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

Mulching with what you've got

Cardboard boxIn a perfect world, I'd mulch my vegetable garden with straw and my woody perennials with well composted wood chips (or maybe leaves).  If I needed to lay down a kill mulch, I'd use corrugated cardboard as the kill layer.  (Weekend Homesteader: July gives the science behind these choices, but the short version is --- it just makes the plants happy.)

But we don't live in a perfect world.  Even though I'd been carrying in cardboard from the parking area for a week, I managed to use up every lick of the delicious kill mulch Mulching with junk mailmaterial in one busy Tuesday.  Plus, I'd already mulched with the leaves my mother snagged on her city curb and didn't want to spend all afternoon raking more out of the woods.  (The piles of wood chips at our parking area are mellowing very nicely, but no way am I carrying that heavy organic matter in by hand.)

So, having run out of my favorite mulches, I used...whatever.  Wednesday found me laying down kill mulches alongside the black raspberries with junk mail and then topping it all off with straw.  Yes, I've had mixed results with paper in the past, but I figure woody Straw mulchperennials can handle the high carbon material better than a vegetable garden could, and I also carefully pulled out all the slick pages (although I left some colored newsprint in).  I figure the high nitrogen straw will help counteract the high carbon kill mulch (and will add nitrogen to the soil this summer as the straw rots, making up for the fact that I skimped a bit on manure --- we're running out of that too).

On the plus side, many gardeners believe that it's a good idea to change your mulch and compost source every year so your garden never gets overloaded (or deficient) in one nutrient.  So maybe I should be telling you I thought all this through and decided a year under straw would make the soil in our berry patch more well-rounded?  Naw --- that's too much like bright yellow boots.

Our chicken waterer supplies lots of cardboard to the farm as we unpack the water reservoirs for our pre-made units.

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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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Mulch is heavy when you are raking it up in the woods during winter. The leaves and debri have so much moisture that it is hard to carry, even in a sheet. Ha! Ha!

But all my plants love it!

Comment by Mona Thu Mar 15 12:04:33 2012
Mona --- Yes, definitely worth it! I just decided to take the easy way out with the berries since we'd hauled some bales of straw in the last time the floodplain was passable.
Comment by anna Thu Mar 15 16:04:13 2012

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