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Hi,

I'm a novice gardener who is reading Gaia's garden. So far, the ideas seem reasonable, but I don't really know what I'm doing and I need to read more. But, since I've already made a bed, I am wondering if I might have done something wrong.

I have made 2 10'x10' (feet) beds one using bales of wheat straw and the other using bales of alfalfa. I was using a sprinkler, but I noticed that the alfalfa was not very moist in the middle of the wafer after 15 minutes, so instead I submerged each wafer of alfalfa in water, in a wheel barrow, then held it up to let most of the water drain out. Is this too much water? I'm not sure how much moisture the author of that book means by "that wrung out sponge quality".
 
Leila Rich
steward
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
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This is a bit OT, but if I'm reading your post right, the beds are 10 foot square?
I would suggest dividing each into  two beds, 4 foot by 10 foot with a 2 foot wide path between. Hope that makes sense!
Having decent access to the garden without having to walk on it really helps.
As for the water,  the straw etc will absorb more than you can imagine! It' might work best to water it less a few times, rather than heavily once.
If you're using a sprinkler, try to do it when it's still and not sunny: they can be really wasteful.
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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If you are following Gaia's gardens you are doing well. I suggest you plant your fruit tree in the center  of each 10 foot bed..and some perennial plants close by under the fruit tree dripline..such as chives, multiplying onions, yarrow, lupines, (or other plants that either draw in beneficial insects, pollinators, bring nitrogen to your soil or bring up  nutrients from below, you'll see lists in the end of the book)..then plant the plants that you need to GET TO closer to the outside of the beds..

YOu should water the soil before putting on the mulch and then water in the mulch as well..pull the mulch aside to plant your plants and then tuck it back in..keep the mulch away from the trunk of the baby  tree a couple of inches..and make sure to protect the trunk of the tree with some hardware cloth or plastic tree guards..or tar paper..or something.

if you use the center of your bed for permanent plants that only need occasional care..you won't need to use up precious bed space for paths
 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
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Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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I'd ditto Brenda about the wisdom of getting the ground wet before deep mulching.  Free water in the wafers will drain, or if there is enough nitrogen in the Alfalfa and the wafers are dense enough, it might get slimy.  It'll all rot in the end, and that herbaceous material is short lived on the ground, so any unintended outcomes will be very temporary.  Use your eyes fingers and nose and notice what you can about what is in front of you.  The only problem with 'too much water' is that it can replace air and result in a shortage of oxygen under some conditions.  Might be an opportunity to learn the difference between ammonia smell (wet surplus N) and sulfur smell (no Oxygen). 
 
                          
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Okay, so if it's too wet, it will recover soon... The reason why I dunked the wafers of alfalfa was that after an hour of sprinkling (15 minutes per "corner", when I checked the middle of the wafer, it was bone dry. I guess it soaks in slowly. It's also a bit of impatience I guess. An hour per layer takes a long time.

The other bed that I only used a sprinkler on is still quite moist when I stick my finger into it, after 2 weeks.

About the rectangular shape. I wanted to make keyhole beds, but forgot what I was doing for the first one, after being preoccupied with figuring out how many bales and cubic yards of compost I needed. I intend to form a path into the middle of it. I don't know if I should do that now, or after it has decomposed more.

How long does it take 8 inches of straw or alfalfa to break down to something resembling soil?
 
Joel Hollingsworth
pollinator
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
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An important point is that it's perfectly OK for mulch to be dry.

It will break down if it stays moist and warm, and enough nitrogen is present (built in for the hay, but must be taken from the soil in the case of straw). Part of the role it serves, it will serve better if it remains dry at all but the bottom.
 
                          
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I started to cut a path into the middle of the bed that I didn't make keyhole shaped (it's in partial shade, so I don't think I should put a small tree in the middle, and didn't think about suggestions to put other permanent plants there). There is a kind of chemical odor, which I would say is more like ammonia than sulfur. Or maybe it is a good smell of decaying wheat straw, I'm not sure.

There are worms, mycelia and some cup fungus beneath the straw that is on top. Anywhere that I touch the top, several spiders run away from an area a few inches around where I touched.

So, if it is being anaerobic, do I just wait, or is there something to do? I was thinking I might just leave the beds alone until spring, or until I figure out what to do about deer.

 
Paul Cereghino
gardener
Posts: 856
Location: South Puget Sound, Salish Sea, Cascadia, North America
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Ammonia is a sharp smell -- your body doesn't like it.  Think window cleaner.  At various points in organic matter decomposition when rich in nitrogen it releases both ammonium and ammonia NH4 and NH3. 

I was reading just the other day, that the balance depends depends in part on the acidity (i.e. availability of Hydrogen ions with the proportion of Ammonia increasing with more base situations).  I wonder how redox state (how anaerobic) would affect this? (science nerd anyone...)

It is wonderful to see the hunting spiders move in when the mulch goes down.. I have particularly found them abundant in straw mulch.

With a shallow decomposing heap on the surface of the ground, it won't stay anaerobic very long.  If it has surplus nitrogen, it won't have it for long.  herbaceous debris rots really fast unless it is underwater or freezing.  Critters dig and chew -- everything gardens.

There is always something to do   The game is figuring out what you don't have to do.  If you feel like you should do something, then leave it half undone and see if it was actually necessary.

A lot depends on where you are trying to go, and the vegetation you have under that straw.
 
Travis Philp
gardener
Posts: 965
Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
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I hear what you're saying about thick layers of mulch taking forever to hydrate using a hose. When I first started sheet mulching I had this problem.

I've found that this works better to get an even watering:

-lay down 1-2 inch spreads of mulch at a time, water until you start to see pool beginning, and repeat

-or you can use sprinkler hoses. These are meant for above-ground watering of gardens but they work well in this case. They have pin-holes all along the length of the hose, and shoot up water about 8-12 inches high. So you could lay your mulch down dry and then spread the hose onto the bed, turn on the water and go do something else for awhile. Make sure to check it periodically  though by flipping some of the mulch over...
 
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