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Cover Crop with wood chip mulch

 
John Devitt
Posts: 34
Location: Belfair WA
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I am converting a lot of my beds to wood chip mulch. Really happy with it so far.

I would like to know if there is a good way to plant cover crop (ie clover) with the mulch. I am thinking that I could pull back some mulch in furrows and plant seed.

I am not concerned about weed suppressionm but and looking for better tilth, added nitrogen and organic matter. I would cut the growth back and use as fodder for the livestock.
 
K Nelfson
Posts: 129
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Next year may be a problem. Apparently the wood binds up nitrogen so if you till the mulch in you may not get good growth.
 
John Devitt
Posts: 34
Location: Belfair WA
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I do no till gardening. The idea of the wood chips binding up nitrogen is overplayed. Only a thin edge where the chip touch the soil is where nitrogen take would be an issue. planting a nitrogen fixing cover crop would help add nitrogen, especially where it is needed, in the root zone.
 
K Nelfson
Posts: 129
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Ah. Well, I like the idea of using wood chips for mulch.

My co-worker tells me that finished compost acts as mulch, too. It's hard to believe, but I suppose properly composted material shouldn't have viable seeds left in it. He claims that it keeps disease from rain spatter down. He's a big-time gardener. For him, a few hundred dollars is a wasted day at the farmers' market. Just sayin. I haven't tried it but it's from a source that I find credible.
 
Eric Thompson
Posts: 369
Location: Bothell, WA - USA
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duck food preservation solar trees
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I would only seed clover in thin wood chip mulch (where you can see a few patches of dirt coming through), and would overseed a little at that. I much prefer fava beans, since they are a big robust seed that can burst through 3" of wood chips, where most of the traditional weeds really can't. Also, no problem putting in some 6" transplants too - kale, turnip, squash all hold their ground pretty well.
We're in the same climate, so all of those should work for you too.
 
S Bengi
Posts: 1355
Location: Massachusetts, Zone:6/7, AHS:4, Rainfall:48in even distribution
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Use toilet paper rolls, cut up soda bottles, to make holes in the mulch and then plant your cover crop (fava beans, bush beans, dill, cilantro, daikon radish) into the it.

If you create walkways and only mulch those areas then you would be free to plant whatever you want as cover crop in the non-walkway areas
 
N Mt
Posts: 1
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Hi John,

wood chips are great for a cover crop. anyone who tells you the LIE that it will tie up nitrogen, tell them to go test the nitrogen and plant/tree health out in the forest floor and then come talk to ya cuz it's totally bogus. that only happens WHEN you MIX the chip down INTO the soil, not when it's used as a COVER CROP.

anyhoo. have you checked out the movie back to eden film dot com? scroll down and click play. as someone who is a wild mushroom hunter, i always thought there was something to the beautiful lush bouncing with air forest floor.

ain't no body out in the forest tilling the earth, adding fertilizers or disturbing the soil, it's all a perfect system, not a lot o work necessary.

in terms of cover crop don't think you really need one, i would just cover with 4-6 inches of well aged organic manure (horse or chicken) and 6-8 inches of wood chips. and when you want to plant something, part the chips and plant in the soil. when it gets to be 3 inches, push the wood chips back up to the plant. free watering w those chips. just went to visit the farm in the film. amazing unbelievable beautiful tasty he give free tours on sunday at 2:30 and you get to try all the food you want from his woodchip masterpiece!
 
K Nelfson
Posts: 129
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N Mt wrote:wood chips are great for a cover crop. anyone who tells you the LIE that it will tie up nitrogen, tell them to go test the nitrogen and plant/tree health out in the forest floor and then come talk to ya cuz it's totally bogus. that only happens WHEN you MIX the chip down INTO the soil, not when it's used as a COVER CROP.


I have also heard this message frequently. Can you give some evidence for your claim? I suspect that you're right but it's always best to measure.


N Mt wrote:
ain't no body out in the forest tilling the earth, adding fertilizers or disturbing the soil, it's all a perfect system, not a lot o work necessary.


It's only perfect in the sense that it's natural. Erosion, forest fires, crop failures, extinction, and population variation (as in, food crop failure) are all natural. It seems to me that a balance is needed between high yields* of current farming practices and completely natural systems. Permaculture, as I understand it, leans toward natural but most of us do intervene to ensure we get the right species and enough of the crops that we want.

The idea that tilling the soil is bad still confuses me. I've seen lots of posts here about breaking sod and breaking up hard soil. These activities are needed because small plants need a low-competition environment to get a good start. And a fine seed bed is needed because roots of small plants have finite strength.

Anyway, back to cover crops. My land is Class 2e which means it's basically good-quality soil but it's prone to erosion. In the ridge where we are, it really is best to have a cover crop to keep the wind from carrying off so many years of soil development. Plus, it's a nitrogen input and it's inexpensive at that. Just make sure you till, plow, turn, etc before the plant gets going too much in the spring. I understand rye can really get ahead of you in just a few days. After it gets woody, it doesn't make much of a green manure crop.

BTW, I just learned that soil moisture levels in the spring are much more controlled in areas where there's a cover crop. So if you're worried that you won't be able to plow to get your rotary tiller in there because of wet spring soil, the cover crop will help with that.

* Depends how you measure. Quantity over quality may not be best for human health. There's a lot of talk about micro-nutrients these days, which are generally thought to be diminished in high-yield fast-growing hybrid crops.
 
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