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Cardboard underneath whole hugel? Newspaper where?

 
Fred Neecha
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My first two hugels have cardboard underneath and logs in the center with grassclippings and dirt on top to the ends of the cardboard, which might be a couple inches, guessing around 2'x8' each. How do you think this might affect water in the mound? I was hoping there'd at least be a layer of cardboard holding water and for the worms to eat and roots to grow across the top for when it rains. Just a thought. Also... What about a layer of newspaper over the initial sticks/logs/grassclippings center of the mound? Might try this on the next one. This is my first year applying newspaper and cardboard (OR permaculture, etc.) to my gardens.

Thank you.
 
John Elliott
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Cardboard is just another shape and form of cellulose when it comes to water holding properties. Not any different from the same weight of newspaper, wood chips, or sawdust. The advantage of having cardboard in the mix (usually on the bottom of the pile) is that tenacious weeds like bermuda grass and bindweed have a hard time pushing up through it.

Think of it from the seed's point of view. It has to push up a little bit and then there is air, which offers no resistance. All the resistance is down, and the roots are the part of the plant that can find cracks and crevices and push them apart and make the room that they need. A plant capable of sending down a tap root 50' into hard soil may be stopped by a magazine laying on top of the cotyledons that are looking for air and sunshine. Bermuda grass and bindweed are tenacious at sending runners sideways before they make another try at up, but even then they have their limits. If a stolon can't find open sky before it runs out of food, it's going to die.

Newspaper on top of the hugel before you top it with a couple inches of soil will be another effective weed suppressant, but as far as holding water and providing worms with some food, any sort of biomass can do that.
 
paul wheaton
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FWIW: while most permaculture folks think that using cardboard in horticulture is a good thing, there are a few of us that think that most cardboards contain toxic gick and, therefore, should not be used.
 
Landon Sunrich
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I've been playing with cardboard a little this season. I think it's fairly benign as far as engineered products go - but I suppose it would depend on the cardboard. I'm a bit more skeptical about news print and full color print - maybe as mushroom compost which get turned into insects? Or maybe better to ask if we need the Newspapers, magazines, and junk mail - after all.

I have my cardboard over my logs (which are not yet entombed in earth) and under my "shade cloth"

I have oyster mushrooms growing in my alder and countless (at least 5) other fungi to take care of any glue gick and I peel the packing tape off once they get wet enough. I avoid printed cardboard.
 
Matu Collins
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I use a lot of cardboard. It's an abundant resource for me to catch and store. Some people think there's toxic gick- do we have any science on that?

I don't use the shiny kind, only matte plain with tape and stickers removed. From our food co-op, which carries only organic/non gmo food.

Is it the glue?
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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I am sorry, but I do lean towards Paul's concerns on this topic. I am not a "teetotaler" I will use cardboard and newsprint both but not without confirming it is a soy based ink and that there is not "laced in" fire inhibitors, pesticides, and mildewcides in the matrix of the cardboard.

I am also sorry Matu, but Paul is correct in his worry about "toxic gick," just because you can't find science or evidence for it's precedence does not mean it is not there. I have a solid background in commercial pest control and a sundry of other disciplines, and can assure you that there is "toxic" cardboard" materials at least when it comes to putting it into a garden and growing food on it.

I can't tell you how many grocery warehouses I have seen with boxes piled to the ceiling on pallets sprayed down with some of the most toxic pesticides you could imagine. Some in the same family as DDT. I even heard a woman say during a gardening presentation that cardboard is, "safe enough to eat." Not only would I not eat it, I would not even touch some of it without gloves.

I am not going as far as Paul perhaps, to say don't use it, but if you can't know the source and type of cardboard, it's ink type, etc. then I am with Paul on giving advice to novice to use it...don't.
 
Nicholas Mason
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I am not against using cardboard or newspaper, But I dont get the point of why you want to put it under the hugel bed, and over it. sounds like a lot of pointless work. And if you are putting the newspaper over the logs before dirt I would think that you would be losing part of the glory of the hugel bed by keeping the dirt from interacting with the logs and helping to build that hugel net.
Also you should be aware that when using newpaper you can create a type of glee like sealer. This could seal the hugel bed much like you would seal a pond, through anaerobic breack down.
Also this last statement got my thinking that if you have a raised mound with newspaper on top of it you might end up creating a shingled roof.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Nicholas Mason wrote: But I dont get the point of why you want to put it under the hugel bed, and over it. sounds like a lot of pointless work. And if you are putting the newspaper over the logs before dirt I would think that you would be losing part of the glory of the hugel bed by keeping the dirt from interacting with the logs and helping to build that hugel net.


I use cardboard over mine because right now the hugel (umlauts?) is just a pile of mushroom logs and I am trying to keep them both shaded and moist which any mulch (be it cardboard or otherwise) will help with. If it survives the winter (I have lots of mushrooms around that are attacking it as I type) I'll use it as mulch over the soil I put down in spring.

Cardboard (when not laden with toxic gick - which the manufacturing and resource extraction process no doubt is) seems like it would easily digest and incorporate into the soil matrix to me - becoming part of the net

I think the point of using it under logs would be as a (fairly effective) weed suppressor if you don't want to dig. Though doubtlessly digging in at least some of your logs will help with the decomposie goodness
 
Rich Conley
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Jay C. White Cloud wrote:
I am also sorry Matu, but Paul is correct in his worry about "toxic gick," just because you can't find science or evidence for it's precedence does not mean it is not there.


Just because you're afraid it might be there, doesn't mean it is.

Jay C. White Cloud wrote:I can't tell you how many grocery warehouses I have seen with boxes piled to the ceiling on pallets sprayed down with some of the most toxic pesticides you could imagine. Some in the same family as DDT. I even heard a woman say during a gardening presentation that cardboard is, "safe enough to eat." Not only would I not eat it, I would not even touch some of it without gloves.


I spent a couple years working in a grocery warehouse, and have never seen, nor even heard anything like this.
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Hello Rich,

Please note that I could be reading into your last statement directed towards me as having a more aggressive tone than you may have intended, so don't take my bluntness as a retort of negativity or defensiveness. I mean it only as a response and for the benefit of our other readers. I will also note, that though I may not be actively and extensively "mound gardening" as I once did, I did start my first "mound" or "mulch" gardens (what folks are calling Hugelkultur) in 1973, and maintain my grandmother(s) which had been in our families since the late 1800's, so I am very intimate with the systems in their various forms.

Rich Conley wrote:Just because you're afraid it might be there, doesn't mean it is.


I am not "afraid" there might be, sorry if I gave that impression. I am stating for a fact that there is "toxic gick," (as Paul puts it,) in some cardboards; particularly box materials coming from South America and China.


Rich Conley wrote:I spent a couple years working in a grocery warehouse, and have never seen, nor even heard anything like this.


I can respect that while you worked in the grocery warehouse for a few years you never saw it or heard of the use of pesticides. That very well may have been true, or outside your privy. I can state for a fact as a State of Connecticut Supervisor in General and Commercial Pest and Wildlife Control, that not only do many warehouses get treated (along with their palleted boxes,) but hospitals, restaurants, schools, and a sundry of other commercial entities get "sprayed down," "dusted" and "baited" with rodenticides, pesticide, and mildewcide among other chemicals I would not want in my gardens. This is not a guess, assumption or speculation, this fact as that was my job to oversee, and one primary reason I left the industry is the too often overuse and misuse I observed. If you choose to use cardboard in all its forms, that is your purview, but please do not suggest what I am sharing is not true, as that would be a disservice to the reading audience of this forum.

 
Nicholas Mason
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I use cardboard over mine because right now the hugel (umlauts?) is just a pile of mushroom logs and I am trying to keep them both shaded and moist which any mulch (be it cardboard or otherwise) will help with. If it survives the winter (I have lots of mushrooms around that are attacking it as I type) I'll use it as mulch over the soil I put down in spring.


If your hugel is a pile of mushroom logs, then it would not be a hugel it would be a pile of mushroom logs, which have a completely different purpose then a hugel bed. So the use of the card board would be different.
I have not heard of

Cardboard (when not laden with toxic gick - which the manufacturing and resource extraction process no doubt is) seems like it would easily digest and incorporate into the soil matrix to me - becoming part of the net


As far as I know cardboard does not have the same breaking down problems that you can have with newspaper. And has its uses.

I think the point of using it under logs would be as a (fairly effective) weed suppressor if you don't want to dig. Though doubtlessly digging in at least some of your logs will help with the decomposie goodness

When you build a hugel bed whether or not you dig a hole first, you are piling a bunch of logs and dirt on top of the soil. This would most likely kill the weeds underneath. Therefore making the use of cardboard unnecessary. This was supposed to be my original point. Now if your desire is to have a pile of mushroom logs without weeds then the cardboard starts to make sense.

My wife said that it seems like you are trying to make to many separations from the soil. and I quote " its like you're trying to put a condom on your hugel bed."
 
Matu Collins
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The pile of logs and dirt will not stop bindweed! The cardboard under really helps slow bindweed down.

I wouldn't put newspaper on top though.

I've read through Paul's treatise on toxic cardboard gick and it seems reasonable. I only use cardboard from a store that has only organic food. That is no guarantee but it helps.

By the time any roots from any food plants made it down to cardboard level, I hope it will have been broken down for a while. Worms and other friends disappear cardboard fast here. I also have been inoculating my hugels with mushroom slurry, so Mycoremediation might be helping too.

If I don't have a barrier against bindweed I might as well not garden. In areas where I don't disturb the soil for years it has competition but in disturbed soil bindweed wins. The barrier method (tee hee, hugelkultur condom) buys me some time to get a good no till bed going.

If the only weeds you have are annuals, maybe you don't need the cardboard under.
 
Nicholas Mason
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I would agree that bind weed is a problem. But I would imagine that the bindweed itself would move and grow out the side of the mound not the top, unless there are some roots in the top of mound already. So unless you have cardboard going for quite a distance we would still have the same problem. Not that I know the answer to bind weed, but I have heard that inter planting it with buck wheat will out compete it. I haven't tried it myself as I lost my bindweed problem when I moved to where I am now. I have also wondered if the vinegar spray on it, or even using a torch.
Also if weeds are mother natures way of fixing things I wonder what bind weed is saying the soil is missing.
We do have a little patch of bind weed on the property but for what I have heard it has never spread, and its barely even able to survive, so something about this area must be right.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Is 'bindweed' the same as morning glory? Because I have seen very few things out compete it. I have seen it run up and over damn near anything. It likes to climb stalks of nettle and fern. Left to its own devices I've seen it form a near complete choking canopy over shrub layers. It provides lots of shade and slows air circulation. If bindweed is is like morning glory that is. I have seen it successfully sheet mulched out and flame weeded it with acceptable success. Hope that helps.
 
Matu Collins
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Bindweed is a wild morning glory. It's a relative of sweet potatos, I believe. Attempting to thwart its plans to dominate my property has been a frustrating job in the past, but my observation and efforts have yielded some good results. From what I can tell, bindweed will grow right up and through anything. The roots may be at the sides or bottom of a hugelbed but we'll grow up through the top in no time, or the vines will grow up and over the surface. It will grow up through thick piles of wood chips, it will grow in through cracks in buildings. It will grow where it can.

I am not the original poster though.
 
paul wheaton
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Just because you're afraid it might be there, doesn't mean it is.


Just because you don't know about the toxins, doesn't make it safe.

More info: http://www.permies.com/t/2157/permaculture/concerns-cardboard-newspaper-as-mulch
 
Jay C. White Cloud
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Today I looked up what the word "gick" means (Paul teaches me another one) and I could not agree more with that definition. I also scanned Paul's link above, (most of you should read it) and could not agree more. Look if you can get your hands on reams of certified organic paper (wish it all was) then by all means use it in you compost and mound gardens, (heck I bet Paul would even use some to an extent.)

However, until that happens, if you are using cardboard or newsprint in you garden and it is not certified organic then the food grow in it is not organic, and at least for me, (and it would seem this is the case for Paul as well) it just is not worth putting this stuff in the garden...period.

Sorry...rant over...
 
Adam Klaus
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Another term worth looking up in this context is 'capillary action'. Placing a thin sheet of something like cardboard or paper in the soil profile is going to disrupt the capillary action of water movement through the soil, to a lesser or greater degree. The compromised ability of the soil to transpire moisture through evaporation is going to push your soil biology in an anaerobic direction. Back when I used cardboard and chips to mulch, I killed quite a few trees in this way. The sheet layer in the soil is acting to restrict air exchange. This slows down the metabolism of the living soil, and makes our soils less alive. Not a good thing for plant health at all.

Of course, the toxic gick in the carboard surely didnt help a healthy soil biology either. If you think you can have industrial glue without chemicals, I think you are kidding yourself. Even under the best of circumstances, industrial glues arent anything I want anywhere near my food.

Bindweed isnt as scary as it seems at first. It explodes in freshly disturbed soil, and equally loves compacted soils and overly air-filled soils. But give it a few years, it too has a long term life cycle. I had hell with bindweed for a few years, but following farming practices that encourage the right balance of calcium, humus, air, and water in the soil have really minimized the issue. Bindweed is still there, but nothing that bothers me or my gardens. We are always looking for the quick fix, the magic bullet.

Allowing nature to reach a balance is the best solution. If you have an excess of any one thing, there will be excesses of other things. Find the balance point with nothing in excess, and suddenly there arent any huge problems anymore. Bindweed aint so bad. Certainly not as bad is toxic gick!
 
Matu Collins
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It's been five years now. I'm not freaking out about bindweed (anymore) but I take it seriously. I have limited hands-on garden time and it takes a lot of hands to grow anything but.

I am on board with the don't-trust-cardboard-chemicals crew, but what could I use instead? The bindweed rhizomes will be impossible to remove from in between the logs once it's built. I made this mistake with the first hugelbeet I built. I mean, we shall see. I only just built it this spring. I had some bindweed in the ones with cardboard under but very little and it mostly comes from the crack between the beet and the path.

I watered my hugels well as I was building them and sprinkled it a bit as seeds were sprouting but did no other irrigation and it has stayed moist enough to keep lots of plants alive, even with the dry weather we've been having. I'm not worried about capillary action. We get decent rainfall and have a great water table though. In a dry place cardboard would make it worse, I can see. Where are you from, Conner?
 
Adam Klaus
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Matu Collins wrote:I'm not freaking out about bindweed (anymore) but I take it seriously. I have limited hands-on garden time and it takes a lot of hands to grow anything but....


Matu Collins wrote:I'm not worried about capillary action.


I would gently suggest that there is a deep connection between these two statements. My experience is that bindweed is all about soil capillaries.

Bindweed is mother earth's premeir tool for healing the capillary channels in the soil.
 
Matu Collins
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I appreciate the gentleness, Adam. I wasn't clear. I am certainly concerned about capillary action in general. I am not concerned about the cardboard at the bottom of the hugelbeet stopping capillary action. The cardboard ones are performing much better than the non cardboard one. All are moist. The cardboard ones don't have much of a bindweed problem. I am having great success with bindweed abatement in some areas on the farm but not in others.

So what I'm saying is, the benefit of slowing down bindweed rhizomes outweighs the problem of slowing capillary action. I'm now weighing the question of if the potential toxins outweigh the bindweed benefit.

I'm fine with using something else that will slow the infiltration of the rhizomes(stolons?). I just want to be able to grow some food, and I want to try this hugel thing because one thing I have besides bindweed is access to rotting wood.
http://www.permies.com/t/14563/plants/bindweed-quackgrass-holding

Here is a thread I started a while ago on my issues with bindweed and quackgrass. The quackgrass is not a problem for me anymore.

 
Nicholas Mason
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I would like to know more about what you actually did to lower your bind weed problem Adam. I have some friends that have an area that is nothing but bind weed and has been left alone for years, and its still there going strong. I wonder how much of it has to to with the different environments. Where I live now, and we really dont have a bind weed problem here, we are a much higher elevation then where I use to live. About a thousand feet difference. So what I am getting at is that the different climatic elements may really be more of a factor here. Or maybe Adam has awesome secrets that he could share.
 
Adam Klaus
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Nicholas Mason wrote:I would like to know more about what you actually did to lower your bind weed problem Adam; maybe Adam has awesome secrets that he could share.


That's a pretty big ask Nicholas, but maybe I have some simple ideas that have helped to balance my bindweed situation-
The biggest key is that, IMHE, bindweed is mother natures tool for restoring the balance of air in the soil. Bindweed is attracted to both excess air and deficient air. This is the key concept I have found.

-Dont till the soil is number one. Dont double dig, dont plow, whatever. Dont disturb the soil. Bindweed acts to bind the soil together when disturbance has put too much air into the soil.

-Get your calcium:magnesium ratios right, which is often acheived by adding sulfur to reduce soil magnesium levels. Magnesium makes soils dense, sticky, and compacted. Calcium makes soils crumbly, loose, and aerated. Bindweed is there to help loosen up overly tight soil, so that the soil biota can breathe.

-Keep good cover on the soil surface, so that the sun and rain do not bake and compact the soil surface. I dont mulch to exclude bindweed, I mulch to keep the soil surface loose and able to transfer air abundantly.

-Let the bindweed get big and start to flower, then pull it by hand and leave it on top of the soil surface. If you pull it too small, it doesnt deplete the plant's root reserves enough. Flowering is the best time to get it.

-Grow plants at high spacing densities. I use John Jeavons BioIntensive guidelines for this. Polyculture too, of course. Keep the ground growing lots of stuff to keep the surface well covered.

I have been working my garden for seven years now. These techniques, along with the patience of time, have reduced bindweed from my biggest problem, to a minor inconvenience. Grasses are now a much bigger weed problem in my garden, and bindweed is really pretty insignificant. It takes time. But the results are there.

hope that helps, good luck!
 
nancy sutton
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My experience in a half acre suburban lot has been that newspaper has been a life saver. For years I had put down 4-6 sheet layers on weedy areas, with 2-3" of fresh grass clippings on top, being sure that the ground and the paper were wet before covering. It kept the grasses and bindweed 'subdued'. The earthworms prospered under the paper, and it mostly disappeared in much less than a year.... requiring regular repeated applications. I had access to lots of WSJ when it had no color printing and used soy oil based ink. I have also used corrugated cardboard in paths, with seemingly no negative impact on the plantings.. but, of course, I've not had a detailed chemical analysis done on my soil (I should check for arsenic/lead from the old Asarco plan). We are a 'moist' area (maritime PNW), and I have sandy soil, so no problem with anaerobic nor dessiccated soils. It seemed to decompose well, and grow mushrooms :) (I think the apple tree's 'bad' thick layer of newspapers must have been laid dry, and stayed that way.)

I hope I don't inflame anyone by sharing my newest 'mulch' item...'slipsheets'. I can get all I want of these at Costco. These are commonly used between stacks of products packaged in large, plastic-wrapped, cubic bundles, like toilet paper, paper towels, etc., and recycled. They are approx 2-3' x 2-3'; multiple sheets are easily rolled up with the grain, and bungy-corded into very portable cylinders, plopped into my grocery cart. The employees offer me all I want, and I've encountered other customers taking them for various other uses.

They are, of course, brown (unbleached), thin, probably maximally cheap, and, therefore, I think they have minimal processing and additives. They are not are not as unsightly as newspaper; will decompose much more readily than regular corrugated cardboard; and can be easily torn into desired sizes and shapes. I'm thinking that if I want stronger weed-deterrence, I can use multiple layers... making sure each is wet.

Also, if any of these cellulose products are exposed to lots of nitrogen (i.e., the golden elixir) there should be no problem with decomposing.... if kept wet ;)

I think Paul and Adam's bindweed tactic of prioritizing it's removal whenever it appears, is the solution... and using mulch to try to direct it's emergence to areas where this can most easily be monitored and accessed. Hopefully the massive root system will be starved, albeit slowly. That's my current plan ;)

BTW, as I can no longer get newspapers or grass clippings in quantity (retired), and cardboard is too 'permanent' for large-scale use, I've now switched to leaves for my major mulching (on top of slipsheets, where required). My small van can hold three 30gal trash cans, and I make leaf runs a couple of times a week during autumn (29 sycamores on a nearby office park plus multiple oaks at a postal distribution center!!), so I'm set :) I read in Organic Gardening decades ago about a vegetable garden that got no input except a foot of leaves every year, and produced prodigiously.

 
Nicholas Mason
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Let the bindweed get big and start to flower, then pull it by hand and leave it on top of the soil surface. If you pull it too small, it doesnt deplete the plant's root reserves enough. Flowering is the best time to get it.


I like this one Adam, smart, I never thought of when I pulled it. And I think I will have to do more research on the purpose of bind weed, but I am always looking for the reason why plants choose certain areas.
 
Matu Collins
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I do in some areas, pull the bindweed when it is as big as possible tip delete the roots, but I worry about leaving it on the surface having flowered because I don't want the flowers to mature to seeds. Also, it's easy to pull a bit of root up with the plant because the roots break so easily and can become a new plant.

Also, if I wait on the hugelbeet to pull up bindweed until it's big and flowering, either there would be no room for other plants or the bindweed would be all grown over and around my plants and pulling it will pull them.

This thread started about why someone would use cardboard or newspaper in a hugelbeet. I think if I didn't put a barrier under, I would not be able to keep up with the bindweed on those beds and the beds would be less useful.

I do take the long view when it comes to soil fertility, I have learned not to till or disturb the soil, I am observing different methods and practices for their effectiveness. Cardboard seems effective. Now I see that it may be more toxic than I want my soil building materials to be but I'm looking for another barrier.

How can I grow food under a thick carpet of bindweed? My meadow has beat back the bindweed through years of dense perennial and annual wildflower and grass growth. I'm attempting to do the same in my gardens but they need a leg up to get established.
 
William Bronson
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Untempered hard board?

I have been considering this stuff for making molds that are burnible and concrete forms that biodegrade safely.




http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hardboard
 
Josef Theisen
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Concerning the bindweed,

I read somewhere (maybe on this forum?) that pulling bindweed is not an effective way to control it. That it is like the Hydra, and removing one head encourages more to grow. Since bindweed can have a massive root system and the shoots we see 30 or 40 feet apart could be from the same plant, it is not possible to get them all. The solution recommended was to twist the shoots together and bury them in mulch or put a rock over them. Then the plant will use more energy trying to keep it's photo collectors alive than it needs to grow new ones. I'm not sure about this, but it makes sense to me and I will be trying it out this spring.
 
Matu Collins
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It works, Josef! I've been doing the twist and cover method diligently in one area and the bindweed is almost completely gone! Best is to cover with a brick and then a bucket.

I tried doing that in my hugelbeets but the squash got so huge that it was hard to get in there and it for away from me and I started pulling. Oh well, I've got lots of squash.

The hardboard sounds like a great path barrier but it sounds like it would severely cut down on all interaction between the bed and the soil below, which is not desirable. We do want water and soil creatures and other goodies great and small to come and go freely.
 
William Bronson
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Yeah despite being biodegradable, I have lain out several pieces of hard board as as path mulch, and they are still in place long after the card board is in shreds.
any holes you could make to allow nutrients/creatures through would let the bind weed through as well.
 
Adam Klaus
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Basically it seems that folks want to create a barrier in their hugel to stop the bindweed. The idea made me think all poetic-

"Before I built a wall I'd ask to know what I was walling in or walling out." -Robert Frost-



 
Matu Collins
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I think the original poster was just trying to keep weeds in general out.

If I could be out there pulling the stuff every day during the heavy duty growing season I'd be more mellow about it. I'm already more mellow than I was, and all the other invasives I used to worry about (bittersweet, honeysuckle) don't trouble me much these days. It's just this one.
 
Fred Neecha
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WOW! You guys are awesome. I've learned a lot from this.

I actually wasn't doing it for the weeds at all, just to give the critters layers to live between and carbon to soak up water, etc. It's a done deal now. I can tell you that the two hugels I made with cardboard underneath the sticks are doing VERY well... very well... I'm still collecting cardboard and newspaper and will restrict my use of them to certain areas while keeping them completely out of other beds.

Thank you all so much for your awesome knowledge.
 
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