Hello and thanks in advance for all the great information I get here,
I have already broached this topic with regards to potatoes, but I wanted to see if it applies to other root crops as well. I have just enough room in my garden beds to plant onions and sweet potatoes and I am wondering if I can plant them in woodchips just like potatoes. Materials available include plenty of fresh woodchips from weedy brush I will chip up this weekend, straw, copious amounts of grass clippings that I just cut and a modest amount of comfrey.
Part of me wants to mix grass clippings and woodchips in equal amounts, place the sweet potatoes and onion sets on the ground and then cover with the chip/grass mix. This is more or less the plan with the potatoes and I was wondering if the same plan works more or less equally well with all root crops. Being new to permaculture and especially no till, I have no personal experience to draw upon and rely on what I can find on the internet with this forum being the gold standard.
Note to moderators, I know that I have another similar thread open concurrently, but that one was specific to potatoes and as I have other crops to plant and I am hoping to move all of my gardening into a permaculture direction. I hope you understand my need for extra information.
I have had poor success direct seeding root crops in the chips. What does work has been marginal planting, right next to the chips or maybe with a little on/near them. I am doing deep mulching, like initial 24" deep. Most of these crops are non-micorrhyzal in my understanding, so I think they just like the minerals and soft soil. I had daikons that would have made Gabe Brown blush. Also, I grow them in the winter. The slugs seem to be too voracious in the summer.
The reason I grow them in fall/winter/spring is that they seem to bolt way too soon with summer or even late spring temps.
Standing on the shoulders of giants. Giants with dirt under their nails
With the crops you mentioned in this post, I personally would lay down your mix, and move the layer aside just enough to plant your seeds/plants in the soil; then as your plants germinate and grow big enough not to be smoothered by the mulch being tucked in around them. You can move the chips back around the stem of the plants as applicable. You won't be growing in your mulch mix, but you'll get the effects the mulch has with drawing in the worm population, plus holding moisture in the ground. Just make sure your not putting anything hot against the plant stems when you tuck the mulch back in around the rows or plants. Also make sure you don't bury any plant crowns by mistake.
Charls Darwin has a YouTube channel all about no dig gardening, and he does just fine planting root crops in soil with the no dig method. You can get great tips from him on his channel. Justin Rodes also has videos where he moves the woodchips aside just enough to plant, like I've described, and with great success. Just try not to mix the woodchips into the dirt when planting.
FYI, you may not get the best results this first planting, because cool weather root crops are often fast crops, which doesn't give the worms much time to condition the soil under the mulch layer; however, your soil will improve quickly, especially if you do warm or cool season mixed annual cover crops in any ground you plan on eventually cultivating. So if you're not doing high production plantings in that plot. Once your root crops are done, you could do some warm season mixed annual cover crops, and when the mix is donw well, it can generate over 6 tons of dry matter biomass per acer.
Thanks again! In your opinion would I be better off placing my sets into shallow, minimally dug holes/trenches and bury just enough to cover the onion sets and sweet potato roots and then cover with a layer of mulch perhaps 6" deep? Alternatively I could lay the plants on the ground and go buy a couple of bags of soil/compost mix and then cover the plants with ridges and hills for soil coverage.
As you already know from other posts, I am trying to only use fertilizer I grow/create myself, but as I am a neophyte to permaculture, I may still in need of some outside sources of fertility. I think this still falls in line with permaculture practices.
Additionally FYI, I am not a neophyte to gardening, having planted gardens for the last 18 years. Those gardens were fairly close to "organic" gardens (a term I have some problems with), but this my first serious foray into permaculture, a concept I can get behind much more easily.
Once again I thank you mightily and await your response,
Shallow minimally dug holes or trenches, just enough to cover the sets or potato roots will work. Yes cover the onion sets and sweet potato roots with soil, but don't put all the woodchips back in place, untill your plants get big enough. 6" of chips has alot of smothering power, and you'll want to make sure those plants can get light quickly. Maybe taper the woodchips so its not more then 2" thick where the plants are; then as the plants get bigger, you can tuck the woodchips back around them. Your woodchips will just be thicker around your holes or trenches untill the chips can all get moved back. Your plants should grow quickly enough, so maybe after a few weeks you can move the chips back. The vines are pretty tough, its the onions growing crown you definitely don't want to bury, so make sure you keep the onions leaves above the chip line. If the onions have a short neck, as the leaves age and fall off, the stem/neck will get longer allowing you to move more chips back.
Outside sources of fertility are great, just set up sufficient composting strategies to minimize efforts in composting. Windrows are great for composting, or pallets tied together make great compost bins you can mover from season to season. You set up the bins where you'll need the compost to minimize labor. You can also use those pallet compost bins as a giant raised bed for planting things like sweet potatoes or potatoes. So you can compost all winter long, plant in the bins in spring, and spread the compost in fall at harvest. The slats in the sides, plus the open top are all places to plant, then after your crop is done, you untie the pallets, and the compost gets spread while collecting your root crop.
Any material you can get without to much effort is good. Cardbord works great as a temporary weed barrier and mulch. Any horse barns that will load a truck or trailer with manure is another option. Local Arborist and utility companies or their line clearance contractors are often great sources for free woodchips delivered, when they're working in your area.
Absolutely no worries about response time. I just feel lucky to have someone to bounce ideas around and to generally gain knowledge from. This forum has been fantastic about having people who will willingly share knowledge and be supportive of newcomers like myself. I have been on other forums filled with harsh criticism--nothing like the atmosphere here. So thanks for sticking by me with all my questions.
It was my initial hope that this year I would not buy in any fertility, but I may have to wait a year on that. In the past my composting has not been terribly successful, but I try to make the piles on an existing bed. Even though I don't get the best compost, the composting spot is magically fertile. I then use the partial compost as a ground cover and this usually gets eaten by worms.
One item I don't need to buy in is woodchips. Each year my land produces enough invasive brush that I can chip up a garden bed worth up to 12" thick, sometimes even more. In fact, today I plan to enlist my neighbor to help me with some brush trimming and I rented a chipper for tomorrow. My plan is to deposit the bulk of the chips on a garden bed that will sit fallow this year. I will pile up the chips 4-5' high, mix in some grass clippings water if necessary and let rot all summer. This will of course be bacterial decomposition. Based on past experience, the core of the pile will heat up to well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. I once almost burned my hand by sticking it into the pile. By fall I plan to spread the pile out to evenly cover another garden bed (it will be quite cool by then) and inoculate with wine cap spores and then let the fungi do their thing over fall, winter and spring so that by next April I should have some nicely fertile mushroom compost. I plan to repeat this process at least until all of my raised beds are full of homemade composted woodchips.
Sorry if this post rambled on a bit. I will certainly take your advice seriously and I really appreciate all the support I get here. Thanks much and I will definitely keep you appraised of my chipping and planting progress.
YES -- sweet potatoes do fantastic in a heavily wood chip mulched area, but as mentioned above, you need to pull back the mulch and plant the original slip into actual garden soil. Give it a generous scoop of compost around the base of the plant -- not jus wood chips. Once it starts to vine out, you can push the chips back toward the original planting hole.
Peanuts do well with the same strategy. Peanuts are odd the way they grow --- they send out shoots laterally from the base of the plant but above ground, and then when they grow out about 6 to 10 inches, they then send a root directly down and that's where the nut will form. So you can't have too deep of mulch - maybe 2 inches or so.
Onions, for some reason, don't do as well like this. I don't know why. I grow anything and everything with a heavy wood chip mulch, but onions seem to like clean soil. If I top dress or mulch with anything around my onions, it's just well finished compost.
Beets do well anywhere. I think they'd grow in a crack in the sidewalk.
Carrots like a loose sandy soil, but you can push wood chips right up next to the growing carrots once they are established. Long term, mulching with wood chips creates a perfect environment for carrots and parsnips. All that loosely decomposed humus is perfect for carrots.
Turnips as well. They are tough suckers once they get going, so the wood chips make it easy to deal with weeds and watering.
"The rule of no realm is mine. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, these are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?" Gandolf
Thanks for chiming in on this thread. I will keep the points you made in mind as I expand my root crops, and again, thanks for speaking up about so many different types of root crops in woodchips. I may not have been clear on other entries to this thread but I was never planning on simply plopping down root crops and covering to a full 1'depth of woodchips. I was always planning on covering the initial "seed" to a depth of about 2 inches above the top and only adding more chips as the plant matured. Obviously the plant will grow best if it gets full sun quickly.
On a slightly sad note I won't be chipping this weekend as planned. The rental company called and the chipper is brain dead. The electronics are wonky and I won't be able to chip until next weekend. A shame since this weekend is drop dead perfect. I just hope the weather for next weekend is as good as today.
I would have to say, don't cover any seed plantings with woodchip. Move the woodchips to the side just where your planting, and plant into the soil like usual; then after your seeds germinate, and grow strong enough, you can tuck the woodchips back around the plants as applicable. Covering seeds with woodchips will smother many types of seed, especially small seeds. Also some soft stemmed plants are very sensitive to pH, so depending on how hot the chips are, regarding anything that could burn, will depend on how your plants do with the material up against the stems that aren't use to soil contact. In fact that could be why Marco has had trouble growing onions in deep woodchip layers is due to pH differences in the mulch layer, as the bacteria are actively trying to digest any remaining wood, the pH can fluctuate where the plant isn't use to. So each plant will very in how well it does with having its exposed stem buried under the chips. Anything that likes or tolerates some acidity, and will root from the stem, like tomatoes or sweet potatoes, will thrive being buried deeper, but each type of plant can be different. So as Marco mentioned its important to know how each plant species will respond, before burying the stems.
Fortunately, this year I don't think I am planting anything from actual seed. When I mentioned seed in an earlier post I was referring to seed potatoes which I will cover to a depth of about 2 inches above the top of the potato to start with. All my other crops will likely be tomatoes, potatoes, sweet potatoes and onions. This is about all I have room for as the rest of my beds will have mounds of woodchips rotting down over summer and will be leveled off and composting with wine cap mushrooms over fall, winter and next spring.
Generally though I agree with you about not buying tender plants alive with too many woodchips. Next year when I will have some true mushroom compost I will use that media to plant in to, especially for those plants that will come from seeds.
I think an important concept in planting with woodchips is to use them judiciously and not completely abandoning soil altogether. Over time the woodchips and soil should make each other better, and not trying to replace each other.
All that being said I really do appreciate all the input I have gotten from you on this thread. You have probably saved me a couple of serious mistakes.
I will keep you updated as I plant out my potatoes and onions. Unfortunately my woodchips will have to wait till the rental chipper gets fixed.
About the diakons, bolting radishes can be great, for two things.
One, the seed pods are delicious,like spicy snow pea pods.
Two, they will self sow, and if you have good beds, you will probably see them cone back year after year.
When you plant daikon radish for loosening soil do you harvest the radish or leave it in the ground to decompose and add carbon and other nutrients? My soil is terribly dense clay, alfisol I think, reasonably fertile, but can be very difficult for young plants to get their roots to penetrate.
My garden beds are a somewhat different matter. I have been planting in them for over a decade and have been heavily dug. I am in the process of making them as close to no till-no dig as possible. Two years ago I made a major change to two of the beds by making them into a sort of sunken hugle beds. I had some rotting oak logs laying around so I dug deep into the beds, moved the most fertile, darkest soil aside and buried the rotting wood about 2' deep. I then covered with some grass clippings for nitrogen and moved the most fertile soil back on top.
Would planting daikon radish improve my soil or should I just focus on adding woodchips. For reference, wherever I add a thick layer of woodchips, the earthworms move in in hordes, and I plan to eventually add a layer of woodchip mushroom compost a full foot thick, perhaps topping off each year with a couple of inches and let the wine caps continue their work.
I know I rambled a bit but I am trying to make these beds a sort of super permie beds over the next year or two.
Leave those suckers to rot!
Eat the leaves in stir fry. I was using "torpedo" radishes, a green manure/fodder variety developed from traditional diakons.
My worst soil is too tough for these radishes to penetrate ! Its full of rubble,they basically grow down a few inches, then they grow above the soil...
In my more average clay soil, they do great. I really only eat the seed pods and leaves, the roots get really hot,even after cooking, to spicy to enjoy. Real diakons are probably different.
I kinda figured that you just let the radishes stay in the ground. My only concern was if they ever became diseased and then left those nasties in the ground with them. Would potatoes accomplish much the same effect?
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