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sheet mulching in the winter?  RSS feed

 
                              
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I've been spending the winter investigating permaculture, and I'm pretty excited to try it

Where I'm living we have about 4 inches of snow on the ground and we're sure to have more.  I'm wondering if I can sheet mulch in the winter with uncomposted food scraps.  Since the varmints aren't very busy right now, I thought perhaps I could layer the newspaper, food, straw directly on top of the snow.  Then, when Spring arrives, the ground will be nice and moist, and the food can compost in place.  The other advantage is that I can do this little by little for the next several months.

What do you think?

Thanks,
Jen
 
Charlie Michaels
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I suspect that when the snow melts, gaps will be created in the weed barrier layer as the whole mass of mulch sinks. This will be more headache in the longrun as weeds pop up everywhere. I would just relax and put all your organic matter in a seperate place for now.
 
                              
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Thanks for the input - good advice. 

I guess you can tell that I'm already getting antsy for Spring!! <sigh>

Jen


 
John Saltveit
gardener
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I have often seen sad comments by people who left food scraps out and had varmints eating them.  Then they hang out, come back, screw up your sheet mulch, remove nutrition from compost, make themselves comfortable, knock over garbage cans, eat berries later etc. They are hungry and cold this time of year.  Even in your compost bin, it is recommended to mix your food scraps up with old leaves, coffee grounds, etc. so they don't look too enticing.  Rats gnawed through the wood bins to get into my compost at my old house.  Then they had a great entry way in whenever it was raining in the winter or they wanted insulation to keep them warm-basically, all the time.
John S
PDX OR
 
                    
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I wouldnt do it on top of the snow. I would dig down to ground, and do it and replace or let new snow fall. this is because the cold under and above the compost will stall out its action and kill any bacteria and leave teh food isolated and available for animals. on the ground, it will be insulated and in contact with living soils, so biooactivated. mulch and let the snow come, it composts away, out of sight and mind.

now, as far as animals feeding on compost...

I live in the country far from the city 13 miles from a pop 2500 town, and an hour from portland oregon. animals in my compost is not a problem for me at all. I have racoon, coyote, feral dogs... I get more headache from my free range chickens digging in my mulch than anything else- and i sheet compost most of my kitchenscraps for 5 years until I got chickens.- I placed it on the ground about 3-4" deep, forked it in, covered with carboard, and then leaf mulch (6-8".  Ive put everything, including meat and bone (though scant) and never had problems with racoons, coyotes, bear, nothing. I did this 5 years and have many excellent soils. noiw i send it to the chooks, and make fertilzers and compost ammendmenst faster and more efficiently using biotechnology. The manifold functions of chickeness....

I do know this feeding is a problem for friends of mine in portland and olympia. I think there is enough "out there in the sitcks" that my little sheet compost method simply isnt a significant enough volume to create a pattern shift in local population feeding dynamics.

the racoons actually sat on the last compost sheets and watched the chicks when I got them last april, wishing they could get in. sorry, guys, you got nothin'.
 
                              
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Thanks, John.

We live back in the mountains; our nearest neighbor is about a mile away.  The only visitors we've had so far this winter (judging from the tracks) have been deer and voles.  Even during the summer, when we had an active compost pile and an outdoor kitchen, we didn't have any bears (not complaining!).  I attribute this to several things:

1) Our compost bin is in the garden area behind a 6 foot fence (and no meat scraps).
2) My husband (and I up until a few months ago) smokes and left the dead cigarettes hanging in bags in a few choice locations.
3) We peed everywhere (and I mean that).
4) We were building an earthbag house and the tamping vibrations were not attractive to any animals, except the deer.  Even the voles stayed away until our garden was worth invading.

Your point is valid though, and I think I would rather let the food compost in the bin, which hasn't been bothered so far.

Deston Lee,

Thank you for your insight.  I want to make sure I understand what you said - you put the food scraps directly on the ground (not composted food scraps)?  That's interesting.  I like your chicken composting - chookpost.  We plan on getting ducks next year if we can work out a way to keep them warm (solar with generator backup for now).

I do have another question, if you all don't mind.  We don't have leaves here - only Pine and Fir needles, which I understand take too long to break down and are also acidic.  Other than shredded paper, I'm at a loss for what I can use.  I tried to mulch our potatoes this year with straw, and it became a vole metropolis, so I'm not sure I want to use that.  Any suggestions?

Thanks so much for your replies.
Jen



 
Brenda Groth
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Location: North Central Michigan
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oh absolutely, it can be ugly so best "behind" the house or buildings rather than by the front door..but I do it every winter..and love the results !! occasionally  you'll get a visitor or two that will deposit a few of it's offerings as it visits your sheet mulch as well, but absolutely do it, the best soil I have is right outside of my back door where rotten stuff gets thrown !! woot woot
 
jacque greenleaf
pollinator
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Location: Burton, WA (USDA zone 8, Sunset zone 5) - old hippie heaven
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"I do have another question, if you all don't mind.  We don't have leaves here - only Pine and Fir needles, which I understand take too long to break down and are also acidic.  "

By the time those needles break down, they are not acidic. Many people don't think that they have an affect on soil pH at all. I think rainfall leaching is a much larger factor in soil acidity than conifer needles. Regardless, they do take a while to break down. You can speed up the process by chopping them.

I am also using conifer needles in my humanure system. Too soon to tell how well it's working, but it seems like it should speed up the breakdown of the needles.

Sounds like you are too far from a lowland town where you could collect regular leaves from street trees? How about a river bottom? Even in high country, you can find deciduous trees along the rivers and streams. And of course, you should be growing some living mulches.

I think it helps, when you are talking about adding organic matter, to differentiate between the functions of improving soil structure and adding nutrients. With our clay soil, at this point, I am more interested in opening up the structure. So I add things I scrounge, like gravel (not sand!), used potting soil (peat moss and perlite), small twigs and conifer needles to my garden beds. We scored a load of alpaca manure last summer, and are composting it with straw. Until I am confident that the organic matter has improved my soil to the point where the only fertilization necessary is the addition of chop-and-drop mulches, I use an organic fertilizer based on Steve Solomon's complete  organic fertilizer recipe. We are just not yet producing all our soil amendments on site, although I intend to, with the exception of seaweed. In the future, I plan to make annual trips to the coast to bring back seaweed, for the nutrients. And when we have a real house with gutters, guess where the gutter cleanings will go?

Also, I never tell myself that any amount of organic matter is too small to bother with. A bucket here, a bucket there - it adds up.

 
                    
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MiM, If I may call you that,

  I put the food scraps directly on the ground. Uncomposted food scraps. It took me about 6 years to get that simple I used to do a lot of compostinga nd paying attention to C/N ratios. I have a MS with more soil science than the cascade range can offer.  and until I started chicomposting it, the last resolved on successful method was simply latyig it out  under mulch, about 2sf at a time, in patches whereveer the sopil looked like it could use a bump. They became instant worm magnets. The method started to flag off in november and I started to place the piles adjac3ent to one another, under heavey mulch and cardboard.

the vermicomposted in situ. thats all that it was. most heaps went to straight soil in 4 months, 6 if started in september. soils on a dog kennel run compacted by dozens of dogs over 15 years, and beat with purina poop and urine now have a 3 yo food forest on it. On my own I made about 1 patch a week, and so in 2 years covered the 400 sf yard with kitchen scraps. and its now beautiful soil. I didnt do anything but empty the compost and mulch it. no extra steps.

I have many fir needles as well, but dont need to make soil from them. on the ground, without nitrogen they take a long time to decompose since they are high in carbon. In you situation might pile them up and compost them. The acidity of the needle reduceas the tannins wash out with composting. You could mix with urine. I think the C:N ratios of fir needles are about 60 to 120:1. Lets say its 80:1 for ease. and we have 10 gallons of fir needles.  we add one gallon urine and turn the compost, the C:N is now about 40:1. another half gallon is about 30:1.

double check my math. I dont have to produce humus from fir needles, so youll want to make sure youe get a good balkpark, run a few feild trials, get a feeling for the loft and feel of a composting urine-fir pile, and then - lett'r rip.  Shout hit 160f of better in that pile. one person lets loose a qurt or so a day,  so you can probably do 20-25g fir needles a week w/2 people. add foodscraps and pick up another 10-12 g, and maybve 15 . thats a lot of usable humus by winters end. drink up!

here the charts:
http://weblife.org/humanure/chapter3_7.html









 
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