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Do you mulch between garden beds/hugels? With what?  RSS feed

 
Nicole Alderman
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I hate grass. It and creeping buttercup are always invading my hugels and beds, and it's really annoying! I'm wondering if mulching between my beds would slow the invasion. I've never spent the time or money to mulch the paths between them, and I'm wondering if it's worth it to do it. What mulch is the cheapest/best (pretty sure I won't be able to get tree services to drop off mulched tree trimmings, as I live down a long grave; road). How deep does the mulch have to be? What are the downsides?

Thank you so much!
 
Bianca Cederberg
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It depends on what your local available options are. I would go for any kind of straw. Where I live the farmers usually have a few leftover hayballs leftover they cannot sell, so I have gotten some for free. Conventionally grown, unfortunately, but I think most of the poison has washed away in the rain before being placed in our garden. Best to get real straw - without seeds - if you hate grass, although chances of germination are probably low if you throw down a thick enough layer. Have you seen any of ruth stout's videos? She tells us alll about the benefits of straw mulch. Keeps the ground soft, moist, protected from trampling, keeps weeds at bay, the whole shebang. So it can be worth it.

Some kind of black fabric tarp could also work for you. Though the couch grass might still make its way through!
You could also spend a little more and make it pretty - get shitloads of newspapers and make a thick layer. Then cover with some barkmulch. Makes it look real fresh and earthy!

 
Tracy Wandling
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I mulch with chips, but we have a chipper and we're clearing Broom and alder, so I'm pretty lucky that way. I also use cardboard under the chips in an attempt to at least slow down those viny prickly things (Himilayan blackberry?) that are constantly tripping me.    Any unwanted plants that I pull out, or trimmings from harvesting, go on the paths as well. Except the prickly ones. We have lots of bracken fern that I pull up and lay on paths.

If I didn't have chips, I would just be using whatever organic material I had, but without the cardboard. That stuff is slicker than snot on a glass doorknob when it's wet! Unless I could really pile on the organic matter, I'd leave the cardboard out. Perhaps newspaper would be better, if one doesn't mind using that sort of thing.

Old carpet might work well, I think. Of course, I'd cover it with organic matter as much as I could - but that's because I want a pretty garden.   But it would probably do the job admirably. Hmmm, might grab some at the free store next time I'm there.

That's all I can think of right now, but I'll continue to ponder it, and come back if I think of anything else.

Cheers
Tracy
 
Nicole Alderman
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I sadly do not have a source for wood chips. I really should try to contact one of those tree trimming services and see if they'll drive down our private drive to drop them off, I doubt it though.... I'm wondering if pine shavings from the farm co-op would work? I've tried mulching my paths with extra weeds, bark from our fire wood, cedar branches, and grass, but I've never managed to get the mulch deep enough to do much good. Creeping buttercup LOVES to grow right on top of thin mulch here, and so does the horrible lawn grass that spreads by runners. Last year I simply didn't have time/ability to weed out the mulched areas, as I was pregnant with a two year old. Hopefully my newborn will be happy with me weeding with her on my chest this year....

Do you weed your mulched areas? If so, do you use a tool for it? I've always just weeded sitting with my hands, but babies tend to hate when I do that wearing them, and I'm wondering if there's a tool that would allow me to weed the paths while standing. My parents just gave me this extendable hoe/cultivator, but I've never used either a hoe, nor a cultivator...



Tracy Wandling wrote: I also use cardboard under the chips in an attempt to at least slow down those viny prickly things (Himilayan blackberry?) that are constantly tripping me. 


If the viny things are tripping you, they're probably Trailing Blackberry (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rubus_ursinus, https://www.pnwflowers.com/flower/rubus-ursinus). Himalayan and Evergreen blackberries are horrid, thorny monstrosities that grow up and over, and grow at an insane pace. Trailing blackberry has much thinner canes/vines, is less prickly, and make DELICIOUS berries--tasting a lot like Marionberries. I have all three types on my property and actually encourage the Trailing blackberries in many areas, making them trellises, mulching with duck bedding, and pruning them. They're really good! My grandparents tell me that years back a pie shop would pay crazy amounts for a gallon of those berries (they stopped a few years ago and substituted regular blackberries because the trailing ones were so hard to find) so if you have trailing blackberries, you might be able to sell them at market for a relatively good price. 

 
Charli Wilson
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I also use woodchips, with corrugated cardboard under. Keeps the mud at bay, drains quickly, and the chickens dig in it and eat the critters.
 
Steve Taylor
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Location: Akron, Ohio
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I used my grass/ leaves clippings from mowing with a bagger.  It works great if you keep applying throughout the year. It's much easier to weed what pops through. Although it will strengthen perennials (blackberry in question).  But it will be easier to dig the soil up with the mulch.  In my experience only applying an inch or so depth at a time allows the soil to integrate the grass easier into the soil and doesn't create a thick mat that is too hard to dig and wicks water away. 

If you do have too much grass for the job I like to smother future garden areas with it, as well as pile it up along the garden bed edges and paths to smother and be available for when I need mulch again.
 
chip sanft
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I was just thinking about this same issue myself the other day, as I was poking around looking for worms and found grass runners and creeping charlie growing up and over through a good 6-8" of aged manure / stable scrapings I put down a couple months ago.

For me, the only thing that stops grass runners is cardboard, which always feels like a blunt force instrument. And an ugly one at that.

So when I can, I mostly just let the grass grow. This works for me because: 1) grass is organic matter like any other, 2) it will die if covered with cardboard, whereupon it turns in good stuff, 3) it doesn't like shade, so come spring I can cut it back and plant my plants and they do alright still, generally, and 4) it's better than some of the viney plants. If it otherwise gets in the way, I chop it, and it chops and dries well.
 
Tom Rodgers
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I use chips, and this year sawdust which really works. Downside it absorbs nitrogen if you till it in, but we use it as path 1 year, then I will put protein on it in late fall and  till in the top 2 inches come spring. Getting it deep is a problem once it is away from oxygen and light/heat it wont compost as well.

 
Marco Banks
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Wood chips.  By the truck load.
 
Angelika Maier
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Either you find a place closer were the contractors can leave the woodchips or you might simply plant the paths with clover or similar. Hay is expensive and they spray all sorts of crap on it.
 
Peter Kalokerinos
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We use long rubbish grasses/pasture that we cut with a mower and then rake up....its tedius but works well.

Have also used wood chip.

Ideally you want living mulches established. We struggled last year to get this done as we finished our first bed at the wrong time of year.

These newer ones just completed are going better (using a variety of clovers). Pic below is day one, we've got oats, lupin and a bunch of other green manures coming through now


 
Nicole Alderman
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Oooooh, I'd love to get a living mulch, like clover, established. Sadly, I have buttercup instead, and I find that stuff does NOT like to get out competed .

BUT! The power company came through for me and dumped a load of woodchips. I was like a kid old at Christmas when it came. In fact, I still feel that way when I haul loads of it around my garden. I never would have thought I would be so delighted to haul around wheel barrows of something, let alone woodchips, LOL!

I've been so merrily spreading the woodchips under my fruit trees and berry bushes and potatoes that I still haven't gotten around to mulching my paths. Ack! I did find out--when I  mulched my fruit trees--that buttercup will quite happily, and easily, grow up through inches of woodchips. Thankfully, I have a bunch of feed bags I can lay down first. You all have motivated me to make that my next project. Thank you!!!
 
Alexandra Clark
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I have dealt with a lot of invasives in my time, and generally, I just use a weed wacker on the paths and cut it really close, as if I were mowing a lawn and leave the debris in place. I have found struggling with weeds to be a struggle that simply will not stop because if you have edges in your garden or bare soil, the colonizing weeds are coming in for a reason. Change the environment and the weeds cease every time. It is part of the successional process.

But...if you have the time, simply lay cardboard to the width of your path and then put down a heavy covering of wood mulch or leaf mulch. This has also worked for me in the past.  The idea of perennial low cover crops like white clover as also a great idea. 
 
Nicole Alderman
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We don't own a weed wacker, and I worry about using them because we have ducks and a chicken. My dad used to come over and help and weed wack (I have an awesome dad!), but I keep finding little pieces of the "string" around. Those little skinny pieces of plastic around two inches long just look perfect for a duck to eat and then have puncture a throat or lung or something. I find them weeks after he's weed wacked, and I just had to say no more weed wacking. But, the weed wacking sure does do a great job of killing everything on a path for a while! Are their "strings" that don't break or weed wackers that don't used strings?
 
Steven Kovacs
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Nicole,

There are weed whacker blades that you can get that are metal.  I mulled getting some myself after I started thinking about the fact that using the plastic string means that there are tiny bits of plastic in my garden now, but ultimately I got the "Fokin hoe" / "ploskorez Fokina" discussed elsewhere in the forum (and available at ecominded.net).  I've only used it a few times, but it's been extremely effective on everything but grass, and it's very easy to use and probably 5x faster than hand weeding.
 
chip sanft
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Nicole Alderman wrote:Are there "strings" that don't break or weed wackers that don't used strings?


I've used a blade attachment on a weed wacker before, for clearing brush. It's basically like a horizontally mounted circular saw on a stick, which seems like it would be overkill for grass etc. On the other hand, the thing really worked.
 
Steven Kovacs
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chip sanft wrote:
Nicole Alderman wrote:Are there "strings" that don't break or weed wackers that don't used strings?


I've used a blade attachment on a weed wacker before, for clearing brush. It's basically like a horizontally mounted circular saw on a stick, which seems like it would be overkill for grass etc. On the other hand, the thing really worked.


I just re-read Nicole's earlier posts, and if she's weeding with kids nearby, the blade-on-a-weed-whacker seems like a dangerous road to go down, no matter how effective.  That's one of the reasons I decided against getting a metal blade for mine and went with a manual tool instead - my preschooler does not yet have the self-control to be safe around something with a motorized blade.
 
Morfydd St. Clair
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You can get weed whackers with plastic blades like these (https://smile.amazon.com/Grass-Gator-3600-Replacement-Trimmer/dp/B00004R9XQ/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1496234613&sr=8-4&keywords=weed+wacker+blade)

They're stronger than string, I assume less strong than metal (yikes!), anything weed-wacky seems dangerous around kids.

I sort of alternate what I use between rows.  When I have a ton of fallen leaves in the fall, I deep mulch.  When that fades I throw huge quantities of white clover seeds in.  And then I hand-weed whatever unwanted comes up.  It keeps things to a dull roar.

It helps that these raised beds are in what was a nice annual garden for the previous owner, so I suspect the weed load was lower.  It is a pain that bindweed continuously comes over from the neighbor.  It evens out.

Also, I used to garden in the PNW, and never remember grass invading via runners, nor buttercups being invasive.  I have both here in Germany, plus the bindweeds and blackberries, plus OMG so many more weeds I've never seen before.

The one thing that can compete with the weeds are some local strawberries.  They don't fruit much, and when they do the fruits are only about a half-inch wide/long.  But they cover everything, are moderately pretty, and are super easy to pull out of where I don't want them.
 
Nicole Alderman
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Morfydd St. Clair wrote:

The one thing that can compete with the weeds are some local strawberries.  They don't fruit much, and when they do the fruits are only about a half-inch wide/long.  But they cover everything, are moderately pretty, and are super easy to pull out of where I don't want them.


I actually have little wild strawberries in one of the garden beds, on purpose. They're growing all over the bed, but they don't seem to hold up to the grass, or the buttercup. The buttercup grows faster and taller. I'll rip off all the buttercup leaves (hard to weed them out, as I would be damaging the strawberries in the process), and in a few days the buttercup is towering above the strawberries again. Also, the buttercup grows up out of any mulch before the strawberries do, and then merrily spreads by runners on top of the mulch. The bed used to be mostly strawberries as a groundcover, and now it only takes up 1/3rd of the biomass, the grass and buttercup taking up the other thirds. So, sadly, my strawberries do not seem to be able to outcompete the other two plants, even with help .
 
James Freyr
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I used shredded pine bark to mulch in between my raised beds. I also rolled out a weed barrier fabric over the grass before I threw the mulch on top. I did this because I didn't want to have to mow and use a string trimmer in-between the beds. It works, and started off great, but as we all know the mulch decomposes into this lovely and quite fertile compost and requires reapplication of said mulch. Now, years later, wind blown seeds sprout like wildfire and is becoming somewhat of a chore to maintain. Not a total pain in the ass, but I'm spending time weekly pulling weeds and/or spraying vinegar to keep them at bay. When my wife and I move, and I build a new raised bed garden, I will again roll out some weed barrier fabric, but this time I will spread pea stone.
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Ben Zumeta
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Nicole, have you allowed your ducks at the buttercup? Maybe a makeshift chicken wire tunnel that fits in you path would do the trick, because where once my fruit trees were surrounded with buttercup, now that the chickens and ducks live there it has disappeared. I might also just accept as much of it as you can bear, as it is sequestering carbon that goes into your soil any time you chop and drop it or let it go through its natural lifecycle, and it does not cause any harm to your surrounding plants as long as it does not shade them out. According to Dr. Elaine Ingram, herbicide manufacturers have provided the only "proof" that weeds compete for nutrients or water with crops that they don't shade out. If the weeds get more sun and have more leaf surface to photsynthsize than your crops, they can pull more water and nutrients out of the soil with a stronger vacuum from greater transpiration. But this only occurs under highly stressed conditions and if you are not using that space for crops, any plant is doing more good for the soil than bare earth, essentially performing  the functions woodchips do and regenerating on their own.
 
Nicole Alderman
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My chicken and 12 ducks do have access to the buttercup (I let them out to free range around the property). Even in areas that they frequent (such as the bank of the pond), the buttercup is rampant. Mine are busy eating the bugs and slugs and grass and dandelions that they just don't get around to eating the buttercup, I guess. My chicken loves to scratch under my fruit trees where I have lots of mulch (and buttercup!) and she hasn't made a dent in the buttercup, nor have the ducks who love poking their bills in that mulch to get the bugs. Maybe it's because they have other things to eat? Or maybe it's just my flock. When I get new ducks from other people's flocks, I often find they come in with their own flock-mindset of what is good to eat, as well as their own social behaviors. Maybe they have to be trained to like buttercup?

That's good knowing that the buttercup shouldn't hurt my strawberries or blueberries (or fruit trees) as long as I keep it shorter than the desired plant's leaves. I'll continue going along my blueberry/strawberry patch every few days and ripping off the tops of the tall buttercup. I just wish it didn't take so much time!

And, today I started the process of mulching around the blueberry/strawberry bed. I laid down feed bags and paper sacks and have gotten about 1-2 inches of tree trimmings on top of it. My three year old is unhappy about it, though, as it's quickly diminishing the remnants of his mulch mountain!
 
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