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Can plants self-sow on wood chips cover??  RSS feed

 
Benny Jeremiah
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Do you have experiences with wood chips as cover and self sowing vegetables / flowers?

I want to make a perma culture garden on 5 acres (trees, flowers, vegetables and ground cover, all mixed in a system).

I plan to add 5 inches of recycled mulch, then plant (broad cast) the seeds (and put in the bushes and trees) and then cover with 4-5 inches of wood chips (as per the Paul Gaucchi method).

My plan was to then leave it alone and let it all be self sowing in the following years - like sepp holzer does.

But then it occured to me...

One - can the worms drag the fallen leaves and plant material down through the wood chips?

Two - can the fallen (self sowing) seeds find their way down to the mulch? (i suppose rain will aid but will it be enough?)

Three - perhaps i need simply a layer of half decomposed stuff, so there's something for the seeds to grow in AND enough tree that it insulates through the winter? BUT perhaps this will take a lot of the nitrogen from the soil in the decomposition process?

Four - or would the answer be a densely planted ground (which i planned to anyway), and could this (not removing anything through winter! Leaving all dead material in place!) keep the frost out and the moisture in? (as well as the bark chips on top, can?)

What are your experiences?
 
Benny Jeremiah
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nobody has tried this?
 
Tyler Ludens
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I was careless with carrot seeds and some fell on the mulch path, grew and produced carrots. I bet if carrots can do it, just about anything can!

 
Donald Kenning
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Hi Benny;

I want to first point out that Paul Gauchi is talking about a "covering" method of farming. People call it a "Back to Eden" method or a wood chip method. I have seen the movie a few times and everything that L2Survive has done on follow up videos.

Paul G. is talking about a covering method, and if you notice he does not use wood chips ... in his garden. However, he covers the ground of the orchard (apple trees) with wood chips. He covers his garden with the fine powder he gets from the chicken pen area (compost). However, he states that a covering is good for anything and anywhere you want to grow. That covering can be compost, wood chips, wood shavings, bark, grass clippings, hay and even rocks. He likes wood chips best because you have a green (leaves and nettles) and brown (wood and bark) components and they are usually free.

In Paul's orchard (with the wood chips), sometimes he gets volunteer plants that either blow in or from bird deposits. Bear in mind, his wood chips were applied almost 20 years ago. In the "Back to Eden" film, we saw a family create a farm a few thousand miles from Paul at a church. They sheet mulched and planted into the wood chips, with little or no success. When they planted the seeds in the ground underneath the wood chips, then it was awesome.

If I were to recommend a coarse of action. On your first couple of years doing the method, when a plant goes to seed, move the wood chips back away from the soil around the plant and take the pod (or other plant born seed) and put it on the ground. Then cover it with just a little bit of wood chips (say an inch or two). When those plants come up and have a good stem, side dress with wood chips for a few more inches. In later years, you will probably get away with just broadcasting the seed and having them come up the next year.
 
Benny Jeremiah
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Thanks for answering.

Tyler, you do say "mulch", which would then have quite a bit of dirt in it. Or perhaps because the carrot seeds are so small that they can easier blow to the bottom through wood chips?

Donald, i noted that too - somewhere he used ships, somewhere he used - or had - more decomposed material.
But where he and i differ, is that he has a small garden, whereas i plan to do this on 5 hectares! I don't have time to neatly scrape covering away to plant one row, as he does. I can place wood chips around trees, but why not plant other plants there? (like he actually does potatoes and garlic, i seem to recall)
I need to broadcast.

I think i will instead broadcast, and sow 3-4 species of varying height in a single place - and divide the whole lot into smaller parcels, with changing "combinations" in each. Then - partially as you suggest at the end, if i read You correctly - cover with some spreadable cover (semi-mulched stuff that will turn to dirt come the next fall), and for every year forwards simply leave it alone! The plants will have to reseed and cover the ground themselves to re-mulch. Anyway, that IS what nature does, i suppose.


 
Tyler Ludens
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Benny Jeremiah wrote:
Tyler, you do say "mulch", which would then have quite a bit of dirt in it. Or perhaps because the carrot seeds are so small that they can easier blow to the bottom through wood chips?



Dense wood chip mulch, not fluffy.

Here are some carrots apparently growing in dense wood chips:

chipcarrots1.jpg
[Thumbnail for chipcarrots1.jpg]
chipcarrots2.jpg
[Thumbnail for chipcarrots2.jpg]
 
Benny Jeremiah
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Tyler, those look nice. Thanks for answering and posting the pictures.
 
Donald Kenning
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Benny:

Sorry about that, I made some poor assumptions.

Wow, 5 hectares, that is like 12.5 acres, that is a lot. It would be a lot of work to apply wood chips more than once.

Getting back to your question "has anyone done this?" A person named Angie Hepp in N.E. Oklahoma decided in 2014 decided to put wood chips in her garden and document it in youtube videos. She put out some videos in 2015 and just recently did a spring update. Her spring 2016 video can be found here., I do not know how thick she spread her chips or if her situation in N.E. Oklahoma matches yours, but those videos might be worth a look. I believe her entire 2015 garden was volunteer.

Now, you said you want to sow "3 or 4 species" together. I am guessing like companion planting. geoff lawton has just put out a .pdf guide on companion planting. You can find that here.
 
Benny Jeremiah
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Thanks Donald, the companion guide i'll take a look at - if not to childishly team up things that are said to be adverseries. No, it'll be used to a degree - but my thought was more "in layers", so ground cover like clover, main crop like potatoes and flowers like lavender: low, ground/low, and medium. Trees here and there also: tall. 3-4 different species in a place (in time nature will mix it up a lot more), all of the land divided up in smaller spaces with a different combination, covering the earth entirely. So the dead leaves can cover the ground in winter, protect it from frost and become mulch, and so there's surplus of plants so some of them will be left behind and self sow. I could probably do a thin bark chips layer on top in the beginning, provided it'd be thin and half composted in the fall? hmm...

So i would need to plan dilligently in the beginning, broadcast seeds, and then leave it all alone for the future - more or less.
Therefore i can not use any of the methods i've seen so far - people (Angie Hepp, Paul Gauchi too) seem to tear up everything in the fall and clean the ground, and replant in spring - i could never do that with 5 hectares. It would have to maintain itself, and the strategy would be abundance. sepp holzer style?



 
Donald Kenning
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Wow, I am not paying attention here.

You actually asked:



One - can the worms drag the fallen leaves and plant material down through the wood chips?

Two - can the fallen (self sowing) seeds find their way down to the mulch? (i suppose rain will aid but will it be enough?)

Three - perhaps i need simply a layer of half decomposed stuff, so there's something for the seeds to grow in AND enough tree that it insulates through the winter? BUT perhaps this will take a lot of the nitrogen from the soil in the decomposition process?

Four - or would the answer be a densely planted ground (which i planned to anyway), and could this (not removing anything through winter! Leaving all dead material in place!) keep the frost out and the moisture in? (as well as the bark chips on top, can?)

What are your experiences?


OK. It sound like you really only want to harvest every year after the initial planting. You also are worried if, given your plan, would the seeds come in contact with the what it needs to germinate the next batch. Meanwhile, you are allowing the plants to winter kill and stay in place.

Wow. I would speculate that you can do all of that but not with a cover of 5 inches of wood chips that have just been created. Many people who do the self sowing in wood chips do not care what kind of crop they get and many are anal retentive in how they manage the dead plants.

I first want to say, I love your approach and you have the heart of a permaculturist.

One - Usually the speed of the decay of the dead plants depend on how close they are to the actual soil. Few organisms that break dead plants down would make the 5 inch trip to the dead plant but some will.

Two - The fallen seeds eventually find their way, but it may take longer than you want. So the initial broadcast of seed may need to be more than you want to build a seed bank into the soil. That is if you have 5 inches of wood chips over the top.

Three - I think that one is the key. Half decomposed wood chips (and stuff) make for a super rich soil that can be planted into almost immediately. It will be an awesome "covering" for the ground that will last a long time, or at least while you build up the dead plants on top. From what I have read, yea, wood chips initially suck in Nitrogen. However, there is a point in time as they decay where they will actually give off Nitrogen. I think it is written about in the Hulgelkultur stuff around here.

Four - yea, people do the "chop and drop" all the time. Good No-till farmers leave the residue (armor) on the fields and find it helps to keep more of the soil biology (soil food web) active for a bigger part of the year (they also plant cover crops). Doing that helps moderate temperature and moisture. Not too cold in winter and not too hot in summer. Not too wet after a rain and not too dry during a drought.

So, what do you do? Well you could just broadcast seed now and cross your fingers. If you have a tractor (or rent one) for this large amount of ground and apply only one thing, for the first year and that is it... the covering I would choose is ... half decomposed wood chips. I would say pull from a pile that is more than 2 years old. That gives good microbes, fungi and micro insects while also providing good food to them, jump starting the soil food web of the ground you put it on. In the mean time the partially decomposed wood chips will provide cover (armor) to the soil that will break down over time. Paul G. does not like bark as much as he does wood chips, but if bark is what you have than that is what you use.

How deep? My guess is the tractor will tell you that. It would be tough to dump and then rake 12.5 acres. Since the half decomposed stuff is already a medium that you can plant into, it seems like any depth would be OK. Many people put down cardboard for small gardens to kill the grass (or whatever) below. Of course, that is not feasible for 12.5 acres. The plants there currently will love the stuff you put on them. I do not believe in a herbicide kill but what do you do? I guess most people would suggest that you plant enough seed to out compete the "weeds" that come.

If I could suggest a seed mix, I would only say include stuff that comes up year round. In early spring (peas), stuff that loves summer sun (tomatoes) and stuff that is fine in winter (kale) all in that first broadcast to create a good year round seed bank in this soil. This way the soil food web sees a live root in the ground for a longer portion of the year.


Sorry it took me so long to figure out what you were asking. I rarely mono log like that.
 
Benny Jeremiah
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No need to apologise, Donald - i was only asking very narrow questions and hadn't explained the broader picture of my dreams.
(and i apparently did say 5 acres - i didn't realise the difference. We're talking 50.000 square meters, which is the plot i'm interested in)

It seems like you confirm my thoughts exactly. And thank You VERY MUCH for your thorough answer! Cover the ground, sow, pay 15 scouts to spread a layer of semi-decomposed wood-mulch that can still decompose and protect a bit in the first winter. (i would probably start in the fall)

Yes, i couldn't even do anything but harvest - it'd take too long. (incidently, this is also what sepp holzer said in one of his films, which blew my mind, and inspired me! Perhaps this careless attitude is necessary for nature to be left alone to do it's thing?) I suppose that after a few years, the trees would have to be tied down, so they wouldn't develop so tall that i couldn't pick from them. (but i would rather not prune them) Besides that, not much work.

The drawback of this way, is that it would require knowledge of the plants to know which is which and what to pick, in the tall green wilderness. I'll be buying a "traditional" field, which only needs mulch, there's no grass. In a typical field there are tractor tracks, but between them are a 30feet wide area, which i would broadcast. But i think it's a small price to pay.

I plan to methodically go through the british seed-catalogs and literally buy a bit of everything (already making lists) - even several different cultivars/sorts of one. Thus ensuring - as you say - early/mid/late varieties, and also ensuring against area wide diseases of one plant. In the Miracle Farms film, they tell about how they've organised their Quebec orchard in "supermarket lanes" after harvesting periods, which does make it a lot easier. Even for the bees - for i would need to have bees!

Thanks so much for Your answers, They alleviate my fears a great deal, and nobody seems to have done this kind of gardening/farming.
 
Donald Kenning
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Benny:
5 acres (your first post) or 5 hectares (your third post) whichever way, it is a lot.

While I have literally watched 1,000's of hours of videos on permaculture and stuff (From Paul Wheaton, Geoff Lawton, Joel Salitin, Paul G. Alex O., Eli and Val, Justin R. and the list goes on) I have never sat through one with Sepp. Not even the one where Paul W. awards him a piece of wood. I know, I am an idiot. However, if he has inspired you that is great, and he is right, we just direct nature and get out of the way, and let it do the work.

Now, about the trees you refer to. In the videos, Paul G. mentions that he intentionally bought "dwarf" apple trees. In one video he explained that they take a regular apple tree trunk and graft it onto a small tree (or shrub) root system, and supposedly that will keep it short. He however, trims the "suckers" and does a pruning in Jan. Supposedly, doing this puts more energy into fruit production. But you can do whatever you want. Many people plant garlic and comfrey at the base of fruit trees to keep bugs away and provide fertilizer (a companion thing if you are into that sort of thing).

Now, the last thing, you mention "traditional" land use. I am guessing you mean the land was tilled, had fertilizers and pesticides applied and all that stuff. If that is the case, the soil probably has a compaction layer and is salted (from the application of the chemicals). I am going to guess further that there is not much of a soil food web (small amount of organic matter). Many people might recommenced a key line or sub soil "plow" to break up the compaction. However, if you only want to go over the ground once it should be to apply the mulch and let the compaction "disappear" over time. That brings me right back to the mulch. I am more convinced now that half decomposed mulch, like old wood chips, are the way to go. You see, compost is bacteria dominated while wood chips are fungally dominated forms of mulch. Fungally dominated mulches tend to bind up and make inert the salts that might build up in a soil that has been chemically managed. It does this while helping recover the soil food web and reduce compaction (leaving the roots in the ground also does that).

Anyway, I would love to here about your progress as you do this. Promise, that you will come back and create a comment stream about it (with pictures) as you go through this process. Maybe even start a Youtube channel. I would watch.
 
Benny Jeremiah
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"..apply the mulch and let the compaction "disappear" over time."

It really does seem like You and i speak "the same language", Donald. That's comforting to know. I wrote the leading gardening specialist in my area, but haven't had a reply, so i'm hungry for other peoples experiences - which seem few and far between. I'll bookmark You.

We'll see in a year how things go - and if it really is of value to somebody, i can film as i go along.

Those observations you make about the stocks of poison companies were interesting to read. I believe in "tertiary statistics" as a way to predict outcomes - you just prove what i also see in society, that permaculture is on the way up. But still only on small scale...

 
Benny Jeremiah
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Donald

What about crop rotation. The permaculture idea is that several plants in a space eliminates the need for rotation, so i could grow potatoes, clover, spearmint, foxglove, and raspberries in a plot year after year, disease free, right?
Do we know someone who's been doing that for 4-5 years at least?
 
Donald Kenning
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Good Question Benny.

No-Till Cash/Cover crop rotation: Is a method large farms employ to maintain a healthy soil food web. Row crop farms use this and rotate the cash crop. That cash crop rotation may be a 3 or 4 year (3 or 4 crop type) rotation. Then between the cash crops a multi-species cover crop (that also may rotate). In all, those farms may grow 20 - 30 species of plants on their land. This helps keep a living root in the ground and creates good soil structure, water retention and armor for the soil that goes deep. This method requires 2 to 4 passes a year, seed/harvest/killroll on the property with equipment.

Permaculture Might have a few hundred species of plant, scrub, tree, mushroom on a single acre. I thought, by how you were talking you were going to have a multitude of species and that you would have crops year round (or at least most of the year). So even if a bug comes to an area with a specific type of plant it likes to eat, the next year it may not be able to find that plant. This also is a feature of companion planting, like planting garlic at the base of some trees, or a flower to confuse sense of smell (if you are into that sort of thing). It also seemed like you only wanted to harvest after the first year (only trips to harvest, not to plant). Nothing creates a perpetual harvest like a biodiversity, while some plants are dieing, some will be coming alive. As those die they feed the next gen of plants.

Who has been doing it for more than 5 years? Well on a smaller scale than 5 acres, I would say Eli and Val, and Alex Ojeda out of Jacksonville Florida. They have a few videos on youtube and they also have done some projects together that are also big. Here is one of Alex's tour of his property.

I hope that is helpful.
 
Benny Jeremiah
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I suppose the first one is illustrated by https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9yPjoh9YJMk Gabe Brown at his HUGE farm. And the second one by Angelo Eliades, in his 64m2 garden. http://permaculturenews.org/2011/04/13/lessons-from-an-urban-back-yard-food-forest-experiment/

Now i want to do the second form on a larger scale. I've just been told by 2 local garden experts that it's not possible here in Denmark, Europe - too cold, apparently. But i'll test it anyway. I calculate that it's more than possible.

 
Susan Taylor Brown
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I am trying this, sowing into woodchips, but it is too early to give much feedback. I have about 4 inches of wood chips, (dense, not fluffy) that I have piled onto compacted soil that had a batting cage on it for many years plus dirt bike riding all over the place. I have very few weeds. It is just dead dirt. I have built a hugel bed, a lasagne bed, and in some places dug a few small holes, put some organic matter into the hole, and planted some small plants. But mostly I am throwing seeds everywhere because at this point I don't care what comes up where, I just want to get things rolling. For me here it is poppies and sunflower seeds that are coming up. Some yarrow. Some milkweed. But poppies and sunflower seeds are germinating wherever I have tossed them in the chips. The seedlings are only a few inches high at this point so it remains to be seen what happens next.
 
Frank fank
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I have found that legume crops self sow easily when scattered on wood chip mulch fresh or partially composted. What else grows in the wood chips will depend on location, soil, and depth and level of decay of wood chips or mulch. Try different plants suitable for your area and figure out what works. Some plants have a hard time reaching the soil through a thick mulch but legumes can grow in the mulch no problem.

@ Susan B

Google says you are in zone 9b if so you can grow pigeon pea, okra, roselle, potatoes, yams, onion, peanuts, (cow pea, lab lab for ground cover), pumpkins, and a whole lot of other things fairly easily in the mulch/wood chips. Your area is a bit dryer than mine but most of these plants love sun and grow easily in mulch. Give them a try.
 
Marco Banks
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Yes, you do get volunteer plants with wood chip mulch. Not so much on the fresh chips, but because they break down so quickly, you'll find that within a couple of years, the soil is so good that you'll get volunteer plants coming up all over. You'll also find that once you start mulching with wood chips, the microbial activity, fungal activity, and worm activity all conspire to break those chips down very quickly. It's tough to keep a thick layer because they are constantly breaking down.

Our first tomatoes every spring are cherry tomatoes that volunteer from last year's crop. They come up all over.

We regularly get volunteer carrots, lettuce, daikon radish, pumpkin, sunflowers, fennel, and watermelon.

I refresh the wood chips annually -- at least 8 inches. I put them down throughout the integrated orchard, and then push them back throughout the year as I plant in and around the trees. But even in places where I don't push the chips back to expose the soil beneath, we get volunteer veggies coming up.


Then again, fennel will grow on concrete, so it seems. Having volunteer fennel is like having a belly button. It goes without saying.
 
Bobby Clark Jr
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I got started using wood chips after watching Paul G on YouTube. The power company was clearing the right of way here and I asked for the chips, got 20 loads or more free and dumped in my yard! That was 2 years ago and I still spreading. Worms have moved into the piles and I just move them to the garden with the chips. With fresh chips I rake a furrow and fill with soil/chicken yard siftings and plant into that with good results. Not doable large scale. Weeds can sure self seed into chips, no problem at all! I am still trying to plant into the soil under the chips in the larger garden, but will try broadcasting buckwheat on top of the chips tomorrow. Will rake some in and leave others on top to see what happens. I don't think the worms would have any trouble taking leaves and such down into the chips. The nitrogen loss is only if you plow/ dig in the chips, mix them into the soil. If you just put the on top it won't be as much of a problem. I add lime and cottonseed meal anyway so I don't see any symptoms of n shortage.
 
Benny Jeremiah
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Thia is all so interesting to read, thanks to you all who answer. I read it with great interest.
 
Bobby Clark Jr
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Ok, yesterday, as promised, I did some broadcasting on chips. I decided just buckwheat would be a wasted opportunity, I went polyculture. That way we can test more seed at the same time. I put a little 13-13-13 and a mix of 12 parts( by measure not weight) cottonseed meal, 1 part basic slag, 1 part garden lime and 1 part dolomite lime, chopped in the chop side, not on the other. So here is the mix: buckwheat, chickpeas, red and brown lentils, rape, Florida broad leaf mustard, shogoin turnips, cherry belle radishes, castor beans (which I know will self sow on chips) black oil sunflowers, and my cow pea mix, which contains; Clark's peas, red rippers, Mississippi silver skin crowders, black crowders, and Mississippi pink eye purplehull. Part of the bed I left uncovered like it fell, the other part I rake/chopped in with a garden bow rake. Because it is so hot and dry right now I drug out the hose pipe and watered everything down good. Today I went back and added some true comfrey seed, just watered them in on both sides when I watered this afternoon. Comfrey will self sow into a gravel walkway so it should have no problems with chips! So I guess now we will wait and see what we will see when we see it! Will post pics when something comes up.
 
Bobby Clark Jr
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Benny Jeremiah wrote:Donald

What about crop rotation. The permaculture idea is that several plants in a space eliminates the need for rotation, so i could grow potatoes, clover, spearmint, foxglove, and raspberries in a plot year after year, disease free, right?
Do we know someone who's been doing that for 4-5 years at least?

If I remember right Paul G replants his potatoes right back when and where he harvests them, the biggest one goes back in. It has been a while since I watched him, so it may have been somebody else, but still with wood chips. That does not work for me because something eats them before time to come up, sometimes before I can dig them the first time! Do you have access to that much wood chips? I figured at 6" deep it would take about 10,000 cubic yards, less in meters, and less at 5" but that is a lot of chips!
 
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