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what "greens" to grow in a pile of "browns"?

 
L Fletcher
Posts: 2
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hey what's going on?

i'm wondering what type of (especially nitrogen-rich) plants you've had growing in your mulch.

i'm getting about 16,000 pounds of shredded hardwood leaves dumped at this sunny, pastured lot soon, to start sculpting into garden beds.
here in hot and humid southern maryland, i'd like to be trying to get those leafy beds mostly converted into humus by the end of the year. issue being: i dont have much in the way of nitrogen-rich compost activators around here.

i've seen humus form quickly in my leafy compost piles in my patch of the woods around here, with lots of worms and millipedes and stuff, eating through and leaving their bacteria-rich casts to work through the leaves in our wet, warm seasons. SO my main idea is to get lots of worm breeding happening in the garage on some of those shredded hardwood leaves, and then use these worm breeding bins to "inoculate" my leafy piles with the worms' bacterial casts, raising up the nitrogen in my piles.

after i get that top layer of compost on my piles though, i'm wondering what to sow. i've seen mulleins and dandelions grow in straight mulch around here, as well as certain types of grasses. what's your opinion on clovers/comfrey/oats making their way through these piles? what type of plants have you seen draw nutrients up from mulches before? i'm thinking i can grow lots of potatoes this year, and squashes too if i get some alpaca manure on those leaf piles. but i'd love to pull up nutrients with grasses/dynamic accumulators/nitrogen fixers that'll give structure to my beds. do you feel any hollow-stemmed grass like oats/barley/wheat/rice could work? i'd love to get a harvest of straw for my mushroom cultivation projects. let me know what you've observed!
 
Miles Flansburg
steward
Posts: 3774
Location: Zones 2-4 Wyoming and 4-5 Colorado
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Howdy L, welcome to permies!

Are you saying that you have leafy compost piles in your woods that have already composted?

I think that I might grab some of that and mix it in with the new stuff. I think the old stuff would alread have all of the good composting bugs etc that you are looking for.

Then after it composts you are looking for what types of greens to plant? Or you want to plant before it is all composted?
 
Brian Vagg
Posts: 60
Location: Northern California - Zone 9b
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food preservation forest garden fungi
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Hi L! Welcome to Permies

What a great score on the shredded hardwood leaves.

i've seen humus form quickly in my leafy compost piles in my patch of the woods around here, with lots of worms and millipedes and stuff, eating through and leaving their bacteria-rich casts to work through the leaves in our wet, warm seasons. SO my main idea is to get lots of worm breeding happening in the garage on some of those shredded hardwood leaves, and then use these worm breeding bins to "inoculate" my leafy piles with the worms' bacterial casts, raising up the nitrogen in my piles.


I think you are headed in the right direction focusing on the soil biology. Getting the soil biology fired up and working on leaves will help you get to the humus you desire. You mention that your end goal is to turn this area into garden beds. If it is going to be for vegetable beds you will probably want to get a good balance between bacterial and fungal microorganisms in your soil.

i've seen mulleins and dandelions grow in straight mulch around here, as well as certain types of grasses


Mullein is an early successional plant and typically grows in bacterial dominated soils. In addition you mentioned that it is in a pastured lot (depending on the condition it could be bacterial dominant). Indications would lead me to believe that you may want to focus on getting the fungus in balance with the bacteria. You could have a biological soil test performed to confirm if this is the case.

The shredded leaves are good fungal food so that shouldn't be an issue. To jump start getting the fungus in balance you can do a light dusting of fungal dominant compost or compost tea. Beware, not all composts or compost teas are created equal. Be careful of the source and ask if the maker has done a biological test. Ask for results.

Clover, comfrey and/or oats are all good choices to help build soil structure and biomass. Choose carefully were you want to plant the comfrey as once it is established in a location it usually will STAY in that location

 
Casie Becker
pollinator
Posts: 1100
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
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Oxalis quickly cover shallow wood chips in my garden. Nothing much grows if we keep the pile more than twelve inches deep, but under that I just let them grow unless they're actually where I intend to put another plant. One of the common names (or a name of many common varieties) is wood sorrel.

We put all the leaves we rake from our yard into the two beds closest to our house. One bed is filled with an invasive ornamental, no room to experiment with. The other has deep shade 9 months of the year. Even with that deep shade, we have good success with a variety of greens, our onion (which are at the semi-shade edge) and an artichoke a couple years before have all done very well. I'm attaching a photo of the most exciting thing that leaves grow in our experience. I love my ramail wood chips, but it takes longer to get results like these.
007.jpg
[Thumbnail for 007.jpg]
 
Bryant RedHawk
gardener
Posts: 1992
Location: Vilonia, Arkansas - Zone 7B/8A stoney, sandy loam soil pH 6.5
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What a great score ! Do you have access to shops that brew and sell coffee? (Starbucks, Huddle house/ waffle house, local EZ mart, etc.)
If you do get with them and procure all the grounds you can, spread them evenly on top of your new shredded leaves, water lightly and your off and running.

For nitrogen fixers (remember a Nitrogen fixer is gathering N for its own use not storing it in the ground, until you chop it and drop it) try peas, beans, alfalfa, clovers and buckwheat.
You want to use plants that grow fast, fix nitrogen and die when chopped and dropped.
I never use things like vetch or morning glory they love to come back time after time and I want these plants to die when I cut them down.

If you add the coffee grounds and moisten the piles, you will find that worms, bacteria, fungi will all come to your offered up feast.
In six months or less you will have that humus you wanted the leaves to become.

I compost in heaps because I add in our hog manure, dog manure and chicken manure (along with the straw the food critters plopped their droppings on).
By making 4' x4' x4' heaps adding in nitrogen rich coffee grounds, water and then covering the top.
I get really hot heaps (upwards of 190 + degrees f) that kill off any nasty pathogens rather efficiently.
(you can even process human manure at the temps I get in my N rich heaps)

In my heaps, the heat has to subside before the worms come marching in to finish off what has been started, within 6 months I have fully finished compost ready for adding to our gardens.
 
This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. Now it's a tiny ad:

The permaculture playing cards make great stocking stuffers:
http://richsoil.com/cards


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