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Another mulching question

 
Matt Hunter
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I have some conflicting information I hope to have some light shed on here. I took a PDC (permaculture design course) about a month back and most everything we learned was sheet mulch, sheet mulch, sheet mulch for the food forests. It was recommended to use a layer of cardboard or some other similar meduim, a few inches of soil, and then 8 or so inches of finely ground wood chips. Now, after coming back home I took a one day food forest design course and the instructor advised against wood chips. He said it would work as a nitrogen sink and sap all the nitrogen from the soil. This makes sense to me, but I'm still unsure how to procede.

I am lucky enough to have a lot of materials to work with. This is what I have: Florida muck with a ph level of 6.0, finely ground wood chips (including moss, leaves, weeds, etc), dark compost/soil (made by the city dump), plenty of homemade compost, and horse manure. I have also created terraces for water retention and laid cardboard to block weeds. I tilled the area before tarracing to make the job easier and bread up the dense Florida sand.

My idea right now is to pretty much mix all these together into a big compost cassarole, throw some extra innoculent, mushroom spores, worms and go to planting.

Plants I have (we live in hardiness zone 9b): Florida Peach tree, citrus tree, fig tree, False Roselle (similar to cranberry hibiscus), muscadine grapes, Okinawa Spinach, Malabar spinach, amaranth, mint, mexican sunflower, Papaya, dragon fruit.

Any recommendations are welcomed. This is my first forest garden installation besides the class installation. I have photo and video documented all the work so far and will be having a local group of permies over to learn, give input, and help. I look forward to learing with you all.

Matt
 
Dale Hodgins
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You are near Ken Peavey. Check out his mulch and leaf mold threads. I'll go find some links. http://www.permies.com/t/13602/organic/Incredible-Amazing-Leaf-Mold

If you go to the composting section, there's lots of information on mulch as well. Check out Ken's posts and also John Elliott. Good luck and welcome to the forum.
 
mark andrews
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mixing the wood chips into the soil will cause nitrogen depletion.
I would keep the chips on top. There they will not deplete the nitrogen.

If you need to create compost, then you might mix it all together with the manure and let it compost for a while.
 
Ken Peavey
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I've seen that Florida muck when working at the sugar mills around Okeechobee. Good stuff. All I can do is dream of it.
My idea right now is to pretty much mix all these together into a big compost cassarole, throw some extra innoculent, mushroom spores, worms and go to planting.

That's as good a plan as you need to get started.
Muck soils are the result of drained bogs. All kinds of organic matter in there. Nothing wrong with adding more. Muck soils have a tendency to blow away and oxidize which will diminish the depth of the A horizon over time. Keeping that soil covered will reduce wind erosion and oxidation of the humus. Eventually you'll be left with sand. Protect that soil as best you can. You'll have little fertility issues.

Wood chips and nitrogen
Wood chips on top of the soil does not leach nitrogen from the soil very quickly. Mixed in with the soil, the chips will deplete the N quickly. A few weeks is all it takes. Initial N consumption will be where the chips meet the soil. Every time it rains, a little N is added to the soil (I think it's a lightning thing). As the chips age, the fungi grow. The mycellium of the fungi serves as a nutrient highway and will transport N from where it is concentrated to where it is needed. Once the N is more in balance, the chips won't continue to rob the soil. If you were to compost those chips, the N robbing is not so much of a concern. To keep a better balance of N, don't add so much at a time, add it to the top, let the chips work themselves into the soil. You need not shock the soil with a sudden influx of woodchips. All those microbes have been there for years and they like the place just fine. A rapid altering of soil composition kinda throws things out of whack for a while. The microbes will recover, even flourish. What I see in my field are clearly delineated strips of soil with a significant difference in growth. Deep rich green with noticeably larger, wider, taller, thicker growth where I have added wood chips, sawdust and leaf mold. Furthermore, these strips have different weeds. I gotta get some pictures. You can tell at a glance exactly where I added material. What I think is going on is the acidity of the soil has been changed, giving some species a better habitat and survival advantage.

Here's the funny part: If you did add a whole bunch of wood chips all at once, that's ok too. Shock and sudden change creates chaos from which life leaps ahead. Nature will return things to normal, even if its a 'different normal' than it was before. Stirring in the wood chips with wild abandon mixes the soil, add oxygen, allows the soil to take a deep breath after being suffocated for a long time. If you drastically change the nature of the soil chemistry, something is probably going to grow, although it may present in stages. First the fungi come, then the bacteria, then the protozoa, then the worms to eat the protozoa, bacteria and fungi, then the bugs and crawlies to feast on the worms...before you know it you have a thriving ecosystem.

You can let the chips sit and age all by themselves for a while. The rain will bring some N, giving decomposition a boost, and the fungi will get to work on the chip pile slowly. It will take a few years, but much of the chips will break down even with little N in the pile. Should you have a need for brown material, you can always take it from the chip pile, in whatever stage of decomposition it happens to have reached. Wood chips and leaves that have already broken down won't draw up N. It's already broken down.

For those leaves: leaf mold. I can't say enough good about it. For me, it's an absolute must have. Try it. You'll be sold.

Them worms you speak of will do you good. If acidity is the issue, worms are the answer. Whatever comes out the back of a worm is closer to pH neutral than what went in. Wood chips, leaf mold, and the resulting humus offer an ideal environment for these little guys. Moisture retention, lots of minerals, lots of yummy cellulose bedding. Your compost provides the nutrients. I'd expect them to flourish.

The horse manure gives me pause. Don't get me wrong-I like horses, I think they are great. However they are often treated with deworming medication that passes through them and persists in the manure for months. I had a bad experience with horse manure when I was very small. It wiped out my worms, took a couple years for them to come back. If the manure was aged for at least a year, I'd be more receptive to using it.
 
Matt Hunter
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Dale -
Hey, thank you for pointing me in the direction of the leaf mold thread. I read it through and will definately be collecting leaves as fall carries on here. Also, thanks for pointing me toward the composting section - that gives me plent more to look at. What a great resource you all have created here with all your combined knowledge.

Mark -
It looks like everybody is agreeing on the mulch sapping the nitrogen. Thanks for the pointer on composting it. I was actually going to ask that question next.

Ken – Thanks for all the info.
I've seen that Florida muck when working at the sugar mills around Okeechobee. Good stuff. All I can do is dream of it.

We dug a pond in the back of the property a few years back and ended up with a pretty large pile of sand and muck. I really wish we would have had the foresight to separate the layers. There was about 8 ft of muck, then grey sands and then white sand. I’m afraid the pile I am now pulling from may be a mixture of muck and sand, but I guess that’s better than pure sand.
That's as good a plan as you need to get started.
Muck soils are the result of drained bogs. All kinds of organic matter in there. Nothing wrong with adding more. Muck soils have a tendency to blow away and oxidize which will diminish the depth of the A horizon over time. Keeping that soil covered will reduce wind erosion and oxidation of the humus. Eventually you'll be left with sand. Protect that soil as best you can. You'll have little fertility issues.

Great, yeah from what I have gathered about composts and soils, the more diversity of organisms the better you are. I’m not sure I have a holistic understanding of the role of carbon and nitrogen in composting, but I feel like I am starting to at least understand the rules. Maybe I will mix some of the wood mulch into the mix, but just go easy, and I’ll compost the rest and use it at a later date. I really would like to have some wood chips in there for some long term mycelium habitat.
Here's the funny part: If you did add a whole bunch of wood chips all at once, that's ok too.

I love nature, so forgiving.
For those leaves: leaf mold. I can't say enough good about it. For me, it's an absolute must have. Try it. You'll be sold.

Just spent a few hours reading about leaf mold, don’t think it’s going to make it into this installation, but I’m definitely going to start collecting.
The horse manure gives me pause.

Good to note. It’s actually donkey poops, but I will ask my neighbor if the donkeys were treated for worms. If so, maybe composting and aging will take care of the contaminate issue.

Also, thank all of you so much for being active contributors to permaculture. I have learned so much already from the knowledge you all have shared on this thread and others.
 
John Elliott
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I'll agree with everything Ken says except the timing. It's not going to take years for fungi to break down a pile of wood chips. Well, maybe if it's not inoculated with fungi and it's sitting in a desert it will. But in Florida with plenty of rain and plenty of spores carried on the winds, it can be ready in a manner of weeks. Especially if you inoculate it heavily with blenderized mushrooms.

The way to tell if your pile of wood chips is ready is to dig into it a few inches. If you see lots and lots of white hyphae growing on everything, it's ready.
 
Ken Peavey
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John Elliot is aboslutely right. My estimation of 'a few years' will vary greatly depending on the conditions.
 
Matt Hunter
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Well that's good news. I'll start asking around for edible mushrooms this weekend. The varieties I have heard of that do well here are Oyster mushrooms (pleurotus pulmanarius and Pleurotus ostreatus), Shiitake mushrooms (Lentinula edodes), Lion's Mane mushrooms (Hericium erinaceus), and Reishi Mushrooms (Ganoderma lucidum). This is what I will look for unless you have other recommendations. I figure these will be best because they are edible. If I get some random mushrooms popping up I would like to be able to eat them or use them to inoculate logs. Any thoughts?
 
John Elliott
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Matt Hunter wrote: If I get some random mushrooms popping up I would like to be able to eat them or use them to inoculate logs. Any thoughts?


You can always use random mushrooms to inoculate logs. However, in order to eat mushrooms, you really need to know what you are doing and have a good field guide.
 
Andi Houston
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Location: Gainesville, FL
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I've been building soil like crazy in my suburban Gainesville yard using deep, deep wood chips, rotted hay, straw, pine needles, some horse and rabbit manure, and lots of cardboard. My yard was light gray sugar sand when we moved in, only a year and a half later I have worms and flowers. The transformation has been crazy. I also introduced as much fungi as possible by bringing home rotten logs from road sides, friends' yards, anywhere where I saw logs with fungal growth. I used the logs to lay out the edges of the beds in my forest garden (on top of the sheet mulching) and then filled those beds with compost. The logs inoculated the sheet mulch to hopefully nudge the area more towards fungal soil from bacterial soil.
 
Angelika Maier
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You can use the woodchips in the pathways and later when they are broken down rake it on the beds.
 
Matt Hunter
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Angelika,
Thank you for the idea. I like that.

Andi,
So you pile up the wood chips and pine needles, put rotting logs around the borders and then fill inside between the logs with compost? did I understand that correctly?
 
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