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concerns with using cardboard/newspaper as a mulch  RSS feed

 
                            
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Any soil test results?
 
                                                                    
Posts: 114
Location: Nashville, Tennessee, USA
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I would never use these chemical laden paper or cardboard.
I don't even use the ashes from my wood stove if it has been started with such.

We have been using waste boards that come off of my sawmill.
There are plenty of them and they work well when lined up edge to edge.

They are culled boards because they warped or have other defects. 
Wood chips can go over these.

next spring I am going to drill holes in these boards to put the plants in.  That will hopefully make for less weeds.
 
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Location: Manhattan
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Great thread!
We just laid down a few smallish sheet-mulch blankets in our garden being prepped for a long permaculture project. We clearly have the residues of non-organic practices by the previous owner, but reading paul stamets's Mycelium Running gave me hope: he considers fungi as the spiritual sentinels of Earth, and they indeed break down organic toxins and render metal contaminants less harmful—the mechanism for the latter is not delineated in the book. (Alkaloids in plants are the reservoirs of metabolic end-products: they are intracellular, inert crystals.) We need more research.

I think I will do a little private investigation in the Spring and will do comparative soil analysis from under the sheet-mulched area (a variety of paper was used). Of course, it may be inconclusive since the paper-mulch was not tested for toxic additives before it was laid down and a truly detailed analysis is probably expensive. Still, Paul (and Geoff and the Almighty Sepp) may have good reasons not to be terribly concerned about paper-mulch contamination.
 
Posts: 539
Location: Athens, GA/Sunset, SC
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Never ever ever ever had a problem with card stock/board as base layer... I've done a couple hundred sheet mulched beds now. Never an issue. But sure, use common sense..Rip tape/adhesive off.
Peace -
 
gardener
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Location: PNW Oregon
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I made my own laundry soap and started with home made lie from ashes.  I read all the material and warnings, but I too never had any problems with it, I could put my hands in it, etc. I just didn't let it sit long in it's pour form on skin or clothes.  I was more afraid when I used store bought lie.

Let me see if I remember....... I think I could get two batches from one load of ashes.  Heat on the stove, very hot water and stir while they 'cook'.  Then let 'em sit in a bucket for a couple of days (24-36 hours) and they settle to the bottom, pour off the clear-ish liquid on top, add water and make another batch on the stove.  I really don't remember the details off the top of my head, I'll have to see if I can find my notes.  Anyway, my method was a lazy version of how they officially did it in days gone by with a fire, cooking and filtering.

I then used this liquid in the standard home laundry soap recipe with Naphtha soap, washing soda and something to soften the water.

I don't do all this any more as my very hard city water really worked against me.

But making your own lie water is easy 
 
pollinator
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Podcast review of geoff lawton's Urban Permaculture DVD: podcast

Paul explains his preference to not use cardboard.
 
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This well laid out, comprehensive article adds to our research into the topic. Is newspaper toxic to your garden
 
Sunny Soleil
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Living Wind wrote:Never ever ever ever had a problem with card stock/board as base layer... I've done a couple hundred sheet mulched beds now. Never an issue. But sure, use common sense..Rip tape/adhesive off.
Peace -



Have to ask, how sure are you that this has not affected your soil, deep down long term. I am not a purist, more of a researcher seeking to find the truth. So, my question is really 'have you done a before/after test of your soil for toxins? I think that we are a pioneer generation and that many of the things we are struggling to evolve will prove guideposts for those coming after us. We are setting the scene for a permaculture world.. and if you're like me, you'll be impatient for it to happen and struggling with your own 'trespasses' and inabilities to be permie-pure in varying degrees!!! All we can do is try... and whatever you are doing Living Wind, I salute you for your amazing efforts. We just have to keep exploring, keep examining new evidence and changing what we do as well as we can.. balancing the effects. Your food is likely zillions of times less toxic than store bought.. I know that what I grow, whilst not in perfect soil, yet or completely devoid of some contaminants [it was a lawn before our tenure] is way better and less toxic to our bodies and the environment than that other stuff!
 
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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In my opinion, if one quarter inch thick cardboard is still intact after 5 years, the tree was obviously not getting enough water or attention in general. I've mulched with cardboard and newspaper for decades and have never had a problem with it. A healthy microheard can remediate just about anything, other than heavy metals, so unless cardboard and newspaper are loaded with too much heavy metal, I just don't see any issue. In my humble opinion.
 
Sunny Soleil
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Nick Garbarino wrote: A healthy microheard can remediate just about anything, other than heavy metals, so unless cardboard and newspaper are loaded with too much heavy metal, I just don't see any issue. In my humble opinion.



Nick, what is a microheard? I want to know about anything that can remediate just about anything!!!

smiles
sunny
 
Nick Garbarino
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Location: west central Florida
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Hello Sunny. So, a microheard is a nice short term for all of the microorganisms that make up a soil foodweb. That's bacteria, fungi, protozoa, nematodes, arthropods, and others. This is the cast of characters that work behind the scenes to make all of our plants grow. Without them, nothing would. When soil is full of nicely decaying organic matter like we organic gardeners and permies like to use, then the microheard is really healthy, robust, and it can really take on all comers. You know, it was naturally occuring marine bacteria that actually cleaned up the great majority of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. And they are still there, waiting for another big opportunity to do their thing. The microheard really takes good care of us, and we need to treat it kindly. A great book on soil microbes as it relates to gardening is "Teaming with Microbes" by Lowenfels & Lewis. Have you ever noticed little tiny springtails hopping around on some nice compost? They're near the top of this food web, and their presence means that you made some great compost. Of course, earthworms are great indicators of the strength of your microheard too. Keep smiling!
 
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Location: NW Mass Zone 4 (5 for optomists)
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Nick - is this microheard the Who that Horton Hears, or were you looking for micro-herd, which seems more like it makes more sense for what you are describing?

If the paper/cardboard isn't rotting, you need nitrogen and/or water (and some fungus would help, but they will find it soon enough if you make it nice for them.) The biggest "issue" with paper is that it's a substance that easily mats and has about a 400:1 C/N ratio - it needs help to rot.

The whole smear about one paper mill's pollution: well, that would be relevant if they were making special-purpose cardboard for mulch. Which would involve all the same nasty "scary" chemicals, because that's how papermaking happens. Since they make cardboard for boxes, and then the boxes become solid waste if they are not reused, irrelevant. Also damning whole industry with presumably the worst mill they could come up with. Go throw away all your books and stop using paper and things that are shipped in paper boxes (so, no computers or e-readers for you - oral tradition all the way) if you really have a bone to pick with the paper-making process. Don't forget your certified organic non-GMO corncobs, because you wouldn't want your nether regions to touch chlorine-bleached TP that was made by pulping trees in hot caustic (sodium hydroxide!) solutions. Yes, there are a variety of things that you don't want to get into in a paper mill - and essentially none of those go out the door in the end product. They actually strive to reuse most of them in-house - it's good old-fashioned economics. Not only do they, in fact, get fined if they exceed their permitted discharge, they also have to buy chemicals, and the more they can turn them around in-house, the less they have to buy as well as the less they are releasing.

As for my garden, free paper beats $5/bale straw 8 days a week. I probably get more pollution on my garden from coal fired power plants in the midwest than I do from newsprint and cardboard. Should I put up a greenhouse using petrochemical plastic or high-embodied energy glass (wait, the mica greenhouse - just the thing!) to keep the rain off so I can filter all the water before it reaches my garden? What about the air - perhaps I should filter that too? Sheesh. All those filters will probably be made in plants that pollute and use chemicals, and then they'll be shipped in cardboard boxes, and....

I'm actually playing with making some thick cast paper "tiles" for paths and around trees, as something that will stay put without needing stuff piled over it to keep it from blowing away. That will be repulping newsprint and egg-carton type material, if it works (I'm not going to be running that much paper through a blender, which is the "usual" home-made paper technique for repulping) and does not require too much effort. Try not to wake up the neighbors when being permaculturally pure in your outhouse - corncobs are bit on the scratchy side, the old-timers say - they thought the Sears-Roebuck catalog was a big step up.
 
Nick Garbarino
Posts: 239
Location: west central Florida
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Ha ha. Nothing like a little comedy in the morning. Micro-herd is probably a better way to spell it, but I've seen it in print as microheard, microherd, micro herd, micro-heard and micro heard. Then of course there's always the term "bugs". All in know is cardboard works well for smothering grass, dog fennel, etc and it's often sitting by the trash can ready to be put out at the curb, and by using it I don't have to go to Home Depot for Roundup, breathing the ozone in the city, and burning fossil fuel and contributing to climate change, and spending money contributing to a disappointing Christmas. Uh oh, I used the r word back there. This might start another whole new thread.
 
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Location: Tacoma, WA [8B-7B]
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Not a question or an answer:

I had a high school chemistry teacher who had previously worked for Tacoma Simpson Craft. He started his story about his previous job by taking a piece of paper from a random student, folding it into a simple pouch, and then pouring quite a bit of water into it. He said his job had been to make paper more water proof. He did not go into what that entailed. I think he drank the water though.
 
pollinator
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paul wheaton wrote:This would be a good time to point out that one could create cardboard using 100% mechanical means, plus using organic corn starch for the glue.  So, I suppose there could be something called "organic cardboard".  Further, as Paul Stamets points out, the seeds of edible plants could be worked into the cardboard.  So when you get a package, you can bust open the cardboard and then toss it out on your lawn.  A few months/years later you can have all sorts of fun stuff growing there!


yay i love this =)

yes you can do this, i have done this, and people do in small scale production. i have made paper, something thick like cardboard, and even seed paper.
actually have considered i could probably make some money if i were to explore paper making again, but i get distracted among my many crafts...though this is one i have been wanting to get back into. it was one of the more profitable crafts that i did for money, but this unfortunately isnt saying much!
especially with the seeded paper, i think you could make that profitable but the paper would be expensive. and you could send a card to someone and then they could plant it =)

one of the issues here is that we use wood for paper making, because its a material unsuited to being a fiber it actually requires a lot of nasty chemicals to turn it into a smooth paper. o and theres lots added that arent needed, too, but the main problem is in using wood at all. of thousands of years of papermaking wood wasnt a fiber used for this purpose until only a couple hundred years ago. and even then it was considered inferior to other materials until a chemical process was invented, and grinding machines made it possible to mass produce wood pulp for paper. though people are so accustomed to wood being the fiber used for paper, as being THE paper fiber, it really sucks as a paper fiber. it becomes fairly obvious if you look at it, and think on it...if you wanted to get a bunch of fine particles all smooshed together...would you choose some thin stalks that break down fairly quickly and easily, flax for instance, or a large solid thick felled tree

..but to be true when i was doing lots of papermaking and book binding, it was kinda difficult to find buyers who were willing to pay the extra money for a quality product like this...as paper is so common and cheap and many people didnt seem to care about the organic and non toxic aspect...though some would get into the "tree-free" aspect. it really is expensive paper/cardboard for someone to actually make a real wage with this craft if they are making handmade paper. having a larger set up, a big beater, a crew...setting it up as a small industry, working in large batches....would lessen the time involved and help make it a little cheaper, still its much more expensive, and the people making it would not be able to be paid much. we did so anyway, one of the communities i lived at was for papermakers and book binders, we used lots of different fibers, waste fiber from plants, sometimes plants that were cleared were put in (small percent, then with a good paper fiber in large percent)
and even made sensimilla paper (instead of "hemp") with free leftover stalks from the production of the medicine. in northern cal this was an abundant free source of fiber.

sort of off topic, a bit of a ramble there, but i felt inclined to share that.

on topic- i love sheet mulch, it works so well. i love the results. i love how the worms love it, and i love how its a free surplus material that people can get easily to add to their gardens. thats where all the nutrients have gone, this sucks! that our forest has been turned into cardboard and all the nutrients that got locked into these cardboard boxes! so no...not ideal for sure...but since it is that way, we can at least put them back into the ground by sheet mulching with cardboard, which as a bonus is free, easily obtained anywhere, blocks weeds, and makes worms happy.

also as been said, its not enough by itself, you do this in conjunction with other mulch/compost/straw/wood/grass clipping/manure/etc
i make these cardboard compost sandwiches, it seems to work well, placing unfinished compost in between two large sheets of cardboard, then putting mulch/straw/etc on the top of that and planting there.

it totally depends on your rainfall though...if you dont have the rainfall like we do here you have to seriously drench it constantly when its first getting going, other wise its not effective.

as far as the chemicals and such...i dont think that over all it is very much ...imo it dissapates and works itself out in the soil ...the worms probably also help work that out... but yes there may be some very small amount o weird stuff going on there...this is nothing compared to the pollution of its production. so the paper mills are very toxic, for sure, the chemicals shouldnt be used, for sure, and not ideal, wood pulp shouldnt be used at all. but considering this is how things are, this is whats available and being wasted, i think its a good thing over all and dont think the small amount of funky stuff in the cardboard makes a huge impact, though its best to use the plain boxes.
 
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I got a bunch of cardboard without any ink on it from the local organic supermarket. Also took the labels and the plastic tape off, so I guess I minimised the risks. Sheet mulched with it, and threw a load of horse kaka, sourced from the nearby stables, on it. Fluffy soils in spring here I come
 
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Location: Council, ID
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Hi Pam ,

I remembered reading about the mushroom detox thing and found the link to the post here
http://www.permies.com/t/1428/fungi/paul-stamets-saving-world-ways -

This is Rose's post explaiining it - the toxins are broken down molecularly and no longer exist

Well, to mention one case of detox, Paul Stamets says that oyster mushrooms, undo, dissolve or whatever, bonds between hydrogen and carbon in carbohydrates, bread for example and so why not get them to do the same with petrol a hydro carborate. They did and in a competition to clean soil between bio nerds filling the petrol filled earth with bacteria and some other nerds, it was Paul Stamets who won, he put oyster mushrooms to work on the petrol soaked soil and his fungi really turned petrol filled earth into beautiful top soil covered with mushrooms, that then died, which the insects then came and ate, which insects the birds came and ate, leaving plants seeds behind, so the earth then bloomed with plants.
Put Paul Stamets name in youtube and you can find several videos of this happening. Read his book and you can find out how to make fungal mats which will clean soils air etc. He writes well, its a very easy read.
 
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Most inks used by newspapers are soy based which are non-toxic. Newsprint's are not bleached but bleach paper stocks are not toxic. Corrugated cartons are made with starch glues that comes from plant starch like corns.They are 100% biodegradable and non-toxic.
 
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I'm not encouraged by soy inks and corn starch glues, since the grand majority of both corn and soy are GMO in the US.
 
master steward
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I'm surprised that this has not been posted in this thread yet.

It seems to have come up more than once in the last week.

 
master steward
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Our dear friend Kelly Ware posted this on Facebook:

Now I understand why Paul Wheaton hates using cardboard on the garden. It is often laced with fermaldehyde if it comes from China ( usually more flimsy or says made in China) this pile was pulled out of my sister's garden after three years used for mulching under straw and wood chips. Not one wormhole nor any fungi at all grew on it. She too hates cardboard in the garden. I was awestruck by the total in-biodegrability of it



Plus this close up also posted on Facebook:

Chinese formaldehyde-laced cardboard. three years in the garden, no signs of wear.


 
pollinator
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Wow, that's amazing. While I understand that I'm in a tropical region where it can make a difference, cardboard doesn't last more than a few months in my soil. When using cardboard to smother grass, I cover it with 2" layer of manure/compost or a 6-8" thick layer of fresh grass clippings. Perhaps that also makes a difference. Anyway, after six months the only cardboard pieces that are recognizable are parts that were on the surface where the sun dried them out. If I had been diligent to cover them with compost, then they would have degraded too, in assuming.

All I can say is....wow.
 
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At the risk of sidetracking this thread, I thought I'd post here since it's been quiet for some time, and I think it adds to the discussion.

The risk of formaldehyde contamination from cardboard in sheet mulching has been well and truly discussed. What I have not seen anywhere is a discussion about using this same cardboard as a growing medium for mushrooms.

We know that mycelium are very good at absorbing toxins, and corrugated cardboard is a widely used growing medium for cultivating oyster mushrooms and other culinary strains. I know Paul Stamets hangs out in these forums sometimes, and I'd love his take on the implications of this.

[Mod, please move this to a more appropriate thread if you think there is a better place for it.]
 
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Nick Kitchener wrote:The risk of formaldehyde contamination from cardboard in sheet mulching has been well and truly discussed. What I have not seen anywhere is a discussion about using this same cardboard as a growing medium for mushrooms.

We know that mycelium are very good at absorbing toxins, and corrugated cardboard is a widely used growing medium for cultivating oyster mushrooms and other culinary strains.



People seem to assume that failure to decompose is direct proof that Formaldehyde is present in a sample of cardboard. Firstly, we need to be much more concerned about its persistence in the air of our homes. If my cardboard actually did have Formaldehyde in it, then I would want it OUT of my house. I'll gladly place it outdoors where it can off-gas! But secondly, and more importantly, try researching the chemical itself. How does the compound react in the environment? "Given its physical-chemical properties, formaldehyde is degraded by various processes in air, with very small amounts transferring into water. When released to water or soil, formaldehyde is expected to remain primarily in the original compartment of release, where it undergoes various biological and physical degradation processes. Formaldehyde is not bioaccumulative or persistent in any compartment of the environment." - https://www.canada.ca/content/dam/hc-sc/migration/hc-sc/ewh-semt/alt_formats/hecs-sesc/pdf/pubs/contaminants/psl2-lsp2/formaldehyde/formaldehyde-eng.pdf ; (page 49)

I don't particularly want any extra exposure to it than is necessary. Even still, I'm not going assume that few poorly decomposed cardboard sheets means there is a highly concentrated level of Formaldehyde that has stalled all biological activity. That's completely baseless. "Low levels of formaldehyde occur naturally in a variety of foods, such as fruits." - https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/tp111-c1-b.pdf ; So should we stop composting old fruit for fear that we'll disrupt the ecosystem?

 
pollinator
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If you want the cardboard to break down you have to water it when you lay it down, otherwise it will not break down easily.
 
Acetylsalicylic acid is aspirin. This could be handy too:
Roots Demystified by Robert Kourik
https://permies.com/wiki/39095/Roots-Demystified-Robert-Kourik
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