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Overtaken by weeds - how do I sheet mulch? Can I use pine needles?  RSS feed

 
                    
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I recently purchased a home in the country and the former owners used chemicals on the lawn. Will this affect my well water?  My yard is completely covered in weeds and I’ve been out there weeding for hours per day, but I am still losing the battle. I have very little topsoil. I just recently heard about sheet mulching. I’m wondering how to do this exactly. I have a lot of long needles pines—can I use all the brown needles that have fallen on the ground? Do I start with newspaper or cardboard? Do I add things like fruit skins, eggshells, coffee grounds, etc.? When do I add the topsoil? Then do I just plant the grass on top? Any help would be very much appreciated.
 
Leah Sattler
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are these just weeds in your yard and you would prefer a weed free lawn or is this in a garden area?
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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most of the people that i know that do the sheet mulching use the cardboard or papers on the ground first..and then they pile on everything that they can find..not necessarily any soil..but the same type of things you would use in a compost pile..mulch..etc..and then they water well and slit through the cardboard or paper, pushing back the mulch to plant in the plants..if you are planting row crops however..then you might need to make a trench and put in some soil..for those types of plantings..
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22340
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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Whoa!  That's just way too much work! 

A little knowledge should bring you twice as much good stuff with half the effort.

Well, if you are spending hours a day pulling weeds from your lawn, I think I can get you a far better lawn than you imagined with 20 times less effort. 

Second, can you post some pics of your land and tell us what you would like to do?  It sounds like you want some lawn and some gardens?

 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
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Location: Oakland, CA
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organicMN wrote:...the former owners used chemicals on the lawn. Will this affect my well water?


The person who dug your well should know whether water can percolate into it from your lawn.  Often wells pass through the layer that would collect surface water from directly above, to a deeper layer of groundwater.

If partly-empty containers of these lawn chemicals are still on the property, and/or if you can conveniently ask the former owner, it might be worth looking up whether these chemicals biodegrade, and what concentration in drinking water is considered safe over the long term.  For most of the likely chemicals, it won't be a concern.

There are exceptions to everything that follows, but here are some general notes: 

Trace amounts of common fertilizers (Miracle Gro) are not harmful to people. 

Most broad-spectrum biocides (bleach) are eventually neutralized in soil, because they act in a generic way that many types of life automatically counteract; the worst of them leave some subtle traces, but well water typically has less of this than chlorinated municipal water. 

Old-school pest treatments (1980s & earlier pressure-treated lumber, 1900s powdered insecticide) sometimes have heavy metals in them, in which case lime or other alkaline minerals mixed into the soil may slow or prevent further leaching into groundwater.  For the same reasons, they are rarely a problem in hard water.  Soil and water tests for heavy metals are straightforward and not too expensive, if you are suspicious.

Targeted pesticides (Roundup, Raid) are most often organophosphates, which biodegrade and, in trace amounts, are often less harmful to humans than the "inert" ingredients they're mixed with; I'm much more concerned with their effect on systems than on individuals.  Halogenated hydrocarbons (Clopyralid, DDT) are another common class of pesticides, and these are generally not biodegradable.  They can build up in tissues, and their toxicity varies quite a bit, so traces in drinking or irrigation water may be a concern.  Look up the individual product.
 
                    
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Here are some pics. I’m not so interested in the gardens right now—just lawn for a child and dogs to play on. My goal is to get grass growing to have a nice lawn for the kids and dogs to play.

At my other homes, my strategy had been to apply lime, pick all the yellow head dandelions before they seed and manually remove some of those and any thistles.

I don’t mind some weeds, but I don’t like the thistles and the broadleafs that seem to be taking over.

I can’t even get seed to grow. I bought a bag of topsoil, sprinkled a layer of it and seeded. I covered it with mulch. Usually this would do the trick, but no grass is even growing. I have the feeling that my yard is addicted to chemicals.

Is sheet mulching only for preparing gardens?

I’m open to any solutions. Thanks!

 
                    
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Oops - here are the pics. These are both in sunny areas of my lawn.
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more pics
Area-that-I-weeded-see-new-weeds-coming-up.JPG
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I-like-the-yellow-flowers-what-are-they-anyway.JPG
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More pics. These are the only two good places in my yard. One area is under the deck, where it is completely shaded.  The other area is just in a random place in the yard. There is tall dark grass growing in a small patch. 
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jeremiah bailey
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organicMN, is there anyway you can enlarge the pics? They're so small I can barely even tell the one pic even had any yellow flowers, much less identify them. It looks like you uploaded the thumbnails instead of the actual pics.

On thing I'd suggest doing is getting a soil test done. Your local extension should be able to help you with this. It sounds like your soil is all out of whack. This is the only way to know for sure, and point you in the right direction to solve the issues.

Sheet mulching is kind of extreme for rehabbing a lawn. Especially since you do have grass growing there. It will kill the existing grass. It is also much more work than is usually needed. A better approach is to encourage the existing grass to thrive and discourage the weeds. Sheet mulching for the same reason can be an ideal way of preparing a garden bed on ground full of undesirable plants.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22340
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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What jeremiah bailey said ....

bigger pics.  Sheet mulching is usually not for lawns, better to just improve what you have.

 
Jennifer Smith
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Location: Zone 5
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What I am doing at my place is soaking horse manure as to make manure tea.  Mix well to break up clumps and make a slop.  Pour over all places needing mulch/fertaliser/organic matter.  I often skim off the tea for my flowerbeds too.  Some places in my yard are going to take more than one thin layer.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22340
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
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I seem to remember reading about some research that suggests that pastures actually do better if you don't break up the manure. 

And ... if you still wanna break up the manure .... I've heard of some farmers introducing dung beetles ...  - could save you a fair bit of work!
 
Jennifer Smith
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Location: Zone 5
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Hello again Paul,

I have to differ with you on the piles left by horses.  From many years (decades) of observation I know if left unbroken they kill the grass underneeth, harbor parasites and are unsightly. 

My soulition is chickens.  I do not have the time to discuss chickens (I love them second maybe only to horses) but want to say, I loved your article, well articles really. 

I agree that fenced away from the house is nice and why I only brought one hen and a clutch of eggs with me...I need more chickens!  But in the pasture not the yard.  Next month a crate or two of mine will arrive at my new home.  I have been breeding several generations and they can forage!!  I am not sure the egg to feed ratio is but it would have to be high.  I hear they are not as tasty as the cornish cross and much harder to butcher... but they are gentle, pretty, birds.  The rooster has fathering instincts as my hens are broody, all can feed themselves with little help, and reproduce well. 

Ah, there see I just can't help but talk chickens. 
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 22340
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
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listenstohorses wrote:
I have to differ with you on the piles left by horses.  From many years (decades) of observation I know if left unbroken they kill the grass underneeth, harbor parasites and are unsightly. 


Everything you have said here is true.

And .... there is more ....

Consider that horses are fairly particular grazers.  Consider that you let them into a paddock and they graze for a few days and move to the next paddock.  Each paddock gets 30 days of rest.  Enough time to put seed heads on lots of things.  So when a horse arrives in a paddock, the horse goes and eats the best stuff first.  And the seeds come out the other side intact and surrounded by fertilizer.  At first, the "pie" kills everything already growing in that spot.  And it is replaced with stuff that the horse likes to eat. 

As for overall disease and the like - when horses encounter "pie" (maybe "horse potatoes" would be more accurate) - as long as there is lots and lots of good food around, they steer clear of "pie".  Thus avoiding the very things you are concerned about.

The important thing is:  there has been a lot of research in this area and a lot of information gathering, weighing and digesting ....  farmers used to harrow their land regularly to break up the pies.  But it seems there is now a lot of industry consensus that irregardless of the work involved, not harrowing is better.  And once you add in the actual work, then not harrowing is MUCH better. 

As with many things - especially on a farm, there are lots and lots of factors. 

Chickens:  best to take this up in the critter care forum. 


 
Leah Sattler
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well I must point out that to the horses "the best stuff" doesnt' have seeds in it to be eaten and pooped out. they are very particular about going after the fresh new grass. it seems silly sometimes for me to watch them grazing in an area that seems almost completely bare when there is what appears to be lush tall grass just a few steps away.
 
Jennifer Smith
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Location: Zone 5
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Good morning Leah,

You sound like you do your fair share of watching horses out the window.  I so enjoy it, I would keep horses if for no other reason.

I feed my horses whole grains such as milo, sunflower, some wheat and oats, with little corn... depending on where we are and what is available locally.  I also add grass seed, several kinds, with some other tastys thrown in (clover, lespadesa, vetch, ...again depending on where we are.  Did I mention that I do not feed my chickens?  Well they love table scraps and such.  (well ok, I give them handouts to be friendly)

We (my horses and I) have lived many places from coast to coast and from the Gulf of Mexicoto (not always the same horses) ...not quite Canada, not yet.  We have learned how other folk do it.

We have always left a place with better soil than we found it.  More food growing too, less parasites...these are some of my goals for where I live...where ever that may be.
 
Jennifer Smith
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Location: Zone 5
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If this works here is a photo of my grass over gravel drive.  I do not enjoy walking on gravel barefooted so this is my soulition...my soulition to most things, lol.
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Posts: 8
Location: Irving, Tx
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I read some posts for August about using sigar on lawns.
One said they read about one woman who uses sugar.
That may have been my answer in Allexperts.
I have used sugar on my lawn for about 15 years now, and I NEVER see a weed.
I live in the Dallas Tx area, and every weed know to man grows here,I think.
What sugar does in feeds the microbes that work day in and day out all year long enriching your soil
Weeds won't thrive in rich soil. Make rich soil, any weeds that come up die out right away.
No, sugar does not attract ants. DUH, you water it in. there is no sugar on the ground to attract anything.
You will get fire ants and other ants that are not attracted to sugar, but I am not bothered by them either.
When you make a safe home for them, with no poison chemicals to threaten their lives, you attract toads, lizards and grass snakes.
I don't ever see the grass snakes, they scurry away when ther feel or hear your coming. they are as afraid of you as you are of them. I see the toads, but they hop away, and the lizards stop and listen to me when I talk to them as they run along the rails of my deck, but I don't touch them. Don't care to pet things that slither, or I think will feel yucky. I like cats and dogs to pet, not reptiles.
I broke my back and ruined my knees from many years of chemical gardening, Spent money like a drunken sailor, and still had weeds to battle and the insects.
Now my lawn livestock eats all those critters, so I never see any grubs, etc,
toads LOVE slugs, that makes them my best friend. I can't abide to even look at a slug, and I can't handle things they drown in. If I see that, I couldn't eat for a week. Let the toads dine in style and spare me all that.
Since I switched to organics, I spend less than 10% of the time I used to spend, less than 10 % of the money, and have the gorgeous, thick lawn that I always slaved for but never got.
I use herbs I grow to keep my house bug free, and they work MUCH better then the chemicals did.
The other BIG plus to organic gardening, I haven't had a severe Asthma attack since I got rid of all those chemiclas.
now I only have to worry about the pollutants in the air, which we have in abundance here. I just stay indoors on red and orange alert days.
I am very glad to help anyone with organic gardening. I love to share what I have learned over the years.
write me at ,  charlotte34@verizon.net
 
Jennifer Smith
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Location: Zone 5
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I am a firm believer in feeding the soil and all it's varied life.  For me it all starts with cleaning the barn But I think I will spread sugar on a section and see what happens.  What time of the year is best?
 
                                  
Posts: 8
Location: Irving, Tx
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You can apply the sugar at any time of year. That's the beauty of organics, you an do it anytime and still get maximum results.
I di it in the fall and again in the spring, and in mid summer here because we have such extreme summers. The microbes can be weakened a LOT by our HOT summers, so about mid June, I give them another shot of sugar.
  If you try it on only one section, it would have to be a section you DO NOT use any chemicals on. Doing it by little dabs doesn't work unless the section you pic is separated from the rest of the lawn, by sidewalks etc, so the whole lawn in that section is treated the same way.
If you put any chemicals at all on your lawn, you totally undo any organic products, whether they are organic fertilizers or home grown remedies, because all chemicals kill all the beneficial micro-organisms in the soil.
I know, sugar, cider vinegar, and a lot of the things we use are "chemicals", but they are not the same as the chemicals used in the manufacturing of fertilizers, insecticides, and weed killers.
Chemical fertilizer is even worse than insecticides. Chemical fertilizers completely destroy all organic life in your soil.You can apply i now, even if you have a foot of snow on the ground. It will just melt in with the snow.
Every spring I spray all the trees, shrubs, and all over the lawn with orange oil. It kills so many ppests,( or drives them away, whatever, they do not destroy my plants).to 1 gal water, add 2 oz orange oil, and 1 oz liquid soap. I prefer horticultural soap or Amway's LOC.
I use LOC as a first choice because it disperses the oil evenly through the water, and makes it cling to the leaves better.
Only weeds do not like rich soil. Tree sprouts that come up will still come up, and thrive.
I don't buy even organic fertilizers because I go to the feed store and buy alfalfa meal. that stuff will grow limbs on a wooden leg. It is soooo full of nutrients, and I use lava sand.
After a volcano erupts, and every thing coold off, grass and other vegetation grows like it is on steroids. That is why they have those gorgeous flowers on the volcanic islands.
With the sugar to feed the microbes, and the alfalfa meal and lava sand, everything grows like crazy. No need for any more fertilizers.
 
Jeremy Bunag
gardener
Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
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I have heard similar things about using molasses that you find in the feed section of your farm stores.  Same principle, cheap in bulk...

But I've also heard the theory of this being somewhat like the principle of chem fertilizers, like feeding your kids candy.  Yup, they'll like it and be happy and have booms in population, but you have to keep feeding somewhat slavishly.  But truly the comparison is a little unfair...molasses is no way as scary as chems, nor do you need to feel bad about using it!

I'm sure there's a happy medium though!
 
Scott Reil
Posts: 179
Location: Colchester, CT
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Jeremy's point is a good one; no ecosystem should ever be set up for constant human input, and a boom/bust cycle can occur if humus levels are low...

But for the most part this simply feeds bacteria, feeding the protozoa, feeding nematodes and microarthropods, feeding mites and worms, feeding...well you get the idea. And at every level there are nitrogen releases; we call this nitrogen amplification, the soil food web, or poop looping. It is how Nature fertilizes and so it works without pathogens, salts or other soil destroying methodology. Charlotte's sugar, Jeremy's molasses; certainly better than any blue goo from a bag...

If you have low soil biology then Charlotte's alfalfa meal adds humus (a place for biology to live) and a pretty high nitrogen level for organics, so a good place to start if you are at base levels (pics so far suggest that sort of rack bottom). Jen's manure tea is a good idea for [glow=red,2,300]immediate[/glow] use and lower E.coli levels; lawn, NOT food crops. FDA minimums for manure treated crops run to nearly half a year before harvest. And Jen's chickens  breaking up horse apples also gets excessive seed out as well; a problem for horse manure and a bonus noted by Joel Salatin. Good thinking Jen...

But most of all, I second Paul's assertion that sheet composting will do more damage than good and you should just get what you got back to health; I hope you find some of this helpful in that pursuit...

HG
 
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