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paper on top of the garden?  RSS feed

 
Paul Fookes
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Location: Gulgong, NSW, Australia
cat food preservation solar
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   Paper on top of what?  The garden of course.  Most conventional no-dig garden wisdom says that the first row is news paper or some other biodegradable barrier.  Having been trawling the web pages, I have come across some unconventional wisdom - make the second last layer of the garden paper as a weed shield then finish with an organic mulch layer such as cane mulch, straw or pea-straw.  I cannot remember where I saw the post but as pointed out, most of us compost badly so we end up with weed seeds and other undesirable things.  The method is simple; build up the garden with manure, compost and what ever else you wish, top with newspaper wet down as you go then cover with a final non-compost layer.  To plant simply punch a hole in the paper add a hand full of weed free compost or garden soil and plant away. Ensure the roots of the plants are well below the newspaper level.  To kill weed seeds heat the compost in the oven, over a heater or leave in the hot sun covered with glass until cooked.
I have tried this and am now a convert.  Previously most of my gardening time was battling woody type weeds.  Weeds are good provided they are edible or contribute to a better garden.  Happy growing.
 
Marco Banks
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Location: Los Angeles, CA
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My concern with your method isn't with using paper.  If that works for you, outstanding.  Go for it.  All carbon is good carbon.

But irradiating compost with a glass cover or putting it into an oven "until cooked" kills the best thing about compost: the microbial life therein.

As a soil amendment, compost has minimal N, K and P . . . there are nutrients in compost, but that's not why it's so beneficial to plant life.  If you're composting a ton of coffee grounds, for instance, yes, you'll have nitrogen rich compost.  But for standard compost ingredients (garden waste, veggie and fruit scraps, grass clippings, etc.) there aren't high levels of N, K, P.  But what there is is bacteria, fungi, and all sorts of microbial life.  Compost feeds the soil food web by introducing a bunch of new microbes and the carbon that those microbes feed on. 

The reason why bare soil is so often infertile is that the sun irradiates soil life.  In laymen's terms, the sun cooks the little critters and kills them.  So hearing that someone might intentionally choose to cook compost seems to me to be counter-productive.

I'd much rather have a few rogue weed seeds popping up in my garden beds than spending all the time and effort to create compost, only to deliver a lifeless product to the garden after all that effort.

One other thought: weed seeds germinating in half-finished compost does several very good things.  1.  It shows you that your compost is alive and a great medium to grow in.  2.  Those weeds are pumping sugars into your soil (root exudates).  Let them grow for a bit before you pull them out, as any living root pumps life down into the soil profile and feeds the soil food web.  Pull the weed before its ready to go to seed, but having a living root growing next to your garden plants is a good thing, not a bad thing.  3.  If you let those weeds grow for a bit before pulling them out, its just extra bio-mass for the garden.  Chop and drop, and let the dead weed contribute to the ongoing fertility of the soil.

I'd encourage you to read a bit more about soil food webs and what all those microbes are doing down there around the roots of your plants.  This is where the magic happens.

http://www.soilfoodweb.com/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soil_food_web

http://www.finegardening.com/introducing-soil-food-web
 
Paul Fookes
Posts: 10
Location: Gulgong, NSW, Australia
cat food preservation solar
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Thank you Marco for your comments.  I agree with you that compost is very much alive.  That is why we make several cubic metres per year and barrow load into the garden.  The small amount that I "neutralise" is just to hold the plants in place because we cannot backfill as if the paper is not in place. The roots are very much into the live compost and over the growth of the plants the compost is reinvigorated.  We have some fairly nasty woody weed and nut grass which take over and kill off our food crop without paper. Nut grass grows through potatoes and other root crops.  If the nut grass grows through, I continuously pull it out to weaken the nut but this is tedious and time consuming.  Because the paper on top was the focus of the post, I did not really explain this very well in the original post.  We also add boichar, raw rock minerals and our chook house straw which contains feathers and poop.  Hope that this addresses your concerns somewhat.
Cheers
 
William Bronson
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Location: Cincinnati, Ohio,Price Hill 45205
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Any problems with water infiltration,or does it soak right in?
Some people have had problems with slugs or voles being sheltered by card board mulch,have you had any such issues?
 
Paul Fookes
Posts: 10
Location: Gulgong, NSW, Australia
cat food preservation solar
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Hi William,  We do not have voles or any burrowing animals in our area except wombats.  We do get slugs however which are looked after by the chooks on rotation through the gardens.  If there are too many slugs, beer traps work well.  Chooks free range as well as we get them to tractor each gardens every 18 months.  As to the water barrier; each layer is well wet as it goes in and the paper is laid down so the high end is laid first so the water sheets under the  next layer down.  The newspaper encourages earthworms  and protects the earth when we hit 45 deg C (113F)and the wind cooks leaves off the trees.  For those not in the know, wombats are marsupials and dig holes about 2 feet in diameter 100 feet long and 11 feet deep so it is not good to have one of them in your garden.  They also will clean out a garden in an evening.  They bite and scratch. (There are not many Aussie natives shown as cute that actually are.  Most bite, scratch, sting or kill you - story for another forum)
 
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