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stupid newbie cover crop/mulch/weeding question

 
mary farris
Posts: 8
Location: black mountain, NC
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Okay, so I understand the theory- cover cropping is good for the soil food web, and ideally you want to leave those roots in the ground to nourish your desired crop. And now here I am, my first spring in real life on my recently purchased mini-farm, where the rasp/blackberry bushes are in poor shape (cane borers, lack of pruning for a year or two....) and I'm working on reviving them. There's grass growing right on top of the cane crowns, as well as interspersed throughout the rather large beds. Not easy to cardboard sheet mulch here around all the canes. I will be putting some nutrients into the soil to give the ailing plants a boost and covering it with double ground pine bark mulch later this week.

What's the correct approach with the grass?
-rip out all the grass in the bed, roots and all, and get it away from the berries
-rip out all the grass, roots and all, and turn it upside down and cover with mulch
-just rip out the grass growing right in amongst the cane crowns
-just cut down the blades, leave the roots in place, and cover with mulch
-just fully cover with mulch and don't worry about actually taking out the grass by hand

I'm also planning to plant a strawberry border along the outer edge of the bed on mulching day.

Thanks in advance.....
 
mike mclellan
Posts: 93
Location: Helena, MT zone 4
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Mary, I would suggest ripping out the grass between crowns, letting it fully dry out and die, and then use it as mulch. Then work on the grass "next to" or too close to the canes. I am converting an old pasture full of rhizomatous grasses and that seems to be the only way to make sure the grass I've removed stays dead. It makes great mulch after that. Sheet mulch away from the raspberry crowns to keep the grass at bay. You might consider, long term, planting plants like comfrey, rhubarb, or other densely rooted plants as a barrier to prevent further grass encroachment. Toby Hemenway has a list of such plants in gaia's garden .

Do remove your old canes that fruited last year to open up your raspberry plants to more light, and better air circulation. If you have had problems with borers, you probably don't want to just cold compost the old canes but hot compost them ( make sure the pile stays hot for several days) burn them or get them hauled away. Your strawberries may well develop runners into your raspberries but that's a much more pleasant and tasty problem to deal with. I'm seeing my strawberries slowly sending stolons into my Anne raspberries even after about six to eight weeks in the ground last summer. I expect more of the same this year.

Good luck with the grass. Shame we can't eat the stuff!
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
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Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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bee books forest garden fungi greening the desert hugelkultur
 
mary farris
Posts: 8
Location: black mountain, NC
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Thanks y'all-

I'm actually converting the surrounding grass into garden beds this month, so I'm not too worried about further encroachment so much as taking care of the current issue right amongst the plants- thanks for the opinion!.... and I will indeed be planting some accumulators and some aromatic pest confusers in between too. Currently rereading Gaia's Garden as we speak, actually. My land backs up onto fully forested land- so there's more encroachment from smilax, pokeweed, and sassafras shoots from that side of the bed. : )

It's been a real educational experience so far moving from theory and ideals to the multitude of all the real life decisions!
 
dj niels
Posts: 181
Location: CO; semi-arid: 10-12"; 6000 ft
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What kind of grass, and how thick is it? Is it choking out the berries, or affecting yield?

One possibility is to lay down wet newspapers or old carpets, old cotton or wool clothes, etc, around the berry plants, then cover the whole area with mulch--leaves, shavings, etc. When we lived in Maine, we collected lots of leaves, and some fell off the trees that lined the area where the berries were growing and just mulched the plants naturally. We got nice crops of delicious berries off a fairly small patch.

Here in CO we have a lot of bindweed and quackgrass, so if they get into places I don't want them, I pull out the troublesome weeds and throw them in a large plastic bucket or trash can filled with water, and drown them. After a few weeks I feed the weed tea to my garden, and can throw the rotted plants into a compost pile with no danger of them sprouting.

Another option might be to get some weeder ducks and let them graze on the grasses. If they are only allowed in after you pick the berries, they can maintain the plants without you losing your crop.
 
mary farris
Posts: 8
Location: black mountain, NC
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I've just moved here, so haven't seen the berries through a growing season yet. But last year (and possibly the year before), no pruning or weeding was done. The grass is growing right in between the canes. I've had to remove more than half the canes for cane borer reasons, on top of the normal pruning for light and circulation. The plants really don't seem to be in too good of shape, so my first priority this year is to try to revive them and give them the best shot at regaining their strength and to do what I can to get a yield next year, not necessarily this year. I am getting some muscovy ducklings next week, and have australorp chicks in the breeder now. Will turn them into the patch post-harvest. Nice idea with the weed comost tea, seems karmic. ; )
 
Chris Kott
Posts: 796
Location: Toronto, Ontario
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Hi Mary. I'm with Wyomiles. I'd take out any grass that's crowding out the crowns, but otherwise perhaps keep it short and sow it with a pasture seed mix, something that will produce a variety of forage for whatever you run through there, as well as soil-building. As you've probably heard a thousand times, bare earth is an invitation to further problems.

-CK
 
mary farris
Posts: 8
Location: black mountain, NC
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I have no plans to let the earth be bare- the question is just grass removal before mulching and then planting with other things. It's not a whole bed of grass, but unhealthy plants with big tufts growing right in the crowns, and pockets of tufts of grass. Currently the bed has more bare areas than plants, under my temporary leaf mulch that I spread until the weeding is done (it's a large area).
 
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