• Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic

concerns with using cardboard/newspaper as a mulch

 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 20474
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Over the last week or two, I've done a bit of research on this topic. 

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. 





 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Okay on the shortcuts, but let me say this:

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.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 20474
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
And it goes on and on and on ....  an industry rich with different ways of doing things.

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).

 
Leah Sattler
Posts: 2603
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I prefer hay for alot of reasons. for me most of it is just practical. I don't have loads of paper. definitly not enough to mulch a large area with. Hay I can usually come by in large quantities and often have lots leftover waste from the critters. anyway. with paper/cardboard i think in smallish quantities there is little worry about most, if any, lingering chemicals. but as with anything, a large amount could simply overwhelm natures system for dealing with normal amounts of substances. layers of paper can form a pretty good water and vapor barrier too.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
a few questions that I wonder if your research may have answered.

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..
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
one other thought..ok..if we shred the paper and mix it with other compostables..such as the dead plants, leaves, pine needles, manure, etc..would it maybe be better to pull the mulch off in the spring..and mix it..and then reapply it?
 
John Meshna
Posts: 111
Location: Vermont
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My answer is yes.  Mold, bug eggs and disease can winter over in the garden so picking up the old stuff and composting it before reapplying it as compost is a good idea.  Make sure it's a good, hot composting process to kill off any unwanted pathogens, bug eggs etc..
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.
 
paul wheaton
master steward
Posts: 20474
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have not read anything anywhere that suggests that food grade cardboard is any better.  I would speculate that it's worse:  non yellowing - chemicals to preserve the bright colors - chemicals (petroleum wax) to keep the box from getting soggy.  In "the omnivore's dilemma" the author mentions that mcdonalds packaging contains butane (lighter fluid) in its packaging to keep the package sound.  He also mentions how toxic the butane is.  And then (if I recall correctly) that there are a lot of other gross things in the packaging.

 
John Meshna
Posts: 111
Location: Vermont
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
You do have to be concerned about the packaging material.  Some things are still made with toxic material as you pointed out.  It's one reason I never used or recommended hydro-seeding when I was in the landscaping business.  They say the mulch is made from newspaper with soy inks but how can you tell?  There's no testing agency or standards for it.
  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.
 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
25
books chicken duck food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I really appreciate this information.  I didn't know all this about paper and thought it was a relatively clean resource.  Seems all we hear about is recycle, but there is a downside to re-using man's modern waste items, and it's good to be reminded.

Thanks,

~Jami
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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.
 
Jami McBride
gardener
Posts: 1948
Location: PNW Oregon
25
books chicken duck food preservation forest garden hugelkultur trees
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Speaking for myself - I do not 'worry' about it.  I burn my plain, no tape/labels, cardboard and paper in my fireplace as I need it.  Then I add the wood/paper ashes to my compost pile for more processing *grin*

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....

~Jami

 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
CurrentWave wrote:

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
~Jami




Oh, okay. 

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.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I had a friend read this thread..she lives in Midvale Id and she has used cardboard boxes for mulch in her properties..several as she has moved several times..and she has had really good success..she covers the cardbaord with mulch or compost...she has also had good success with carpeting upside down..but she did say it breaks down much much slower.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
second thought today...the cardbaord boxes that I was considering using as a mulch on my garden came from shipping to me trees and plants this spring..and so I was HOPING that the source..plant companies..would have more consideration of what was in their shipping containers.? maybe not.

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.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
"100% recycled" means slightly more than "100% natural"...so, not much.

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
master steward
Posts: 20474
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
bee chicken hugelkultur trees wofati woodworking
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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!

 
Jeremy Bunag
gardener
Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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!
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
May I humbly recommend fermentation, rather than 100% mechanical means?  And glutinous adhesives (e.g., flour paste), rather than pure starch, as a glue?

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. 
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
well as i mentined here one time before..i got a gift from canada in 2002 where the tag was imbedded with wildflower seeds..it was cardbaord..and you planted the tag and grew plants..so it has been "being done" for at least 7 years in Canada..at least on a small scale
 
Chris Chaisson
Posts: 2
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
My experience has shown me that shredded paper and cardboard work well, especially when well layered with grass clippings for air, nitrogen, and hence . composting.

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:
www.wildbranchmushrooms.com

Pix will come in october.
 
rose macaskie
Posts: 2134
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
  jeremy bunag, read paul stamets book if you want to know how to do the sweet idea or write to him and get his innoculatd cardboard off him, he has a trade name, some contributer was talking about this name "fungi perfecti" i think it is. 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.
 
Jeremy Bunag
gardener
Posts: 231
Location: Central IL
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
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...

 
rose macaskie
Posts: 2134
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
hi Jeremy bunag. Delved too deep sounds ominous. This hippy, Stamets, at the same time as sitting in his lab looking at slides as any good, what is here called a "freaky" with Spanish accent frikki, nerd, weirdo, type, with strange hobbies could be expected to do, also was a magic mushroom freak, is perhaps still and was a self proclaimed magic mushroom freak, a really bad example for the young as a successfull magic mushroom freak, as is doctor House as a successfully highly drugged doctor, still, that is probably the first thing many people hear of him, so the bad news can be gathered without reading much, all the green part of his writtings are what you have to delve deep into his books to obtain.

      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.
 
rose macaskie
Posts: 2134
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have myself felt very doubtfull about using knewspaper, something i started a few years ago and gave up on, i was scared it was not really good for the soil so this forum is great for me. As far as i can make out, the verdict from polyparadigms studies is that its fine, so i can start again, Its easy to pick up a lot of cardboard in the middle of madrid at the paper ryecyling bins when they get over full and the paper gets left outside. My family really don't like me scavenging however, so i wont be able to go full swing at it.  rose macaskie.
 
rose macaskie
Posts: 2134
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Have you read the first book of Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Little House In The Big Woods. The story line is a bit boring but they have lots of descriptions of how they used to make things, like how they smoked meat in a hollow tree with a fire made of hickory chips, how father made bullets, how they made butter, maple sugar and butchered the pig and how they ate ate bear steaks and how they made soap. This last ties in to the lye factor in this forum.
    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.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Lye plays one major role in making Kraft (brown) paper, which is the bulk of most cardboard produced, and also can be used for some varieties of glue used in corrugate, but this role is minor.

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." 
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
cute observation Rose..that is why her little house was on the prairie or in the big woods..depending on the issue of the books..they did move to a city during part of their lives too so they were closer to people then.

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..

 
Jennifer Smith
Posts: 714
Location: Zone 5
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
As you can see by the photos of the new bed I am using brown paper horse feed sacks as my paper barrier layer.  What do you think?  It is actually dairy feed so I feel it should be food grade, lol.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
The only problem I could see is if they are plastic lined, the way coffee bags and some dogfood bags are.  If so, you might plan to pull up the plastic after enough time has passed.

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.
 
                    
Posts: 106
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
have any of you read Joe Jenkins "Humanure" book?  It is amazing what thermophilic microbes in a  properly heating compost pile can do. he has tested and found they break down chemicals we would never believe could be digested. Newsprint is candy for them. If there is any concern, use it to mulch, then later toss it on the compost pile.  I myself have used appliance boxes.  they break down fast, I put them in the front of the greenhouse, there is not a trace of cardboard there right now, when it was the worms were thick underneath.  I have used hay and straw for mulch and have been so overwhelmed with weeds that I am thinking of getting cardboard from Lowes and putting it along the asparagus row as I just can not weed that much. 
 
rose macaskie
Posts: 2134
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
  In the country i put ash in the mop bucket to wash the floor with it works a treat. It is also great at oven cleaning type jobs. i have not burnt my hands with it yet maybe i p0ut too much water to ash for it to be really dangerouse. This sort of forum seems to get one talking of very homely types of details.
  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.
 
rose macaskie
Posts: 2134
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I have been reading Paul stamets book, the fungi growers use cardboard to feed their fungi and what worries him is if there are dioxin in the cardboard. He says that European an US and Canadian cardboard should be OK, i think he sights some rule that stops them filling cardboard full of plastic, i should look it up and be exact about it but i want to write something else.  agri rose macaskie.
 
                                  
Posts: 40
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I live in Alabama and I have used cardboard on a couple of different occasions to kill off grass and add carbon to the soil. I usually just lay out cardboard from boxes with all of the metal and plastic off and then top that with leaves, compost, grass clippings, etc. This has happened on 2 separate occasions when I start this in the early fall and then by early spring I can dig these areas up to mix in the organic matter. The cardboard is still recognizable as cardboard but it is easy to rip to pieces and include into the soil. One year later I haven't found any pieces of cardboard in the soil because it has all broken down. I don't know if this is because I live in Alabama and we have such a long time period for things to break down or if its because I have overly active soil buddies or if it is something else. But, I haven't really had a problem with 1 layer of cardboard breaking down within a year and a half. This doesn't address any issues of toxicity leaching from the cardboard if there are any.
 
                                
Posts: 15
Location: central NYS - USDA Zone 5a
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
New member here...great forum!

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.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
Posts: 4434
Location: North Central Michigan
10
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
Paul, your timing is impeccable.

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.

so

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
 
                            
Posts: 126
Location: Ava, Mo, USA, Earth
  • Likes 1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've used cardboard and paper under mulch for years.  Wouldn't start a new bed without it.  I know a number of people who avoid the glossy stuff and colored inks,  but if you are only using it in the establishment phase, traces of most minerals are either harmless or beneficial.  I mean puting a few sheets of the Sunday comics, that might have a bit of copper in the blue or green inks, under 6" of hay isn't the same as eaiting the stuff.  I don't have any idea how much newsprint it would take for, again just as an example, the copper to build up to toxic levels, but all living things need copper in trace amounts.

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.

 
rose macaskie
Posts: 2134
1
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
In paul stamets book he says that cardboard, North American, Canadian or Eurpopean cardboard is alright and he is a scientist who understands all the ins and outs of that sort of thing so i should think its all right. rose macaskie.
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
88
  • Mark post as helpful
  • send pies
  • Quote
  • Report post to moderator
I've been asking people questions about using glossy paper/card, but there seems a pretty infinite set of variables on toxicity.
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!
 
  • Post Reply Bookmark Topic Watch Topic
  • New Topic
Boost this thread!