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Blame It On The Cat Litter

Posts: 43
Location: Kansas Temperate Zone
forest garden food preservation cooking
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I am experimenting with growing above ground living mulch (Chop and Drop), in the form of an off the shelf from Wally World sweet potato grown in pine wood shavings. I live in a temperate climate in Kansas where the soil is fairly hard due to silt loam and high temperatures. The type of small wood shavings bought in a bale and are normally used for bedding litter for cats, bunnies, gerbals, and so on. The Indoor and Outdoor Cats do use the shavings, as any cats do. Vegetable based organic cat food is fed to the critters. Oh, and I don't water it. My roomate did the day after planting, and was promptly told "STOP, Don not water this mound of shavings, I have an experiment I am trying with a sweet potato and I do not want it watered. EVER. Thank you."

Now while this may seem harsh to both the roommate and the plant, I beg refrain for the following reasons:
1. It is an experiment that was thought out ahead of time for a couple of months, and I do not intend to eat the potatoes as they are being grown as living mulch.
2. Ground water salts the soil. Why would I want to be irresponsible and do a thing like that?
3. Cats use the potty in the shavings frequently because it is loose and they can cover easy,
4. The cats who have so kindly buried their waste are efficiently providing a food source for ants, beetles, flies, worms, and so on.
5. The local birds feed upon the bugs and in exchange deposit their own form of nutrient base to the shavings
6. The Wood shavings are mounded, and as such provide sufficient shade for worms, who in turn feed on the cats predigested organic vegetable waste.
7. As the worms come up through the shavings, they deposit most worms leave castings and further help transport mycelium that the ants in turn use to feed ant babies.
9. All of these organisms pee and pooh in the shavings provided some nutrient rich moisture for the sweet potato to feed on as it grows through the high surface area of the fine wood shavings
10. It is evident to me when I turn over rocks bags of dirt and other things that moisture being there got there without it raining in the form of condensation and transfer of bugs worms and so on.
11. It does rain here occasionally and the shavings will absorb and hold a great deal of moisture due to high surface area.
It has rained 2 times in 5 weeks with 100*F plus temps and this plant is thriving. See the pics. I look forward to posting further progress. Feel free to share and like. :)
12. Because I am trying to follow patterns I see and let nature do the greater part of the work so I can enjoy watching nature grow and thrive without my interference, excepting it be a little nudge here and there to warp time a little.
[Thumbnail for A-Sweet-Potato.jpg]
at 3 weeks with second day watterd and 1 day rain 100*F temps
[Thumbnail for not-quite-5-weeks-from-being-planted-without-any-sprouted-eyes.jpg]
Posts: 1870
Location: Just northwest of Austin, TX
forest garden urban
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Sweet potatoes have done a wonderful job of perennializing in my central Texas garden. It turns out there is a heavy infestation of root vine weevils which I haven't built up the soil biology to combat yet, but they do a wonderful job of filling in the space under my espalier peach trees each year. It's a little hard to use them as a mulch for anything that isn't either well established or relatively tall. It's so vigorous it outgrows anything else.

I am a little bit confused as to what the sweet potatoes are providing mulch for in your experiment? Is there another plant in that bed, are you just trying to protect the soil surface as you prepare a bed, or are you just testing how well the sweet potatoes do in your conditions?

I've been doing my own experiment with a living mulch.  It's a very low growing mat forming wildflower.  So far it's been very successful when it reaches where other plants are growing, or when I clear a patch to plant other plants. I think this is partly because it is very slow growing.  When I do have to pull it the soil underneath has always been far better than the surrounding ground, so I suspect it is also a dynamic accumulator. It wouldn't make a good chop and drop, but it does make a great permanent soil cover.

Let us know how your experiments turn out. I'm always interested in mulches because they are one of the most important parts of keeping my gardens going.
Larry Jackson
Posts: 43
Location: Kansas Temperate Zone
forest garden food preservation cooking
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Have been away from computer for a few days. In the middle of a move to new place. Sweet potato is growing right along. Rain off and on past two days has given the plant a growth spurt. Planning on transferring the plant into a 12 inch container filled with the mulch/litter that it is currently growing in. Once at the new place will place container into a raised bed  as the new landlord does not yet allow for in ground planting. (OH  POOH) pun intended (litter, pooh, cats happen. hahaha) I expect the potato plant will do great, and will grow many happy healthy vines as a sort of living mulch. A little Compost Tea should help it recover, but then again, I have never tried compost tea on potatoes. Time will tell. Cant wait to get it moved and see what happens with it.
Has anyone else had any good or bad experiences with using compost tea on Potato crops?
Would be interested in hearing your comments.
Have a good day,
master steward
Posts: 14230
Location: Pacific Northwest
hugelkultur kids cat duck forest garden foraging fiber arts sheep wood heat homestead
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One thing I would mention, when it comes to cat poop, is that it often comes with a pretty nasty parasite called toxoplasmosis. It's the reason pregnant woman aren't supposed to change kitty litter.

Here's some of the side-effects of toxoplasmosis https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/toxoplasmosis/gen_info/faqs.html

Some people who have toxoplasmosis may feel as if they have the “flu” with swollen lymph glands or muscle aches and pains that last for a month or more.

Severe toxoplasmosis, causing damage to the brain, eyes, or other organs, can develop from an acute Toxoplasma infection or one that had occurred earlier in life and is now reactivated. Severe cases are more likely in individuals who have weak immune systems, though occasionally, even persons with healthy immune systems may experience eye damage from toxoplasmosis.

Signs and symptoms of ocular toxoplasmosis can include reduced vision, blurred vision, pain (often with bright light), redness of the eye, and sometimes tearing. Ophthalmologists sometimes prescribe medicine to treat active disease. Whether or not medication is recommended depends on the size of the eye lesion, the location, and the characteristics of the lesion (acute active, versus chronic not progressing). An ophthalmologist will provide the best care for ocular toxoplasmosis.

Most infants who are infected while still in the womb have no symptoms at birth, but they may develop symptoms later in life. A small percentage of infected newborns have serious eye or brain damage at birth.

I'm pretty sure that cooking kills the parasite, so if you cook those sweet potatoes, they should be find. According to the CDC, a good scrubbing and peeling can also help prevent contracting toxoplasmosis.

I try to prevent my cats from pooping in my mulch by doing a few different things:
  • Put sticks/bamboo stick straight up in the soil every few inches, so the cats can find an easy place to poop.
  • Surround my mulched perenials (like strawberries and hostas and chives) with 3+inch rocks, so there's no soft ground near the plants
  • Put chickenwire/old fencing over the garden bed, so the cats can't dig/poop.
  • Give them other nice places to poop, surrounded by catnip and other plants they like.
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