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ideas for best use of spoiled hay, leaf mould in small garden

 
Peta Schroder
Posts: 62
Location: Australia
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Hi all, I am new here!

I am living in a residential home on only 420 sqm but I am a stay at home wife trying to turn our garden into a permaculture farmlet, supplying our own fruit, veggies (and eventually eggs too). I have around 180 sqm of planting space available. We live in a dry temperate climate in South Australia.

I would like to maximize our space and minimise water reuirements by planting raised beds, but I only have a sedan vehicle available and I'm not sure that I can lift heavy logs to do hugelkulture. I'm on my own here as hubby has already said he won't do anything for me that "involves touching dirt" LOL.

Anyway, I have the benefit of having a friendly neighbor who breeds small vegetarian critters and she delivers (free of charge too!) a dozen large bags of spoiled lucerne hay each month. Full of pooped and peed on goodness. Today I got an extra treat. She dug up ten huge bags of decomposed leaf mould to give me!!

Anyway, my question is, given these resources and space limitations, would you just spread the lucerne and leaf mulch everywhere and have a flat garden or would you definitely do raised beds? I want some fruit trees too so i am wary of running out of space mega quickly. No matter how high I pile the spoiled lucerne (I can only get it three feet or so before it spills down the sides) it decomposes so fast that my garden ends up flat. So then i'm constantly topping up the mulch as the sour sob loves invading the garden bed when the mulch breaks down. Also the birds push it around looking for worms and so i don't even need to rake or spread it to end up with flat beds. Not a huge problem I know, but still. The biggest problems I'm having is that the weeds are having a party and preventing my seedlings from getting any sunshine, and secondly that when I plant seeds, i lose my whole planting if I have to add more mulch on top.

Any ideas on how to create raised beds that stay raised despite having mulch that decomposes in less than one growing season?

 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
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see if you can find a sawmill or a lumber yard..seek out UNTREATED sawdust or board ends or bark for your hugelbeds. Take with you garbage bags and a shovel and ask if you can fill them and cart them off..they'll likely let you take that small amount for free. Sawmills will have the bark, sawdust and ends and odd pieces around and they should work. For other wood products you can often find pet bedding..that is made from wood products like aspen chips..read the labels.
 
John Polk
steward
Posts: 8019
Location: Currently in Lake Stevens, WA. Home in Spokane
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To clarify this for us "Yanks", what the rest of the English speaking world calls "lucerne", we call "alfalfa".

 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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dont do raised beds in drought areas, do sunken beds.
harder to dig, but traps moisture.

would be worth it to hire a tractor guy for a couple hours, and have dig a couple 2 x 5 meter trenches, 1/2 meter deep.

take one easiest to water, and mix your stuff with soil, and dump it in.
other trenches , fill with whatever dead branch wood you can find, (except gum trees) , and mix and refill as time permits.
i like to pack rocks down around the wood, to create more water space, and still helps drain when it finally does pour.

You can also build a chicken tractor that will fit over the half the 2 meter width, and drag it down the ditch after you harvest , to let the chickens clean the garden.
Just plant it a week apart, down the length, rather than planting the whole bed at once.
 
Peta Schroder
Posts: 62
Location: Australia
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I'm not real keen on sawdust in a garden bed, I'm thinking the fact it's broken into tiny pieces would suck up all the nitrogen from my spoiled lucerne (alfalfa, yes thank you) and the birds would toss it around just as much and it will all be flat in no time. I'd be better off just piling up my lucerne I think. Getting ends and larger pieces of bark from a sawmill could be a great idea; how heavy would the bags get, I suppose I'd have to carry small bags worth? If I could get enough wood in one go to fit my car boot it would be worthwhile, my car is a bit of a petrol hog and so I wouldn't want to go there for smal, quantities (My husband chose it, a V8 Holden commodore, a bit of a beast for a nice lady to drive!)

The sunken beds is a novel idea to me and I hadn't really thought of hiring a tractor, a bobcat we'd call it here. That could work out well. The other alternative is I could lay out all my lucerne and leaf mould and let the earthworms come and suck it down over the winter rainier season and then before it gets dry I could dig trenches myself with a spade. This mulch attracts earthworms in swarms when it's wet enough and it becomes much easier to dig. At the moment it's hard red clay and impossible for me to dig at all. I've for the most part been planting straight into my mulch as guinea pig and rabbit poo doesn't seem to get hot enough to burn seedlings.

I know that gum trees are allopathic because they attract water to themselves for a huge radius around each tree, also obviously we use the eucalyptus oil as an antifungal/antiviral compound and it is hepotoxic, but are the branches really too toxic to use in a hugelbeet? Essential oil is made from the leaves and a lot is used, I've never heard of anyone making oil from the branches. If I was to do hugelkulture then the easiest way for me to get wood would be to wander around the neighborhood after a storm. The eucalyptus trees loose their branches. There are a lot of gum trees here.
 
Morgan Morrigan
Posts: 1400
Location: Verde Valley, AZ.
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i think you can use the branches ok, especially if you leave em in the sun for a month, but they dont break down very quickly. Best wood is old and rotten - so, light.

bobcat wud be ideal, and the width of the bucket is prob just right for width you can lean into from both sides, once it is a garden !
'
Where are your roof drains? can you put the beds where the roof drains will feed the buried beds? can you just build a trench filled with rocks to get it there? (french drain)

Go look out in your yard, does it all drain in one direction? all fall away from the house? this should tell you where to put the beds, and some of the clay that comes out of the garden hole should be spread as swales/berms to direct water to the areas you want it, and charge up the buried wood over the winter. remember to put the tallest stuff you want to plant furthest back, and with a swale to channel water to that fruit tree too.



you can use a garden hose attachment for injecting water and nutrients to tree roots, to dig in rocky clay if you dont mind the mess ! look for "deep watering" and tree root injectors.
coul prob start digging those drains with it now, and then you have a place to put all the rocks you find as you are doing your other projects.

dig a fruit tree hole with the attachment, then once it dries out, loosen the edges and bottom with a spading fork, to break up the clay so the roots can expand. otherwise they will just swirl around and rootbind.
as you place mulch around it, the earthworms and humus will loosen the soil, and you can plant it next year without having to dig it much (still use the fork, push it down and wiggle /lift it just till the soil breaks/ loosens, and the mulch will work its way down there,.
 
Peta Schroder
Posts: 62
Location: Australia
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That's intriguing. In other countries does the water drain off the roof onto the garden? I've never heard of such a thing. All our water is collected in the downpipe which then runs under the driveway straight into the street gutter. I can divert some of it into a tank, but not straight onto the garden afaik. That's just unheard of!

For now I've piled up spoiled lucerne three or four feet and next to it I've piled up leaf mould to the same height and put some small rocks in the valley in the middle. It will probably sink quickly. I've put birdseed in my front garden and so for now the pigeons and sparrows who love pushing my mounds around are busy getting fat on birdseed. My neighbor gives me a dozen bags of spoiled alfalfa every month, so I've got time to work out different strategies. I've still got five bags left in the current batch so I might dig a trench and look for branches that are not too heavy. The drain thing I just can't do though.

Do you think it's worthwhile having a pond in such a small garden?
 
Peta Schroder
Posts: 62
Location: Australia
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I looked up a French drain and it looks like that is used in places with high rainfall. That wouldn't be us, our rainfall very neatly trickles into the down pipe LOL. We have 450mm of rain a year and 1900mm of evaporation.

So perhaps what Morgan was explaining to me is that if I increase my above-ground surface area I would also be increasing the evaporation of water from my beds.

I used irrigation in my front yard over summer - two hours of slow drip irrigation laid under the mulch every three days. With the exception of the surface, the mulch quite effectively acted like a sponge so I have had good growth of both plants and weeds. I don't have my water bill yet so see the damage, but I think the drippers only emit 2L per hour, although I do not know for what length of pipe its based upon so that figure isn't so useful.
 
Varina Lakewood
Posts: 116
Location: Colorado
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Well, on the bright side, the fact that your mulch is decomposing so fast means that you have very healthy microflora and microfauna. That's a good thing. I was told by someone who teaches sustainable organic farming/gardening that mulches/amendments of that sort are supposed to decay within a year's time, or there's something wrong with your soil.
 
Peta Schroder
Posts: 62
Location: Australia
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Its a good problem to have isn't it! I moved in four months ago and just piled this stuff over the hard clay soil we have here. It was so hard and crackd that nothing would grow on it. So far I've put down about 40 bags of spoiled lucerne and its almost all sucked into the ground already. You can't even really tell I hilled it up. I assumed that mulch always did that, didn't think my soil was especially fertile.
 
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