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Avoiding Diseases in Mulch  RSS feed

 
Starr Brainard
Posts: 39
Location: Duluth, MN
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Hello, Permies! At my work we have many vegetable plots for research and education. We are in a very dry climate (Cairo, Egypt), but none of the plots are mulched. I am trying to persuade the powers that be to start some serious mulching to address our water and weed problems. The first question I get is "Where will we get this mulch?" We have a large crop of sweet corn this will be pulled out soon, and I suggested drying it, shredding it, and using that for mulch. The follow up concern was what about the potential of disease being spread from the corn stalk mulch to the vegetables. I wasn't under the impression our corn was particularity diseased, but people are concerned. Does anyone have any experience using sweet corn residue as mulch? I am a mulch newb, so any guidance on what can and can't be used, would be wonderful. Thank you!
 
Joseph Lofthouse
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Location: Cache Valley, zone 4b, Irrigated, 9" rain in badlands.
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Ha! I share the concern about mulch/compost being unsanitary. The stuff freaks me out: The bugs, the slime, the molds, the germs, the smell, the texture. All creepy. All disgusting. Whether or not there is actual danger from mulch/compost, there is the perception of danger. I suspect that this unease with compost/mulch might be biologically driven: Something that is driven by our animal nature, and not by rational thought. I inherently avoid poisons in my food due to simple biology: It's a self-preservation strategy that I have little control over. Perhaps a distrust of mulch has similar origins?

Fortunately, I garden in the desert and adding enough mulch/compost to my garden to make a difference is way beyond affordable.
 
Bryant RedHawk
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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hau, Starr,

Desert atmosphere and mulch sound like they go together but there is a genuine concern here.
Sweet corn stalks are great harbors for several diseases, corn blight, sweet corn rust, smut, Stewart's disease, maize dwarf mosaic disease and maize white line mosaic disease.

Complete drying of stalks does not get rid of any of these diseases and can infact help their spread.
This makes it better for hot composting than for mulching.
Hot composting can kill the spores as long as the internal temp gets up to 160 f.

Mulch does not have to be organic, plant material. It does need to be opaque, which will block sunlight, one of the main functions of mulch.
I have used old clothes, cardboard, wood chips, compost, even chewed up old tires can make a good mulch.

While it is preferable to use organic materials for this purpose, since they will decompose and enrich the soil they protect.
In a Desert climate, other materials may be preferable from both an availability and practicality basis.

The Lasagna mulching technique is also worth considering, especially if you can get hold of finished hot method compost and cardboard.
In the Desert, wind would also need to be considered since you would not want your mulch to be blown away to the sand dunes.
 
Roy Hinkley
Posts: 242
Location: S. Ontario Canada
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Hot composting can kill the spores as long as the internal temp gets up to 160 f.

You just want to cover the soil and reduce evaporation right?
So why not make a solar pasteurizer/sterilizer?
A wooden box with a glass cover would very likely get to 160 f during the day. Once your stalks are shredded put them in the sterilizer and kill off anything nasty, then use it as mulch.
Size your box or batches of mulch to get a full cook in one day.
 
Roy Hinkley
Posts: 242
Location: S. Ontario Canada
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Ooops , double post
The one thing you have for sure is reliable sunshine.
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
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Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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great idea there with the solar box Roy.

In Cairo you would most likely need a minimum of six inches (8cm) of mulch maybe even up to a foot (14cm).
I am not super familiar with the weather patterns there.
I do know that even in deserts there are weather patterns, like one portion of a hectare will show to be hotter or cooler than the rest of it.
so that may be something to factor in for most effective mulch depth.
Proximity to the Nile could be a factor for depth of mulch too.

I did some work on a gardening project similar to yours in the Mojave desert, granted not the same type of desert but...
We found that when we used the Lasagna style, topped with two inches of local sand, we got the best moisture retention.
This was supposed (didn't have enough time for proper test result data to be collected) to be partly from sun reflection by the addition of the sand topper layer.

If you use Roy's idea (solar box), you could dry the corn stalks to tinder dry then vacuum bag them for a week (this would ensure no living nasty things surviving to come back and haunt you).
If you work this out, give a super reflective a trial as the topper and let me know if that increases the water retention please.
I don't live anywhere close to a desert anymore but am interested in the reflective approach.
 
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