Building new raised beds for next year. I have a large amount of hazel and cedar that needs pruning/cutting back.
I'm shredding the waste which obviously contains a lot of leaves as well as wood. Is it a good idea to lay this quite thickly on top of the new beds? If so is it worth covering with plastic to maybe speed up it breaking down in time for next spring? Intention is to try a no-till approach.
Any input most welcome.
You have a large amount of cedar you are going to prune and shred? Awesome! If I were in your shoes I would use that for mulch on top of the beds, yes. I've found cedar to be a great mulch. It looks good, it smells good, it works good. :) It's oils are a broad spectrum antimicrobial agent and antifungal agent, which also makes it great for mulching.
Those very same properties make it a poor soil amendment IMO. I would never use cedar in a hugel, nor would I intentionally mix it into soil. I understand that some of the oils will leach into the top layer of soil when used as a mulch, but that's a far different animal than mixing antimicrobial/antifungal agents into the soil where the roots of your plants are going to be.
If I were you I would shred that cedar and keep it in tubs or bags out of the rain, depending on the scale we're talking, then apply it fresh over the bed with little holes scooped out for the seedlings.
In the meantime, yes, I would try to get organic matter into those beds and either plant a nitrogen fixing cover crop such as buckwheat, or cover with plastic.
Covering the chips is not necessary. The green matter in the bed will help the chips break down.
If you were so inclined, maybe consider a mushroom species to help the compost process. I personally recommend wine caps, but the cedar could be an issue. How much cedar is in there?
Even if you cannot find wine caps, some fungus will start and that is a good thing for composting. Try to leave the chips undisturbed so as to not interfere with fungal activity.
I would think about getting some plant started immediately. It could be a nitrogen fixer like beans (now in the heat of summer) or peas once things cool off. Or you could plant something like small plants of tomatoes or squash. If you go the latter route I would dig little fertile holes. The benefit is that the plants and micro organisms will work together to break down that wood.
If you go the fertile hole method you can use the bed immediately. I really like to use tomatoes during the first year as they grow well in the fertile hole, spread roots into the surrounding chips and provide shade to help out decomposes as well as help prevent evaporation.
I have had good luck with this technique in the past, but this is only an introduction. If you have any other questions, please ask.
Thanks. I'm going to have a lot of cedar and not much area to store it (about 40 trees that need heavy pruning and thinning). The early finished beds have either oilseed radish , caliente mustard or buckwheat in. Was going to cut these when ready then apply the cedar / hazel mulch on top.
Some of the hazel has gone into compost piles and breaks down quickly and nicely. But again have a surplus. It's something that produces a lot of material every year - cut them twice a year. Very leafy and soft wood - shreads easily. But not ideal for pathways etc as it breaks down so fast.
We're a bit late here for any new summer crops and it'll be hot and dry from now until October.
Already have some mushroom activity from old wood that was buried in the old beds a couple of years ago.
I got 50 yards of free sawdust that ended up being mostly cedar. I made a few lasagna style beds with quite a bit of the sawdust in them. The green layers in the lasagna were mostly grass clippings with a little bit of food scraps and dog poop - so not crazy high in nitrogen. Peas, radishes, and rye have all grown just fine in those beds, in the year of building and after.
Maybe the higher surface area of the sawdust means the allelopathic properties break down more quickly. Just to be safe, I'd use the cedar as mulch on perennials first, so I didn't end up mixing it into the soil when I planted or harvested annuals.
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