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suggest Mulch for vegetable garden

 
                                    
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Mom and Dad always used grass clippings for mulch. It was free.

Last year I tried it and it seemed to work ok, although ultimately I had a terrible time with the garden from lack of rain, etc, so hmmm...has me thinking now.

This year I collected leaves that I chopped up and saved. Then I collected grass clippings, and overtop my "new this year" garden I put a thin layer of compost, a thin layer of chopped leaves, and a layer of grass clippings. In the corn, bea patch, we only used clippings, and only had enough for half. By the end of May, we were in the mid 90's and no rain at all for about 3+ weeks. I hand watered, and everything that was mulched seemed happy. The corn/bean patch had amazing difference between the mulched and the not mulched. I thought I had found a great secret.

Today we finally got rain. Almost a half inch. I went out to the garden a while ago to find that only the top of the grass mulch was wet, completely and totally dry underneath. I dug all the mulch around to let any more rain that we MAY get tonight into the soil. I can't believe that we finally get rain, and I have kept it out of the soil. Everything seemed so thrilled with the mulch to start with.

We have the beds that have pathways dug along side and the dirt piled on top so we have raised beds somewaht, and I mulched the paths with leftover cardboard and cedar mulch. It is big and hopefully naturally bug repellent, and looks like it will last a long time.

I don't know what to use on the garden to mulch. The cedar shavings are so big, and expensive that they seem like they would kind of "mess up" the soil, especially trying to plant seeds later. Can anyone give me any pointers here. I looked up grass clippings as mulch in some of my gardening books, and it says, SURE! I would like to use something I can get right here in my property. Thanks!
 
Jordan Lowery
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try a diversity of materials, dried grass, dried leaves, small chopped sticks, small pebbles, chopped up veggie scraps, stuff like that. this way they don't form a impenetrable uniform mat.

do you water your garden at all?
 
                                    
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I do. I do a deep water by hand since we haven't had rain until today. All the water collection containers are full again, so I can continue to water again for awhile if it doesn't rain again soon.
 
Alex Ojeda
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I know that Bill Mollison uses newspaper and cardboard as a layer in the Keyhole system (sheet mulching), but Paul Wheaton doesn't like it.  Does anyone know what Paul recommends we do?  Is it blatantly obvious and I'm just being thick?

Thanks in advance!
 
Paula Edwards
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Call a lawn mowing company or two. At least here they bring their clippings usually to the tip and are happy to deliver them to you instead. You could offer to rake up other peoples leaves too. And you could call gardeners to ask for general garden "waste". You must simply provide a place where they can tip the stuff.  You can ask your neighbours for lawn clippings and garden waste. You might be able to pick up sawdust (not from particleboard or treated pine). We have a joinery which makes windows and this sawdust is OK.
 
duane hennon
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hi lilacgirl,

where did the rain go? if the rain did not soak into thr grass clippings, it had to go somewhere either as runoff or evaporation. if the mulch is between the plants but not up to the stems, the runoff should be toward the stem and down into the ground where it's needed. watering the mulch is not an efficient way of watering plants, put the water right at the stem and allow it to soak under the mulch.

as edible mentioned, layering the mulch, esp grass clippings, forms barriers to water and air
mix it up and add some straw or stems to keep it from compacting
 
Alex Ojeda
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Thanks for the info.  So, the cardboard layer is just a quick replacement for layers of mulch?  I'm trying to understand what it's full purpose is supposed to be.  I've always assumed that it was to become worm food, block sunlight from the soil (also to discourage unwanted native plants), soak up water and focus flowing water toward the plants.

So putting layers of leaves here works as a good substitute?  Wouldn't it make sense that this layer be a brown rather than a green as suggested?

Thanks for any help!
 
Tyler Ludens
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I've had some problems with cardboard forming a barrier to water getting to the soil if it dries out between rains or waterings, so now I only use it in paths under mulch.

 
Alex Ojeda
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I've had that too.  Some places the cardboard is gone in no time and in other places it's dry and impenetrable.  I think I'll switch to Oak leaves since they take forever to break down.  Does anyone have a reason that oak leaves would not be a good idea?  Acid levels?
 
                                    
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Sorry I haven't been back. My email stopped telling me i had replies.

I only use cardboard in the pathways.

I have 25 acres so finding things to use is not the problem, it is using the things correctly that I already have on hand.

Well, when I water by hand, I am hunkered down putting the water right at the stem. As for the rain, I am assuming it ran off, and probably some of it did go to the stem area, but I bet a whole lot went over the side of the raised beds.

We sat and talked about it this morning, and straw mixed in was one of the things we came up with. This of course, is something that has to be purchased. I am over my head in hay, but not straw. I thought that, plus maybe a small amount of the cedar mulch may work well to break up the barrier to letting the water and air into the soil.

For the moment, until this weekend when I can get out there and redo the mulching, I moved around the grass and leaves to allow bare places so that if we get lucky enough to get more rain, it wil lbe able to get in. Thanks, and keep up with the good ideas!
 
Alex Ojeda
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In the book Introduction to Permaculture they mention using Pine Needles (or Pine Straw) as the straw layer.  That's what I've been doing and it seems to work best!  This stuff sits on the top and blocks the sun out while letting the rain down into the system.  It takes FOREVER to break down and seems to not effect any plants with its acidity.

So far that works.  I've just been wondering.  Once this system is a bit old and the plants have been all over it, what do you do to go forward?  Do you just throw manures right on the ground and re-mulch with pine needles?  Do you try to get the old mulch out and put more cardboard (or leaves) down and then re-mulch?

I'm guessing that this whole system is a one-time deal and going forward you just maintain it.  I'd just like to hear how people are doing this "going forward" process!  Thanks for any help with this!
 
Jeanine Gurley Jacildone
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I have been using green grass clippings for about 8 years now.  I know is seems as if there is no moisture underneath but do your plants still look happy?  That is the key.

If it is a new bed I water thoroughly and start piling on the grass clippings.  After that I just leave it alone. 

What used to be sand is now black earth and I have never seen so many earthworms!!  I couldn't buy more earthworms at a tackle shop.

The 'underneath' side of the grass clippings always looks dry but the plants seem happy so I don't worry about it.
 
Alex Ojeda
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Well, actually the plants do look great and the soil has gone from grey sand to black soil.  It's worked amazingly!  I build a new garden just about every week, so I was looking for a way to do without the cardboard and still have the system work as well.

Thanks for the info!
 
                                    
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SC, I'm not sure. It has only been a few days since the rain. SO I don't know yet if they are dry enough to show stress. I'm not sure I want to wait though, until they do, to water if needed. I will go out and find a plce I can get into without disturbing roots, and really get an idea of just how dry and how far down the dry goes. I think no matter what I will always incorporate at least SOME grass into the mulching. It's free, abundant, good for the soil. Thanks

You know, I have pine needles that need a use. I mulched some flower beds with them for a couple years and really disliked it. But mixing them into the garden mulch is a fine idea. I have  a few bales left in the barn. There is also a pine forest down the road that the dog and I pop into when I need Christmas pine cones to decorate with. 

great ideas everyone!

Sunshine, I think you may be on a somewhat different topic than what I am asking in this post. Best of luck to you with the cardboard mulch. I only use that in pathways. You may get much more detailed help with your isse if you start a new thread about what your concerns are with it. Sometimes posts tend to get a little confusing if you talk about more than one issue. You must be a busy gardener with all the new beds!
 
Brenda Groth
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i advise against calling the lawnmowing co for clippings, likely you will get clippiings full of chemicals and even weedkiillers which could in fact kill your garden

the advise of using multiple items to use as mulch is the best idea..the more variety the happier..

also water well under the mulch before putting it on..don't just put it down on top of dry soil
 
Tyler Ludens
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sunshine ax wrote:
  Do you just throw manures right on the ground and re-mulch with pine needles?  Do you try to get the old mulch out and put more cardboard (or leaves) down and then re-mulch?


I just put more mulch on top, or if I want to plant in that area, I either dig a hole in the mulch and add more soil to plant in, or put a layer of waste hay and manure on top of the mulch and a layer of soil on that, then toss on some seeds. 
 
                    
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I usually use several layers of newspaper( not the shiny ad pages) around my plants, then a layer of straw. You need to water it well to start with and then it will hold more moisture and the straw and paper will be less likely to blow away. This method has worked well for me for yrs. You may have to water occasionally, but if rain is that scarce, you would probably have to water anyway. It also helps keep the weeds at bay. I rototill or plow it under in the spring.
 
Andy Sprinkle
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THis winter (December) I placed approximately 3" of fresh horse manure and then topped with ~2" of wood chips/mulch (coarse to fine from tree-trimmer). Last week I put 4" spinach transplants in these areas and something at all the leaves within 2 days. I have had gardens all around my yard the last three years and have never had a bug problem. It is possible that ants or something else came in with the wood chips? SHould I turn the chickens loose into this area? Unfortunately I have other beds within the fenced area shared with the chipped beds that had sugar snap peas, kale, beats, and spinach seedlings shooting up like crazy...would I need to protect these from the chickens?
 
Leila Rich
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Hi Andy While I'm a big fan of chip as mulch, I avoid mulching with it on annual beds due to nitrogen availability issues if it gets dug into the soil. Of course it can be used, I'd just be very careful to pull it out of the way when digging.
Have you noticed many slugs? A potential drawback of chip is slugs love it. If something eats an entire seedling in my garden, they get the blame!
Where are you? It's very useful having some location and climate details up. Check out 'My profile' at the top of the page.
 
Ken Peavey
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I use everything I can get my hands on.
Leaves are plentiful and will last a year easily. As they break down, they contribute to soil quaility.
I can gather grass clippings, but with so many leaves around, I find the clippings more useful in the compost heap or fed to the bull. Grass collection either uses gas (I'm a tightwad), or gives me a workout with the scythe (I'm old and busted).

MULCHING PATHS
Lately I've been adding leaves to the pathways between the beds. Mulching the beds serves to keep down weeds and preserve water. The weeds, particularly bermuda grass, can creep in from the paths. I'm lazy and do not wish to bother with pulling the grass from the beds. When the beds are moist and the uncovered paths are dry, moisture will move into the paths where there is a better chance of the moisture leaving the field altogether. With the ongoing drought and summer approaching, water is becoming precious. I need to conserve as much as I can. Another benefit is foot traffic in the paths helping to break up the leaves. Over time, these leaves will decompose, adding their special brand of Love to the soil in the paths. Being so close to the beds, fungi should help move some of those nutrients to the beds. Lastly, when I need a couple of handfuls of mulch, I've got it at the ready.
 
Tim Flaus
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Location: Moss Vale, Southern Highlands, NSW, Australia
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Hi, I was wondering how those of you that have been using grass clippings as mulch are going with the introduction of weeds from the clippings. I've always avoided them on my annual beds because I was afraid of introducing a heap of weed that I did not want, particularly grass seed, so I have always composted it. It would be great to be able to use it directly on the beds, much better in terms of energy flows in my system.

Cheers

Tim
 
Ken Peavey
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I find that soil that has been protected with mulch does not compact from rain. I go to all the trouble to loosen the soil, I hate to see that effort lost. The loose tilth makes it easy to pull weeds if they do show up.
 
Leila Rich
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Tim, I don't have lawn but the lawn guys are more than happy to drop off a trailer. I don't worry about poisons; NZers virtually never use them on their lawns.
My only stipulation is that the clippings are from that day. They get pretty rank really quickly!
I generally mulch the vege beds with them as-is. The only problem I have is they tend to 'laminate' together and prevent moisture getting in. Spreading them out to dry and mixing in coarser/differently textured stuff really helps.
The only time I have anything come through the mulch is if it's not thick enough. Around plants there'll sometimes be a weak grass plant come through, but I've never introduced anything full-on.
Really fresh clippings that aren't 'clumpy' sometimes get thrown in the air to settle over/around what I call my 'weed patch', which is basically all the plants I kicked out of my actual garden beds as they clearly didn't need coddling Kids LOVE throwing grass clippings around!
Whatever's left goes on the compost.
 
Alex Ames
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Within reason you will have success with whatever is available that covers the ground and gives
earthworms a place to be and something to work on. They will handle soil quality for you.
 
Amit Enventres
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I haven't had much of a chance to experiment with mulch, but this is my understanding (general principles):

Things to consider in a mulch:
-Carbon-nitrogen ratio
-Surface area
-Toxicity

Carbon-nitrogen: You need a balance. Wood is high in carbon. green manure and coffe grounds are high in nitrogen. If you have too much carbon (all wood chips) you can end up with a short-term nitrogen deficiency when you first apply the mulch. Once the high carbon mulch begins to break down- you're alrgiht. If you have too much nitrogen, you can poison the plants. You want the mulch to break down at a rate the plants can make the best use of it - like slow-release fertilizer. So, not too much newspaper and not too much lawn clippings - a balance.

Surface Area: The more surface area something has, the more places it has to hold water, nutrients, decompose, shelter biology, and get hugged by roots. So, if youre looking for long term stuff that won't provide much nutrients - get big, thick, non-porous stuff. If you'r interested in something to get your tomatoes through the season, go for smaller, finer material.

Toxicity: Certain plants like to self-mulch, but they do so in order to prevent all competition from being around them. If you see gorgeous mulch under a tree and nothing growing in the mulch - be suspicious. Compost first (to break down any harmful chemicals) then combine with a carbonaceous mulch to get a good carbon-nitrogen ratio on your plants. Some wood chips have the same affect - ex: Eucalyptus & Pepper Tree. Sometimes thick wood chips can seem toxic, but it's just that they have sucked the nitrogen out of the soil (due to a bad carbon-nitrogen ratio) and nothing can grow in it - until nitrogen is added. Besides poisonous plants, consider poisons in processed things. If you think it's too toxic to stick in your mouth, then try to fathom how much of that gets into your plants. Then, how much gets into the parts of the plants you eat. You may want to compost the things your unsure of so that you can try to break-down or leach anything questionable...but in all honesty, I don't know what the dies of newspaper or the chemicals in turf clippings add up to.

As for worms and compost. I believe if there is food, the worms will come. Composting I see as a way to process waste that for some reason cannot be placed directly on the plants.
 
Ken Peavey
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I'm not concerned with the CN ratio of mulch. Mulch is on the surface, not mix in with the soil, so it can't pull nitrogen from the soil to decompose. It will sit there without decomposing-that's what it's there for. If it is decomposing, it has plenty of nitrogen. If the worms pull the material into the soil, they will do the job of decomposing it in their gut, so N is moot.

There was a good rain yesterday. Almost an inch! For the past year and a half, that qualifies as a BIG rain. I took the pitchfork to a compost heap and the shredded leaf pile. The compost heap has a mixture of everything in there-pine needles, oak leaves, hay, grass clippings weeds, manure. This pile was thoroughly soaked. The shredded leaf pile is oak leaves shredded to bits with a mower, and has a more uniform texture. The outer foot of the heap is moist, dry as a bone underneath. The variety of debris in the compost heap let the water move through. In the shredded leaves water was absorbed as it penetrated, then could move no further. This supports the notion that a diverse texture of mulch will allow water to penetrate.
 
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