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

Trying out paper mulch

Mulch paper

It feels a bit decadent to be trying out this store-bought mulch paper, even though the price per square foot is comparable to the cost of straw. On the up side, unlike other manufactured sheet mulches, this paper is reputed to be fully biodegradable, so we won't have the issue that black plastic causes, where you're picking your "mulch" out of the soil for years to come. On the down side, the paper won't add nearly as much organic matter to the soil as straw would, water penetration may or may not be an issue, and I'm not sure how the paper will fare once the areas beneath the weights begin to rot away. That's why we're only experimenting on a small scale.

Honestly, I probably wouldn't have even tried it, but the last year has been so absurdly wet that I've finally ended up carrying in my mulch half a bale at a time on my shoulder. After daily mulch walks, the garden is starting to shape up and my stamina is much improved...but I know I won't be able to keep up with the weed pressure of a summer garden. One roll of mulch paper will take the place of several bales of straw and might serve as a stopgap measure while we're waiting for either the weather to dry out or for other people to find time in their busy schedules to work on our driveway.

Cardboard mulch

Of course, cardboard mulch is much preferable to any kind of paper, especially amid the perennials. The tree row above hasn't been weeded yet this year, but it's looking pretty good regardless due to cardboard laid down last fall. In a perfect world, I'd add mulch on top of the cardboard, but during this stopgap year, I've instead taken to weighing down the paper product with bits of prunings and other debris --- just enough to keep the mulch from blowing away in our non-windy climate. Cardboard is midway in carry-ability between the paper mulch and straw, the sticking point there usually being sourcing the waste product.

To cut a long story short, growing our own mulch has become much more of a priority this year. I'm actually cutting back on nonessential parts of the vegetable garden this year in order to have more room for cutting beds of oats, barley, sorghum-sudangrass, and pearl millet. There's nothing like a problem in the supply chain to make me want to become yet more self-sufficient in the garden!

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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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Well, thanks for giving me an idea as to what to do with all this boxes that have had things like computers and kitchen appliances shipped in. Instead of schlepping them to the landfill, I'll use them as mulch around certain areas. Good idea!
Comment by NaYan Wed Apr 22 09:08:59 2015
I tried paper mulch for the first time last year. We had an unusually wet summer, and the paper didn't make it to the end of the season. The areas where I put grass clippings on top of the paper mulch did better than the exposed paper mulch. It was nice not having to remove plastic mulch debris.
Comment by W. Wed Apr 22 10:35:39 2015

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