I have a beauty bark problem. The previous occupants of my home created multiple layers in the garden area consisting of landscaping plastic and beauty bark. I've gotten most of the plastic out, but now have 8-15" of beauty bark in various stages of decomposition, on top of dry, compacted native soil (looks like glacial till or outwash). I'd like to remove the deepest areas of beauty bark and compost it, and work the remainder (the most decomposed parts) into the soil with a cover crop for the winter. Any suggestions for getting the removed beauty bark to break down efficiently? Or a good cover crop for this situation? Thanks in advance!
If you have a scream to sift the bark, do it get the fines separate but I wouldn't work them into the soil. There is still potential for nitrogen draw down if you do. Nitrogen fixing species are your answer in the garden. Annuals like field peas and beans are perfect for some applications while perennials like clovers might be better in other applications, depending on your plan. You could pile the bark up, layering it with manure or high nitrogen plant waste to turn it to compost/soil. Urine is a great addition to the bark either way. And either way, nitrogen is your answer.
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Since its already breaking down I would use it just as it is. If you want to plant in it now, make pockets of compost that go down to the broken down part and plant in it, or make rows down to the broken down part and plant in the good soil. When the plants come up you can pull the bark back in around the plants. Put compost or compost tea on top of the bark. Just keep adding good stuff to the top. The bark will break down into good soil.
"People may doubt what you say, but they will believe what you do."
When we lived in Tacoma, everyone would put that stuff down by the truck load. I know it well.
First, try to improve one area at a time rather than the entire thing. Portion off the space into smaller parcels and focus on improving the soil in one parcel before moving on to the next.
Second, you'll need to get some nitrogen integrated into that beauty bark. Compost, manure, coffee grounds, grass clippings . . . anything high in N will not only speed up the break down, but also attract worms and other beneficial biota. You might just consider sheet mulching right over it. If the bark is over a foot deep, I'd consider raking it back to about 6 to 8 inches and spreading the excess bark elsewhere. You can just broadcast it out onto a lawn where it will sink down into the grass or get mixed with grass clippings when you mow. With a Starbucks on every corner, if you could hoe a couple of buckets of coffee grounds into the mulch, you'll see a marked improvement in the soil within a year.
Third, you've done the right thing by pulling the plastic out. Now that the bark is in direct contact with the soil below, it will decompose much faster. The plastic has stopped water from throughly wetting the bark all the way to the soil below. That, in turn, keeps the worms from wanting to tunnel through it --- dry bark is a bad worm medium. When it rains, does the water soak down into the depths of the mulch, or does it tend to sheet-off and stay dry a few inches down? You may need to get in there with a hoe or rake and loosen it up a bit -- integrate some air.
Fourth, next year, consider sewing some sort of cover crop into those beds (after you've composted on top of them all this winter). I used to save marigold seeds and then rake them into the beauty bark mulch at my parents place. They came up like weeds. Keeping a living root in the ground growing all next year will go a long way toward pumping sugars and starches into the soil profile (root exudates), and that will feed the soil food web. A multi-species cover crop mix can be found on the interwebs through various seed companies. Find a cool season mix.
Finally, you can utilize that space even if the majority of it isn't very good soil yet. Just dig out a small hole and try to get down to the native subsoil below the bark. Then backfill the hole with good soil or a mix of soil and compost. THEN plant your seed or transplant your plant into the hole. Thus, you don't have to great soil throughout the bed, just in the little hole where you plant your pumpkin/tomato/pepper/cabbage.
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posted 11 months ago
Thanks for the advice, everyone! Sounds like a combination of redistributing the deepest areas and adding nitrogen, with composting and/or cover cropping, is going to be the long-term fix. I'm glad to know that soil contact will help it break down quicker; some of the plastic was tricky to get out because of tree and rhododendron roots growing over it, so those are definitely areas where I'll be composting it in place (and hopefully improving the health of those big plantings).
Roberto - Is there a screen size you'd recommend? I've got some 1/2" square wire mesh left from making compost hoops; would that work or is it not the right size? I think that even with redistributing the bark, I'm going to have some left over, so I might as well get the biggest pieces out into their own pile.
Marco - Where I've amended the soil, the rain actually sinks in. Everywhere else, whether in the beauty bark areas or where bare soil is exposed, the water gets in maybe an inch, then sheets off. Where the pure native soil is, the only way I've gotten water into it at all is to water slowly while "stirring" it with a cultivator fork. Otherwise, the water literally beads up and rolls off with a little puff of dust behind it. Even rainwater takes a long time to soak in. Guess I've got a lot of raking and hoeing to do...
Thanks again! I'll definitely be raiding the nearby coffee places for used grounds. Not ready for chickens of my own yet, but my neighbors have some, so perhaps they can spare me some used bedding.
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