I feel I need to push my notes out while it is still fresh in my head.
First, it is possible to make newspaper/cardboard that would be safe (by my standards) for gardens. But most use chemicals that I am not comfortable with.
This is a massive area of study. Somebody could fill a few chapters in a book on this. So I'm gonna take some shortcuts and say:
1) the wood lignins that make up most paper could get okay paper with mechanical smashing, but better paper comes from a chemical process. Hence, chemical process is preferred. Some papers/cardboards contain a lot more gick (to make it look nice longer) than what folks will usually see for mulch.
2) Cardboard is usually several layers of paper glued together (or a very thick paper) sandwiching a corrugated layer of paper. These layers are glued together. Usually the glue is corn starch based - enhanced with a variety of petroleum chemicals.
Another problem is that newspaper/cardboard tends to not break down particularly fast. And since the mission is usually to smother something that is already there, it is placed in sheets. If too thick, it could make a layer that cannot be penetrated by water or air - maybe for many years.
Last spring I visited somebody's garden where an apple tree was doing poorly. After digging around a little, a layer of newspaper was found about an inch under the soil. It was about a quarter of an inch thick and had apparently been put down to kill weeds about five years earlier. It killed the weeds. And it was making the tree sick. And it wasn't breaking down.
If anyone is tempted to use newspaper or cardboard, I would like to suggest using organic hay or straw instead.
Many modifiers are mineral, not petrochemical. Glossy paper tends to have chalk or bentonite, the starch paste might be modified with lye (much as soap is...not very toxic or long-lived) and/or borax (mild but persistent toxin).
Lignin doesn't play a positive role in most paper. Most of the processes that seem purely mechanical have a hidden biochemical aspect. Even when they are chemical processes, the chemicals used are usually byproducts of papermaking i.e. sourced, ultimately, from trees. For example, the lye for Kraft paper is made by burning wood leachate ("black liquor" to a papermaker), rather than leaching wood ashes (traditional processes, in reverse order).
I could imagine a layer of gley forming from most any mulch. Glad to hear the problem was solved in that instance! I think the real key is to keep observing.
I think another important thing to keep in mind is that some cardboard/newspaper is more toxic than others - and there isn't an easy way to tell the difference.
As for lye: that stuff always gives me the willies. Granted, after a chemical reaction with the right stuff, it can be very inert. But just because one reaction leaves it pretty harmless doesn't mean that all reactions with it would. I choose to be nervous about it until I know more.
While it is true that some of the modifiers are not petroleum based, my impression is that most are. Further, some of the glues used are not corn starch based, but are chemical based - and I would guess that this would be petroleum based also.
Sheesh, what a mess .... so I guess the big thing to me is: there is enough funky stuff going on here so that I steer clear. And I understand that in the permaculture world I am in the minority on this one. Most permaculture folks are not concerned (including sepp holzer, Bill Mollison and paul stamets).
first..are food grade containers made of less toxic materials..such as cereal boxes and the like? I run those through my paper shredder ..that brings us to question # 2
two...would they break down more quickly run through a paper shredder?
i run my junk maiil and food grade cardboard through paper shredder and apply around perennial crops and plants..such as around the berry bushes..etc..
i don't ever use just paper alone..i'll mix layers of paper with layers of mulch of plants products and manure..
With some plants like asparagus, berry bushes etc. you're better off raking out all the dead tops and mulch in the fall and refreshing it with new material in the spring to prevent reintroducing "rust" fungus.
I was in the news paper recycling business for s short time too. We used to collect newspaper from major and minor newspapers around Vermont and shredded them and put that material though a John Deere bailer to make bales of mulch for dairy farmers. We had to sort everything because people consistently disrespected the process and put everything from garbage to metal cans in the newspaper. Some of the newspaper came from regional collections around the state from home owners and that stuff was the worst for contamination.
paul wheaton wrote:
petroleum wax) to keep the box from getting soggy...butane (lighter fluid) in its packaging to keep the package sound. He also mentions how toxic the butane is.
Petroleum wax composts easily and completely, as long as there is fibrous material nearby to keep it wet. It is among the least toxic petrochemicals I know of.
Butane is not very toxic, and the toxicity is short-term rather than cumulative. You will smell it before it becomes a problem for you; kids who huff cooking spray and fuel industry workers are the only ones who should really worry. It doesn't stay in food or packaging for long: the fact that it evaproates so easily is why it's used by the food industry in the first place. Perhaps you mean a different chemical? Or maybe Mr. Pollan has made one of his not-too-rare errors in organic chemistry? I respect his work tremendously, and he does extremely well at checking facts from outside his professional sphere, but he covers so much territory that a few errors get through.
paul wheaton wrote:
some cardboard/newspaper is more toxic than others - and there isn't an easy way to tell the difference.
As for lye: that stuff always gives me the willies...just because one reaction leaves it pretty harmless doesn't mean that all reactions with it would.
The worst thing in my opinion is copper, which will make a sample of the paper burn funky colors. You couldn't ask for a simpler test.
Your reasoning is absolutely sound about lye: the limits to the toxicity of its products isn't proven by just one reaction, it takes a little more chemistry knowledge to understand.
Lye is made of sodium ions and hyroxyl radicals. Hydroxyl free radicals are always present in liquid water, and if they end up in unexpected places (due, e.g., to fermentation :evil, your body has a whole suite of enzymes to handle them. Sodium atoms, unlike chlorine atoms, don't form covalent bonds with biological chemicals. The bonds they do form are almost purely ionic, which means that water regularly breaks them on its own: no enzymes or other cataylsts needed. In fact, the bond between sodium and biological chemicals is so fast to form and break again that lye and similar compounds are catalysts in their own right, for uses like biodiesel production.
I think it will take less emotional energy for you to investigate a little more, than you would spend worrying about it.
What does concern me is the push in society to use these things, and others, in substantial amounts, often in place of other more natural choices. Like using much newspaper as mulch in place of leaves or wood chips, because the paper is easy to obtain and you are helping to recycle. It can be easy to forget that newspaper or leaves (off your own trees) are not equal in many ways. This is the part I feel get's forgotten, and where I can appreciate reminding by other like minded people.
Yes it all breaks down, that's not the issue to my way of thinking. Bringing serious amounts of cardboard, newspaper or such. onto one's property brings with it the creation/processing chemicals inside those products, is that self-sustaining? (a personal question we each answer for ourselves). Using some would not be a big deal, but considering it equal as a resource with other carbon sources is what I'm concerned about. We are constantly bombarded with encouragement to use such things, I feel this thread is a good balance, speaking to the other side of the use of paper products.
So I guess it comes down to 'What is Permaculture to you?"
A big part of it for me is 'clean' - striving to get and stay clean, cleaner in every area of my life and that of my family, animals and land. Am I annal and rigid about this - nope! Just a work in progress....
Yes it all breaks down, that's not the issue to my way of thinking. Bringing serious amounts of cardboard, newspaper or such. onto one's property brings with it the creation/processing chemicals inside those products
I agree with you: I bring as little paper into my life as possible, though I have consciously decided to use more paper in three instances. First, napkins, because a) water is scarce here, and b) clothes lines are not easy enough where I now live that I would use them for napkins. Second, coffee filters, since partly de-oiled coffee is better for heart health. Third, cotton swab handles, because the plastic ones don't take much less energy to make, and using paper also rescues the cotton fibers.
I recycle any paper that I can: my compost pile eats maybe four pizza boxes, a box of cotton swabs, more napkins and paper towels than I can comfortably imagine, and two bushels of waxed paper (bakery and fast food mostly) per year, precisely because the fibers in these can't be commercially recycled. I certainly don't purchase things to get more compostable carbon! And I was a little uncomfortable with the idea of ordering more junk mail in order to consume the paper, but didn't want to sound judgemental.
I still haven't used them..they are collecting themselves for fire starters for the wood boiler..however..the thought keeps passing my mind to use them between the berry rows..out back..they do say 100 % recycled cardbaord..but..that doesn't mean they didn't add something to them.. well whatever..maybe they'll just go into the fire.
i do continue to use junk mail and food container packages run through my shredder though with no ill effects ..so far.
There is no reason to add anything to cardboard. It doesn't need to be lilly-white, it just needs to have a fairly high proportion of reasonably long fibers in it.
The box manufacturer usually prints its name on its products, if you're really concerned. Sounds like there's not enough to raise much concern. And the things I'd worry most about won't be solved with fire...seeing as you spread your ashes on your soil.
Paul's original comment had been about creating anaerobic conditions with impermeable mulch, if I read it right. Sounds like a job for EM, I guess...
paul wheaton wrote:
This would be a good time to point out that one could create cardboard using 100% mechanical means, plus using organic corn starch for the glue. So, I suppose there could be something called "organic cardboard". Further, as Paul Stamets points out, the seeds of edible plants could be worked into the cardboard. So when you get a package, you can bust open the cardboard and then toss it out on your lawn. A few months/years later you can have all sorts of fun stuff growing there!
That would be sweet! I wonder how to get this from theoretical to in-practice!
If you want to get really fancy, you might consider various plant wastes as the core of your cardboard, rather than corrugate. I think a half-layer of the right sort of straw would work, for example.
Soils are also a big factor: sand will be less likely to turn it into gley due to porosity in soil. Clay will be opposite.
We are also working with inoculating the carboard with stropharia mycelium. This seems to be the biggest missing element- overall soil health. especially if you are sheet mulching on tilled or disturbed soil.
As far as contaminants go- watch for shiny and glossy surfaces. compounds will be broke down by mushrooms, but heavy metals will not. grow a mustard crop??
Soil temp is extremely affected by sheetmulch and will not work in northern climates for vegetables other than cold loving crops.
My latest thoughts have been to use a hammer mill to shred the cardboard and place shredded cardboard on top of myceliated cardboard.
check out our east coast mushroom lab:
Pix will come in october.
rose macaskie wrote:
You can read a lot of his book "mycelium running" on the internet, its posted there, look for "mycellium running" paul stamets, and of all the articles on it, choose the one posted by google and you can read enough to learn a awfull lot but not everything. I have just got his book today, great, so now i will be able to read everything and its an easy read. and i loved all i read from the parts of it he has posted on internet. agri rose macaskie.
Alright! Thanks for the book reference. It looks like it's available in the library system (I work at a state university and love to search the state school system for books I want to read!), so I'll add it to my list to read! I've heard of Paul Stamets a lot, and of his fungi perfecti, but never really delved too deep...
He is also proof that you never know what wont turn out to be really usefull to the world. A liberal, none totalitarian, type way of thinking, from me, someone educated soon-ish after the war with Hitler, in an epoch when the world was full of people groaning under totalitarian tyrants so that we sat and feared that the fate of so many might one day be ours. Of the unfortunate soviet population and the unfortunate populations lead by such as Fransisco Franco in Spain and the Generals in Greece and Argentina and such or Pinochet. So present were the examples of what happened to people who lived under tyrants that this present epoch, that seems very given to monitoring others, driven by fear of the terrible effects of drugs and by the ideas of institutions like a the AA, has crept up, on me at least, unnoticed. The right in America seem to feel free to claim a right to impose on others in a more open way than they might have dared do before, for example, i don't want to offend anyone from the right but that is my observation. The right here too has taken to more senorial behaviors, those of imposing or tricking the population into agreeing with them instead of convincing them in a more open way . In classist systems those at the top seem to think they know best and should not have to give full explanations to their inferiors, who would not know how to sift complicated information. So do top dog communists.
I suppose that people who decide to eat magic mushrooms can find out how to do so anyway and this is not his magic mushroom book. It is full of usefull information for your ecology freak such as me.
It seems that Chris Chaison, who is on this forum, four away from this post of mine, maybe sells mushrooms that help regenerate the soil from his east coast lab. Maybe it would be better to get stuff off him, Paul Stamets must have a really good business for himself already. Maybe Chris Chanson is Paul Stamets in mufti. agri rose macaskie.
They poured water through the ashes they had kept all year from their fire and stove, i suppose and they mixed up the water that came through the ashes, lye, with the fat they had dissolved from some live stock they had killed, if i remember right. I suppose soap making, came after butchering time.
I looked up lye this morning and it said that there is lye you can use for food preserving and other that is for industrial use.
I don't know how lye works in cardboard making, i have not looked up cardboard making yet.
The series of the Laura Ingalls Wilder book was strange, in the books they were usually miles from anywhere and never or nearly never saw any neighbors and if they did they were, keep to yourselves type of people and in the series they had their hands in all the neighbors pies. agri rose macaskie.
Kraft paper is made by using lye to separate wood into individual fibers, by digesting the substances that hold fibers together. This is almost exactly like the early stages of rotting for wood (the process that makes "punk", except quicker. The fibers are washed, and the wash water (the jargon word for this is "black liquor" is processed to re-claim the lye used. Because most of the minerals in wood end up outside the wood fibers, this liquor can produce more lye than was added: it has almost all of the minerals added, plus most of the lye that the wood would have produced if it were burned.
Some varieties of paper are digested using acid instead of caustic solutions. These are worse for the environment on several counts, not least of which is the acid continues to attack the fibers, so the printed matter must be replaced and the material even has lost most of its recycling value. In games of "rock, paper, scissors," if someone asks how paper beats rock, I say "sulfate emissions from the paper mill dissolve the rock."
i have the series of books and i find it very interesting how they did homestead their places and yes lye was used to make soap after the butchering season..and it was very dangerous..could really burn you badly.
soap was made that way at home up until very recently by a lot of folks..some still may make it at home..we certainly have enough wood ash from our boiler to do it ourselves..and that is one reason why i ask my husband to be careful what he does with the wood ashes..they can be dangerous to plants..as they can introduce lye..
I would guess they're made of kraft paper, one of the lowest-impact sorts of paper. And I'm pretty sure a one-time application won't add much in the way of minerals, even if the glues and dyes were of the worst sorts in current use.
Though the ingals of the Laura ingals wilder books lived in the town for a winter or two i don't remember them taking a very livley part in their neighbors affairs, just trying not to starve to death and working. agri rose macaskie.
I have nothing to really add to the toxic or not part of it, but as for the cardboard causing problems for years by blocking water and air...I think that may depend on the climate. In my area (New York State) we average 40+ inches of precip annually. I put down cardboard (appliance boxes mostly) with any tape and staples removed about a month ago, and topped with a thick layer of straw. The cardboard is so soggy and soft already, burdock (which had been trimmed to the ground prior to mulching) is pushing up through it. (Yeah I know you can eat burdock roots but the stuff is a PITA and can really take over so I discourage it as much as possible.)
My take on the toxic part is that it's a one-time event and if an underlayer of mulch helps me permanently kill more of my lawn, the over all environmental benefit is a positive, but that's just my opinion.
Interesting thing about the straw topping - the wild turkeys love it. They spend about 3 weeks scratching through it for insects (I see a lot of pale colored spiders in straw), while fertilizing it. I do have to keep replacing the straw as they scatter it outside the boundaries though. They seem finished now, so I will let the area be until next spring. After the snow has flattened the straw, I can dump compost on top and maybe seed with clover and other stuff...still trying to figure that part out. I have a pear tree, some rhubarb and salvia planted so far.
bumping this up at this time.
I JUST YESTERDAY, was so fed up with an area of quackgrass that i couldn't dig or pull that was driving me absolutely bananas.
it was around 4 baby wild plum trees and they were being horribly stunted and swamped by the weeds.
we pulled a bunch of them the day before, but they were breaking off from our drought..the soil is baked so hard..and mulch wasn't doing it.
i went through the woodshed and garage and found as many cardboard boxes as i could (they were from tree deliveries so hopefully better quality cardboard)
and i cut them up and placed them over the smashed down quackgrass and weeds around the 4 wild plums, and piled pulled weeds on top of the cardboard..it is raining today so it is getting waterd down some..but as i said..we have a drought so i'm not sure how much good it is doing..but at least i can see the 4 tiny little wild plum trees sticking above the holes in the cardboard now..rather than 2 1/2 feet tall weeds and no baby trees !! wish me luck
If you are paranoid about never bringing anything into your garden that might contain a trace of some harmful substance, don't ever use any rock-derived product. Limestone has a fair amount of uranium in it.
BTW: The lye you get from wood is KOH, not NaOH. It will raise the pH, but is a source of K. That's one of the main reasons wood ash is good for a garden.
In my own situation, I use anything vaguely (in its most basic sense) organic that I bring onto my place.
While I'm willing to compost/mulch anything and everything , I'm not confident in 'encouraging' others to do the same without informing them of the potential for various vague harms,
which is enough to put all but the most danger-loving folks off!