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What's the next step in a keyhole garden?  RSS feed

 
Alex Ojeda
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I've layed out my keyhole gardens with compost, Hay, cardboard, manure and finally pine straw.  Everything is growing GREAT!  Now, I'm thinking about what to plant at the end of summer to keep my production going.  My first question is, What do I do to the bed itself?

I have so many plants in there, do I lay down more manure and cover it with more pine straw?  This of course, would leave the old pine straw under the new manure.  Acid issues?  Never fully breaking down issues?

I was thinking about removing as much of the old pine straw and then putting down the manure and new pine straw.

Do I even need to do that?  I'm thinking bio fertilizer, but I just think there's a more permaculury way to do this.

Any help would be immeasurably appreciated!
 
Brenda Groth
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maybe some perennials so you don't have to replant it every year, and some self seeders?
 
Travis Philp
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Location: ZONE 5a Lindsay Ontario Canada
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It depends on many factors.

What zone are you in?

Whats the soil like in that area?

How old was the compost you used, and what did you use to make it?

How many inches did you add?

What plants are you growing?


In general I'd say you could get away with no more added fertilizer as long as you keep as much plant materials in the bed. When you weed, let the weeds dry out and die, then add them under the mulch. After you harvest whatever vegetables are in the bed, leave the leftover plant material in or on the bed so you can keep some of the fertility there.

I think Brenda's suggestion of perennials is good but what matters most IMO is to plant stuff you'll like to eat.
 
George Lee
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Location: Athens, GA/Sunset, SC
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Globe artichokes.  I'd topdress with some new compost, and hay straw the surface. That's me.
 
Alex Ojeda
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Thanks for the advice on this.  That's what I was thinking I would do, but I wanted to be sure.  I'm in a place where there is no living example of this and I don't see this info written anywhere.

Could you tell me why we use straw instead of hay as the top layer?  I'd like to use hay as the top layer so that I could just add more hay and kitchen scraps as time goes on. 

Does it make sense to add newspaper or cardboard over my current surface and then kitchen scraps (manure) and more hay?

These questions sound simple, but it would help me to know what others have done that's worked. 

Thanks!!
 
            
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There is nothing wrong with hay.  Some hay will have seeds, like straw tends to have oat seed left.  With the way you have mulched a few seeds in the straw or hay will not matter much.  I like using hay because it has more nitrogen in it.  However for the purpose of mulching one should not be picky.  Use whats available, too much pine and you could end up with some acidic soil however.  I would advise not to add anymore cardboard.  That layer is mainly for blocking any unwanted growth from under the bed.  Roots will have a hard time getting through it that high up in the bed.  I have placed cardboard around the base of plants on the surface to further help shade soil, but I live/garden in the desert of New Mexico.  Careful with cardboard and newspaper toxins may be present.
 
                              
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Location: NH
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I am with Travis, this is simple stuff, like nature.  I would add that it helps to spray a homemade batch of bacteria (compost tea or something similar, as long as it is native soil bacteria), throw some sugars in there (mollasses) and call it good!  I like straw better than hay mostly because hay will tend to form a biological mat in places which will inhibit some anaerobic decomposition.  Hay also tends to be a more favorable place for pests to hide. 
 
Alex Ojeda
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LivingWind.  That's what I was planning to do.  Thanks for the confirmation.  Hey, in Gaia's Garden and confirmed by Paul Wheaton in his podcast on Gaia's Garden, they don't like compost due to it losing too many nutrients to the ground before using it. 

They like composting in place where you garden (a la keyhole garden beds). Does anyone actually just take their kitchen scraps, put them on the garden bed and then drop some mulch hay over that?
 
Alex Ojeda
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@heartseed.  Do you have a good bacteria recipe?  What does everyone think of the biodynamic preparations?  I've brewed up a concoction of BD508 Equisetum Tea, but have never used it before.

Also, do you use oat straw specifically?  Where do you get it?  Is it in the $6 range or in the $20 range (per bale)?
 
John Polk
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As far as the $6/$20 bale ranges, this is usually a difference in size.  There are small bales, and large bales.  There are fluctuations based on quality, nutrition value, etc.

If a large, round $20 bale has more material than 4 small square bales, it is obviously the better buy (although it would be more difficult to transport home)

Hobby farms generally buy the small, square bales, while the commercial cattle farms opt for the large, round bales.  A bunch of 30-60# bales are much easier to handle without equipment than a bale that wont fit in the bed of a pickup truck!
 
Alex Ojeda
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At my feed store, the Bahia grass hay is $6 and the Alfalfa hay is $20 for the same size bale.  I was just trying to get an idea of how straw would fit into the equation as another piece of information, so that when I try to look for it, I'll know that if they try to charge me $25 I'm in the right or wrong ball park.  I just never can get any info on what "straw" IS beyond pine straw.  I've seen someone mention oat straw.  I'll look for that and hope that I'm getting the right stuff.

Thanks for all the help so far.  I'll figure it out eventually.
 
John Polk
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A rather simplistic explanation of hay/straw:  Think of a field of a cereal grass.  If you mow it down while green, you have hay.  If you let it ripen, and "combine" the seed heads off of the top, you have harvested the grains, and the stubble left will dry.  Mow that down, and you now have straw.  It is basically the aftermath of a cereal crop.  Not worth as much as either the grain, nor the hay, but still a salable commodity.
 
Alex Ojeda
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That's the best description that I've ever heard!  So, why do some people use hay and others use straw?  I could do both and find out, but I'd like to get some experienced advice.

Thanks for your help!
 
George Lee
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Ehhh..If you wanna toss kitchen scraps in your garden immediately after eating, I'd suggest going this route...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIyEQoxgocY
 
                              
Posts: 13
Location: NH
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@ sunshine ax:
I use oat, rye, hairy vetch and field pea straw.  I grow these myself and scythe them so I know that they are ripe.  Around my parts I think I recall $5/bale for straw.  I do have some tea recipes that I am pleased with.  They vary greatly depending on the season and the signs I read in the field.  They all begin with a culture I grow from specially formulated compost made in small batches.  I feed the culture until it has reached a suitable quantity.  Then I brew the tea and continually aerate for at least three days.  It really works wonders, you can brew soil, foliar and compost sprays and dilute for soil soakings.  I find these teas a neccesary step in sheet mulching.
 
Alex Ojeda
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@heartseed,

Do you use the applied biodynamic preparations?  I've made the fermented version of BD508 for my squash problems, but I haven't used it yet.  I'm trying real hard to figure this stuff out, so any tidbits of sage-like information that you want to share is welcome
 
Alex Ojeda
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@livingwind,

I have several worm towers actually. What I should have said was that I want to take the scraps from my Norwalk Juicer and put them under the mulch for the garden.  Does this pose any problems that you know of?  Anyone? 

I keep hearing that we should be composting in place not making compost piles.  Any opinions?
 
George Lee
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Are you mulching areas with juicer remnants and letting them sit a while or just tossing them existing areas with existing semi-mature to mature plants?

Sometimes if you throw raw material on the mulch layer it uses nitrogen to help break down thereby taking some away from your plant material.

If you want to use your juicer remnants, start another bed and build up the matter and let it age, put some finished compost on it after a few months and plant into..
 
Alex Ojeda
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That's what I was thinking was standard practice, but I keep hearing about composting in place.  The notion that you don't have to make compost and you can keep your keyhole beds rolling season after season.  This means to me that we should put something in or on them as time goes on to add nutrients and I believe the insinuation is that it isn't fertilizer.

I'm going to work on bio fertilizers next, but in the permaculture world, it's supposed to be "too much work and unnecessary".
 
Saskia Symens
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Sunshine,

I think you slash the used up vegetation and let the greens/non harvestable parts rot in place (without pulling up the roots, just cut them low)
 
                              
Posts: 13
Location: NH
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I have not used specific biodynamic preps, I try to read signs in the soil and plants and supply what seems neccesary.  If you are composting in place or sheet mulching (sort of the same) you need sugars, that is a definite.  I like using mollasses, you can dillute it with water or tea, somewhere around 10:1 to 15:1 depending on what your soil life looks like, active or inactive.  Just small amounts of sugars at a time are needed when your soil is looking fairly active.  I use yarrow, comfrey, stinging nettle and chamomile as my main herbs for teas. 

If you have any specific questions, just ask away.  There is an awful lot of info on the subject, and many people do things differently.  I am a commercial grower implementing permaculture techniques and what is called biological techniques.  Growing at this scale, feeding lots of people, it is difficult to use permaculture in every area.  Permaculture is patience and trust in nature's way, commercial growing gets closer to humans pushing a little harder and maybe even rushing things a bit.  Composting in place, this is one of the things I'm talking about:  if you start throwing lots of compost out on your beds, this isn't nature's way.  It probably won't work out without the right variety.  Nature grows then withers in place and it happens slowly.  This is what you are mimicking when composting in place.  Now, you can push it a bit, but it takes patience still.  I hope I've been helpful.
 
Alex Ojeda
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Thanks Saskia and Heartseed!  I'm getting the idea.  I've just ready chapter 6 in Gaia's Garden and I'm learning about perennials that are similar to annual veggies.  Like a brassica that's like kale, but it's a perennial bush!  OK, I'll have to get some of these and see what happens.  I'm going put out some serious perennials and get my feet wet!

Yeah, I'm trying to grow food like weeds grow.  I just believe that if I get the system right, there will be a constant abundance of produce in a small area. 

I'm going to go with the slash veggies up to teeny bits, use hay and dried leaves to break it up (like I do in the worm bins) and work on the permculture irrigation techniques that I've just read about.  This is getting good

Thanks for the help and I'll be consulting the sage advice of those like yourselves in the future!
 
Alex Ojeda
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@Travis Philip,

I'm in zone 8b and 9 depending on the map.  It gets a bit cold here in north florida and it gets nice and hot.  I have to get plants that can make it through 25° weather.  That's not really cold, but for some plants 30° is the end of them.

I have a nice microclimate on a southern facing wall of my shed that has a privacy fence 5 feet from it.  It gets toasty in there in winter and it'll be a cinch to put a green house like cover over it.  I hope that works.

There are also some apple trees that grow here, so we'll see what happens with that.

This stuff is so cool, I just can't believe that it took me so long to find it!

Thanks for the help!
 
                        
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hay vs straw...cereal crops which are cut green and still include the unripe grain are called green feed here, not hay.  Straw is indeed what is left after the mature (ripe) cereal grains have been removed  and basically consists almost entirely of the ripe stalk..that is to say mostly carbon, with very little nutrition in it for feeding animals.

Hay on the other hand, generally consists of grasses and legumes in varying degrees of each from pure alfalfa to pure grass hays (including swamp grasses), generally cut well before most of the plants have set seed. Good hay should have a large proportion of leaf; be dry but  still have some shade of green and smell sweet.  Over mature hay will have much less nutrition as the plants will have put the effort into ripening the seed.

Pea straw is what is left after the mature peas have been harvested..I have no direct experience with that so don't know if that is brown or green or what. 

In this area, in an average year, good alfalfa or alfalfa mix hay will run around $45-$50 for a big round bale averaging about 1500 pounds  (about a 5'x6' round bale)  the same size bale of straw will run on average about $12-$15.  Ordinary grass hays run about the middle of the two.

I haul a single hay bale this size on the back of a pickup but getting it OFF  can be an adventure without a tractor..I use a tree, and managed through being stubborn, to bend my endgate  last winter after doing this for several years with no problem. 

Round bales can run anywhere from relatively little ones which weigh about 300 pounds  up to some that will come in at almost a ton. Bales also come in rectangles, from the most common one  about 12"x18"x  3' (+/-) all the way up to 4 foot x 4 foot x8 foot behemoths.

Small  "square"  bales bales of hay can run anywhere from $3.5o to $11 (this would be premium racetrack quality, generally very young alfalfa so you pay more because the yield is lower when the plant is harvested younger)  and should average around 60 pounds.  Small bales of straw are anywhere from free to $2 a bale. Straw  bales probably weigh about half of hay bales of the same size.

Generally speaking hay is much more likely than  straw to include seed which may end up sprouting in your garden which is why most people tend to prefer using straw. The only straw i can think of offhand that I might be reluctant to buy for a garden is flax as it takes a long long time to break down. Don't know how rice straw is..we don't grow a lot of rice in  Canada 
 
            
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Location: California
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Moldy/rotted hay that's gone bad before the rancher can feed it to his stock is prime mulch, and lots cheaper (most often free for the labor of hauling) than fresh, feed-grade stuff. Not to mention that's a lot of land and petrol gone into bailing the stuff just to use it for mulch.
 
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