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Methods for preparing land for future planting at the garden/homestead scale

 
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Post may contain affiliate links, which allow me to earn a commission at no extra cost to you.

You want to plant a garden or food forest... but how do you get the land ready?

It is almost winter and now tends to not be the best time to plant unless you are lucky to live in a warm climate. But this time can be great for preparing areas for future plantings.

I spend most of the fall and winter getting new areas ready for planting in late winter and spring. In my blog post 6 Methods for Preparing Land for Planting I cover 6 ways you can prepare land for future plantings.

6 Methods for Preparing Land for Planting

- One-Time Tilling
- Mulch Alone
- Sheet Mulching
- Double Digging
- Solarizing
- Animals (focus on chickens and pigs)

Not all of these methods will work for you on your homestead/garden or for a specific project. This post is meant to help you get an overview of these methods and determine which is best for your project.

Do you have other methods that you use to prepare land for planting? Please leave a comment saying how you get ready to plant new areas.

If you want to learn about all 6 methods please check out my blog post - in this thread I'm going to focus on using sheet mulching to get an area for planting.

Sheet Mulching



I do a ton of sheet mulching on my property and I have a ton more to do. Mostly this is because I have a lot of grass that I want to replace with yummy fruit trees, berries, perennial vegetables, and native plants mixed in to support a diversity of wildlife.

But one downside to sheet mulching is that it takes a lot of organic material - that I need to bring in from offsite - and it takes a lot of cardboard, newspaper, other paper, or burlap bags - also from offsite.

This takes a lot of work and I don't want to be reliant on offsite materials in the long run. So I don't sheet mulch the same area twice - luckily if done right you should not need to sheet mulch again in the same spot.

Another downside to sheet mulching is that it takes time to prep the area. In my climate if I sheet mulch in the fall the cardboard/paper is mostly gone by the following spring. But if I did not put enough wood chips or other organic material on top of the cardboard/paper it can stick around for longer.

The key is to keep it all moist and the cardboard/paper fully covered.

But this still takes at least 3 months in my climate to breakdown.

The advantage of sheet mulching is that it is very effective at killing off existing vegetation such as grass and the result is good soil with a nice fungal population. This is great for establishing say a food forest.

It is also fairly easy to plant into sheet mulch if the cardboard/paper has already broken down. Just move the mulch aside and plant into the bare earth below it.

Do you use sheet mulching to prepare areas for planting on your homestead/property?

Steps to Use Sheet Mulching



Assuming you already have an area picked out that you want to prepare for planting you will need to gather the materials for sheet mulching.

I like cardboard the best if the area does not have any existing vegetation that I want to keep. If there is existing vegetation I use newspaper around the plants I want and then cardboard over the rest.

Just a note about cardboard and paper - don't use the shinny stuff (tends to have plastic mixed in with it), remove all tape (plastic), and I avoid bright colors to be safe since these can have toxic chemicals in the ink (from what I have read, orange and red colors are the worst).

You will also need a bunch of wood chips, compost, fall leaves, straw, etc.

Once you have all the material you first place the cardboard or paper down on the existing vegetation. If you have tall vegetation you may need to mow/cut it down first. I apply a little water to newspaper to help it stay in place.

Make sure the edges of the cardboard/paper overlap by at least a few inches and you will need to have several layers of paper if you are using that.

Burlap bags are great for sheet mulching tough vegetation that would punch through cardboard/paper - but it will take longer to breakdown.

Next dump your wood chips or other organic material on top of the first layer of cardboard/paper/burlap bags and spread it out evenly. I put wood chips down at a depth of 3 to 4 inches, but I aim for 6 inches for fall leaves.

The more the material will compress and the faster it breaks down the thicker I place it.

Now just wait for the cardboard/paper to breakdown. Once it does you can move the top layer of mulch aside and plant into the soil below it - you should see a bunch of worms and other soil life!

While basic there are some other strategies to sheet mulching - I recommend picking up the book Gaia's Garden to learn more about sheet mulching and get a lot of other great tips for creating an amazing and abundant landscape on your homestead.

What Do You Think?


I still have a bunch of grass areas on my homestead that I want to plant - this winter (and the next 5...) is going to involve a lot of sheet mulching.

I would love to hear from you! Please leave a comment in this thread and don't forget to check out my blog post that this thread was based on. If you are one of the first to leave a comment on here you might even get a surprise in the form of pie or apples

Do you have areas on your homestead/property that you are wanting to prepare for planting? How are you planning on preparing that area?

Thank you!
 
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Hey Daron, great informative post.

My go to has been mulch alone. I used to do some tilling before mulching, but my yard had a very agressive perennial grass that I seemed to just help propogate when I tilled it.

My personal preference recently has been, like you also mentioned in another thread recently How to use fall leaves on your homestead, is using leaves (*Edit-added link to other thread). I keep them whole to provide the most coverage and put them down thick enough to block out other vegetation.

The downsides for me, like you mentioned in your blog, are if you want to plant there immediately, it can be hard to plant seeds with the leaves, or you can wait for a season for the plants below to die off.


Really enjoyed the post and blog!
 
Daron Williams
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Steve Thorn wrote:Hey Daron, great informative post.

My go to has been mulch alone. I used to do some tilling before mulching, but my yard had a very agressive perennial grass that I seemed to just help propogate when I tilled it.

My personal preference recently has been, like you also mentioned in another thread recently How to use fall leaves on your homestead, is using leaves (*Edit-added link to other thread). I keep them whole to provide the most coverage and put them down thick enough to block out other vegetation.

The downsides for me, like you mentioned in your blog, are if you want to plant there immediately, it can be hard to plant seeds with the leaves, or you can wait for a season for the plants below to die off.


Really enjoyed the post and blog!



Thanks for the comment! When you use mulch alone on the aggressive grass how thick are you putting the mulch?
 
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Hi Daron, I use sheet mulching with cardboard as well when converting grassy areas to something better.  One problem is that the chickens love to scratch away the wood chips and then tear through the cardboard.  So if you can keep them away until the vegetation underneath is dead, no problem.

One thing I tried last year was soil sheet mulching for a crop field.  I had grass and wanted a sunflower/oat patch.  So we laid down cardboard and covered it with an inch of topsoil from a nearby project.  We had a drought this summer so it was very hard to keep it moist.  But it still killed off the grass and I got a crop of sunflowers.  I planted about 2 weeks after laying the dirt/cardboard so I just stabbed a hole through the dirt/cardboard and stuck in a sunflower seed (old steak knife worked well).  Nearly all germinated and gave me a flower (8' stalks).  If it was a moister summer I think the oats and other seeds would have worked too.  Or if I did the soil sheet mulching in the fall so it could have broken down over the winter under the snow.
 
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My experience of aggressive creeping weeds, like quack grass and creeping thistle,  is that the mulch has to be 40 cm thick at least and it has to stay that way for a year, ie. you have to keep adding it if it decomposes and shrinks.

If I don't have that much mulch I use black plastic mulch on top and keep it on for a full growing season. It is tempting to start growing sooner but it really pays to wait for a full year.

Cardboard + mulch on top does not IME make much difference, the cardboard decomposes a lot faster than the quack grass dies. So the amount of mulch on top needs to be about the same, with or without cardboard.

I know plastic mulch isn't the most permie solution... I'm not that fond of it ideologically speaking. I've learnt to tolerate it because it's durable (I use UV-resistant black plastic mulch for professional veg growers) and lasts many years, doesn't tear, can be removed in one piece and reused and finally recycled after use, and you don't need much of it, one roll would be enough for most home gardeners for a life time.

Compare this with importing big quantities of manure and wood chips and I think it is not easy to say what is better. Applying large quantities of organic matter is labour-intensive and transporting them from far consumes more natural resources than transporting a roll of plastic mulch due to much larger volume and weight. On the other hand, the organic materials are good for the soil so you are importing nutrients too.

On my farm, I mainly rely on composted manure & bedding from my own animals and plastic mulch on top of it, until I find a better way

Whatever I do, I am careful not to dig, because I find it just makes the weed problem worse.


 
Daron Williams
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Mike Jay wrote:Hi Daron, I use sheet mulching with cardboard as well when converting grassy areas to something better.  One problem is that the chickens love to scratch away the wood chips and then tear through the cardboard.  So if you can keep them away until the vegetation underneath is dead, no problem.

One thing I tried last year was soil sheet mulching for a crop field.  I had grass and wanted a sunflower/oat patch.  So we laid down cardboard and covered it with an inch of topsoil from a nearby project.  We had a drought this summer so it was very hard to keep it moist.  But it still killed off the grass and I got a crop of sunflowers.  I planted about 2 weeks after laying the dirt/cardboard so I just stabbed a hole through the dirt/cardboard and stuck in a sunflower seed (old steak knife worked well).  Nearly all germinated and gave me a flower (8' stalks).  If it was a moister summer I think the oats and other seeds would have worked too.  Or if I did the soil sheet mulching in the fall so it could have broken down over the winter under the snow.



Good point about the chickens - are your chickens free range?

I used top soil for sheet mulching this year on my property. I wanted to get a new eco-lawn established and after solarizing the area I put down some brown paper and top soil on top. With all the forest fires in and around Washington this year I was unable to get enough sunlight to fully kill off the existing pasture grass with just solarizing. But the sheet mulching with soil worked great and I have a nice eco-lawn growing. The lawn is supposed to only need mowing once a month and no watering or fertilizer. Hopefully that will work!

Thanks for your comment!
 
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Nina Jay wrote:My experience of aggressive creeping weeds, like quack grass and creeping thistle,  is that the mulch has to be 40 cm thick at least and it has to stay that way for a year, ie. you have to keep adding it if it decomposes and shrinks.

If I don't have that much mulch I use black plastic mulch on top and keep it on for a full growing season. It is tempting to start growing sooner but it really pays to wait for a full year.

Cardboard + mulch on top does not IME make much difference, the cardboard decomposes a lot faster than the quack grass dies. So the amount of mulch on top needs to be about the same, with or without cardboard.

I know plastic mulch isn't the most permie solution... I'm not that fond of it ideologically speaking. I've learnt to tolerate it because it's durable (I use UV-resistant black plastic mulch for professional veg growers) and lasts many years, doesn't tear, can be removed in one piece and reused and finally recycled after use, and you don't need much of it, one roll would be enough for most home gardeners for a life time.

Compare this with importing big quantities of manure and wood chips and I think it is not easy to say what is better. Applying large quantities of organic matter is labour-intensive and transporting them from far consumes more natural resources than transporting a roll of plastic mulch due to much larger volume and weight. On the other hand, the organic materials are good for the soil so you are importing nutrients too.

On my farm, I mainly rely on composted manure & bedding from my own animals and plastic mulch on top of it, until I find a better way

Whatever I do, I am careful not to dig, because I find it just makes the weed problem worse.



The grass at my place is not as aggressive as quack grass so sheet mulching has worked fine. Have you tried using burlap bags or multiple layers of cardboard? I have had some success with using burlap bags for dealing with more aggressive plants. But as you said it is labor intensive and takes a bit of time.

Good points about the cost/benefit of the different options. In the long run I'm hoping to stop using outside inputs but my property is so degraded due to past management that I find using wood chips and other organic material really helps jump start my site.

Thanks for sharing!
 
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Daron Williams wrote:Good point about the chickens - are your chickens free range?

 Yup.  Their favorite thing is to go around just after the missus has raked the wood chips back onto the flower beds and kick it all back off again.  Some day we'll outsmart them.
 
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Daron Williams wrote:When you use mulch alone on the aggressive grass how thick are you putting the mulch?



When I used the leaves, I only had to put it down once at about 20 cm thick. It's been the easiest and simplest to me for perennial beds.

I think with the leaves being broader and thicker, they helped block out things better, and so I didn't have to put as much down or add to it later, just cut out the few if any plants that made it though the mulch.

I've used grass clippings on my garden, putting it down right after things started sprouting, and was fighting some couch grass (quackgrass), a lot of centipede, and other weeds. Like Nina mentioned, I was having to put about 40 cm down, had to add some to it a few times, and more weeds came through it. It was for my garden though and it was a easier to use for the smaller garden sprouts.

After a year it choked out pretty much all of the tough grasses, and it added so much fertility to my garden soil, it gave it a big boost that really helped my garden after that. I've only had to put down about 20 cm since then if I really want to cover an area, but generally don't put it down in most of the garden, especially with bigger plants that tend to do fine with a few "weeds".
 
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Daron Williams wrote:

The grass at my place is not as aggressive as quack grass so sheet mulching has worked fine. Have you tried using burlap bags or multiple layers of cardboard? I have had some success with using burlap bags for dealing with more aggressive plants. But as you said it is labor intensive and takes a bit of time.



I agree sheet mulching works fine with annual weeds and some less persistent perennial weeds too. The most problematic ones (on my farm) that I haven't been able to get under control by sheet mulching are: 1) quack grass 2) creeping thistle 2) horsetail (Equisetum arvense) and ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria).

I've tried double layer of cardboard, even triple, and burlap bags, but they all composted too soon and those four weeds can grow through them when they start to get soft.

Another thing with burlap and carboard is that they tend to harbour too many slugs in my climate. Funnily enough the slugs don't enjoy the plastic mulch nearly as much. Particularly if I apply the mulch to dryish ground and the manure-bedding mix is fairly dry. Covering it instantly with plastic keeps excess humidity away from the bed and it doesn't turn into a slug hatchery. The earthworms seem to love the plastic mulch, another surprise for me. When I take it away after a year, the bed is full of earthworms. I guess it is because the birds can eat them through the plastic so they get to proliferate in peace.

I confess I used to be so impatient that I would cut holes in the plastic mulch and plant stuff like potatoes through the holes. My thought process was that since I have lots of mulch and the plastic cover, albeit with small holes, this solution would enable me to get rid of the weeds AND obtain a yield. Potatoes can be planted in almost-ready compost, so that part of it was okay. What I didn't realize was that the quack grass particularly and some other weeds to a lesser extent, found their way through the small holes... I then had lots of nice work weeding those weeds from under the plastic and the thick mulch! Also the holes let in light, greening the potatoes, and earthing them up by putting more compost around the potatoes through the holes in the plastic was really difficult.

So I would recommend that whatever the mulching method (sheet or plastic), resist the temptation to make holes in it and start growing... just wait for a year, you'll thank yourself later
The exception to this would be if you only had annual weeds, those can be killed a lot faster. And if you don't dig/ mix the soil, you won't bring any weed seeds to surface either.





 
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Interesting - I guess I'm just happy I don't have to deal with that type of grass here.

Though there is reed canary grass here that I'm not sure how to deal with. I have heard horror stories of it just pushing up even thick sheet mulching.

I have found that it is much more effective if I time the sheet mulching with the end of summer. As daylight gets shorter and temperatures drop the growth of the plants slows down enough that sheet mulching seems to be more effective.

When I apply it during the spring or summer I end up having to spot sheet mulch weak areas where the grass pushes through. But if I wait till late summer or even better the first half of fall I don't have the same issues.

When do you all tend to apply sheet mulching? Does it make any difference when dealing with aggressive plants?
 
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Daron Williams wrote:I have found that it is much more effective if I time the sheet mulching with the end of summer. As daylight gets shorter and temperatures drop the growth of the plants slows down enough that sheet mulching seems to be more effective.



Yeah, I've found the timing to be very important also. This has been the best time for me too for my main garden area.

Daron Williams wrote:When I apply it during the spring or summer I end up having to spot sheet mulch weak areas where the grass pushes through. But if I wait till late summer or even better the first half of fall I don't have the same issues.

When do you all tend to apply sheet mulching? Does it make any difference when dealing with aggressive plants?



I've found the same to be true for me too. I also like to use a scythe and cut everything down as low as possible, and then add mulch once most of it grows to about 2 inches tall, that way the mulch flattens the new growth. When I've put the mulch on immediately before, I've found it grows straight up through the mulch easier. For really aggressive stuff, scything a second time before adding the mulch, has really helped weaken the tough stuff.
 
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Nice, thanks for the feedback Steve. Ya, I like using a scythe too - I'm still learning how to use mine but I'm using it for more and more of my projects.
 
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I've got a questions about tilling. When I use a handheld cultivator to remove weeds, am I "tilling"? I often use something like

or

to pull out buttercup or other plants that spread by runners. How damaging is this to the soil?

 
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I'm trying a variation on the till once and double dig options here this year.  About 2500 sq ft mostly forked or dug by hand with a bit using the tiller (hated how the tiller did, it's being given away).  I immediately planted fall and winter cover crops like wheat, rye, Austrian winter peas, favas, mustard and daichon radish.  Since it's a small area I tried planting very dense in most areas to choke out any weeds that germinated or survived.  Timing was important for this and I did it all in late aug thru early october.  My plan is to thin the grains and peas that survive till spring as I'm ready to plant next year but keep some of the wheat and winter peas for shade and seeds.  While not as flexible timing wise I like the results so far and I have nice greens for the chickens and rabbits hopefully thru some of winter.
 
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Nicole Alderman wrote:I've got a questions about tilling. When I use a handheld cultivator to remove weeds, am I "tilling"? I often use something like

...

to pull out buttercup or other plants that spread by runners. How damaging is this to the soil?



When I think of tilling what you are describing is not what I think of. But it is still disturbing the soil. If the buttercups or other plants were very dense and covering a whole area I could see that causing some short term damage but I don't see it being very major unless you were always disturbing the soil in that area.

Once you got an area fairly well cleared you could try adding some chop and drop material or other mulch - even just a thin layer to help cover the disturbed soil.

My guess is that the soil life would recover very quickly from this sort of minor soil disturbance as long as it was not repeated all the time.
 
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Buster Parks wrote:I'm trying a variation on the till once and double dig options here this year.  About 2500 sq ft mostly forked or dug by hand with a bit using the tiller (hated how the tiller did, it's being given away).  I immediately planted fall and winter cover crops like wheat, rye, Austrian winter peas, favas, mustard and daichon radish.  Since it's a small area I tried planting very dense in most areas to choke out any weeds that germinated or survived.  Timing was important for this and I did it all in late aug thru early october.  My plan is to thin the grains and peas that survive till spring as I'm ready to plant next year but keep some of the wheat and winter peas for shade and seeds.  While not as flexible timing wise I like the results so far and I have nice greens for the chickens and rabbits hopefully thru some of winter.



Sounds like you have a good system setup for your place. I like that you are planting it quickly after disturbing the soil - always good to get things growing. Thanks for your comment!
 
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I tried sheet mulching using cardboard but here in the high desert it NEVER breaks down.,  I have even tried watering it.  My neighbors think I am crazy, watering my cardboard!

Sandy
 
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I had terrible luck with cardboard in my often-dry climate!  It prevented the slight rains from ever reaching the soil.  I have given up on cardboard since that experience.  Now I just pile organic material (leaves, weeds, animal bedding, etc) directly on the soil.



 
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This was my driest summer and we have very fast draining sandy soil.  We cardboard mulched in the spring and covered with 2-3 inches of fresh wood chips.  I planted shrubs and trees into gaps in the cardboard.  I had to water every week or two unless it rained.  I used a watering can and did about 10 plants with a 2.5 gallon can (spot watering).  Later in the summer I went around and poked holes in the cardboard to plant walking onions and was amazed to find the cardboard and soil underneath was wet, even 2' away from the nearest watering point.  

While my "dry" summer was nowhere near as dry at Tyler and Sandy's, I was surprised how well the cardboard allowed moisture to remain up near the surface.

By dry, we had a heavy 6" rain in June and then about four 1/2" rains for the rest of June/July and early Aug.  Then a couple 1 inch rains in late Aug and Sep.  I only mowed 5 times all summer.  Horribly dry for me but lush for New Mexico...
 
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Here in the moist Northeast, sheet mulch with, from bottom to top, seaweed and chopped weeds, cardboard, then about 5 or 6 inches of more seaweed mixed with woodchips or leaves (preferably chopped) works well for us. We cut holes in the cardboard for seedlings. Then second year we usually clear aside the mulch temporarily, use the broadfork to loosen things up a little bit, then plant and replace/add mulch. No tilling ever, but some cultivating to yank out dandelions (sometimes) and buttercups.  
 
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Steps to Use Sheet Mulching



Assuming you already have an area picked out that you want to prepare for planting you will need to gather the materials for sheet mulching.

I like cardboard the best if the area does not have any existing vegetation that I want to keep. If there is existing vegetation I use newspaper around the plants I want and then cardboard over the rest.

Just a note about cardboard and paper - don't use the shinny stuff (tends to have plastic mixed in with it), remove all tape (plastic), and I avoid bright colors to be safe since these can have toxic chemicals in the ink (from what I have read, orange and red colors are the worst).

You will also need a bunch of wood chips, compost, fall leaves, straw, etc.

Once you have all the material you first place the cardboard or paper down on the existing vegetation. If you have tall vegetation you may need to mow/cut it down first. I apply a little water to newspaper to help it stay in place.

Make sure the edges of the cardboard/paper overlap by at least a few inches and you will need to have several layers of paper if you are using that.

Burlap bags are great for sheet mulching tough vegetation that would punch through cardboard/paper - but it will take longer to breakdown.

Next dump your wood chips or other organic material on top of the first layer of cardboard/paper/burlap bags and spread it out evenly. I put wood chips down at a depth of 3 to 4 inches, but I aim for 6 inches for fall leaves.

The more the material will compress and the faster it breaks down the thicker I place it.

Now just wait for the cardboard/paper to breakdown. Once it does you can move the top layer of mulch aside and plant into the soil below it - you should see a bunch of worms and other soil life!

While basic there are some other strategies to sheet mulching - I recommend picking up the book Gaia's Garden to learn more about sheet mulching and get a lot of other great tips for creating an amazing and abundant landscape............



Wow Darron, I can see you have been a very busy boy. Thanks for the great ideas.  I have a boatload of flattened moving boxes in the attic space of my garage/shop and I just got about 20 free loads of wood chips from the local utility trimming around their lines.  

I need to finish my rocket oven ( and a few gazillion other projects) so that I can get onto expanding the garden area.  As an engineer, I would have probably made this project (like my rocket oven) more complicated than it needed to be, but hey it is hard to teach on old dog new tricks.  I will take your advice and simply put down the cardboard and load it up with leaves and wood chips.  I think I will layer the leaves on top of the cardboard and then the wood chips.  Although in second thought,  I think I will put the leaves under the cardboard.  That way they can matt together and break down slowly without adversely affecting the breakdown of the cardboard.  The leaves tend to slough off water and create dry spots much more so than the fresh ground wood cops. This way the cardboard can break down and create a layer to plant into as the leaves take their sweet time decomposing.  Any thoughts?

Thanks again, great post and I also enjoyed your leaf blog.

Sincerely,

Ralph
 
Daron Williams
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Good point Sandy and Tyler about sheet mulching in dry climates. Even here in western Washington which is fairly wet our summers are dry enough that if I put cardboard down during the summer it won't really start to decompose until the rains come back. But if I sheet mulch in the fall by the following summer the cardboard is generally gone unless I was too stringent on wood chips or other mulch.

Sounds like a good system Anna - do you think the seaweed helps get everything breaking down faster?

Thanks Ralph I always try to stay busy! Sounds like you got a lot of good material for sheet mulching. I think fall leaves put under the cardboard would breakdown fairly quickly but my only concern is that if they matted down too much with the cardboard on top and then wood chips on top of all of that could result in a poor oxygen environment down at the soil level. I tend to always put the cardboard down first and then add stuff on top. I have been putting my fall leaves on top of my wood chip areas. My thought is that the leaves will help keep the wood chips moist and create a fantastic environment for fungi to grow.

Anyone else have thoughts on fall leaves under cardboard?

Good luck Ralph with your rocket oven! I have a blog post about rocket ovens (just an intro) in the works and I hope to get it out not next Monday but the following Monday. Next Monday will be a shorter blog post about the chop and drop method.
 
Anna Demb
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Sounds like a good system Anna - do you think the seaweed helps get everything breaking down faster?



Yes, the seaweed helps keep things moist if it's underneath and encourages the worms. But if it's layered too thick, it can get anerobic. Mixed in with leaves on top of the cardboard, the seaweed helps keep the leaves  from matting, and they break down faster together. If we can stand to do the work, shredding the leaves with a lawn mower or a weed wacker keeps them from matting and makes everything  much better.

Anyone else have thoughts on fall leaves under cardboard?



I'd be concerned about matting if they're all alone under there. On the other hand, an important job of the stuff under the cardboard is to attract worms, and sometimes leaves can do that. Also if there are a lot of seeds mixed in (like with our obnoxious Norway maples), putting them under the cardboard would help keep them from sprouting all over the place.
 
pollinator
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Nina, same here... quack grass is my worst... but bindweed is a close second.  Plus English ivy has been invading from my urban lot edges.  I also love black 'plastic'...the heavier, woven, UV resistant stuff, called 'silt fencing' here, and mandated around construction sites (sometimes they toss it, and I 'intercept' it ; )

It is what organic market gardeners use (see Curtis Stone, J.M. Fortier, and the Permaculture Orchardist - Sobokowski - all in Canada), and, as it never deteriorates into the soil, I doubt there's any kind of 'contamination'.

After a season of silt fencing on bindweed sites, it is very gratifying to lift it and pull the mass of white roots that have accumulated at the surface : )  (Of course, they'll be back... so regular clipping back at ground level is also necessary)

As for the English ivy, I just cut, prune and pull it out, make thick, long-lasting mats to use as biomass spot mulching.  It is pleasant because the ivy smells so sweet and spicy.

I must have sweetened up my soil a tad, because there's not much horsetail anymore (replaced by the ivy, I guess :)

(Probably OT, as I have a half acre suburban lot, but I'm going to try 'spot flame weeding' with a manual propane torch... in the current wet weather.
 
Nina Jay
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It may be that the amount of rain is one key factor in deciding what to use as mulch.

In a wet climate like mine (though last summer was a very dry exception, and these exceptions may become more normal as climate change advances)
the cardboard gets soaking wet in a few weeks and this makes it decompose a lot faster.

Also the slug problems I mentioned will be much worse in wet climates and probably not an issue in drier climates.

The plastic mulch I use is impenetrable to water and serves the double function of keeping the soil drier, thus giving the new seedlings a better start. I also find it's necessary in wet weather to make sure the adjacent areas are clean of weeds and not too lumpy: no place for the slugs to hide. For direct seeding I try to use the middle beds and avoid the peripheral beds where there's grass growing close by (slug habitat). It  also helps to keep the grass around the garden short. Still, I wouldn't try sowing carrots, lettuce or spinach next to grassy or newly mulched areas with lots of lumpy stuff. I find these seedlings to be adored by slugs... For many years I thought there was something wrong with my seeds when they didn't germinate. It turned out they probably did germinate but were immediately eaten by slugs. Thank you Charles Dowding, author of many organic no-dig gardening books for revealing this. Now I can finally grow carrots and spinach consistently.

 
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After a season of silt fencing on bindweed sites, it is very gratifying to lift it and pull the mass of white roots that have accumulated at the surface : )  (Of course, they'll be back... so regular clipping back at ground level is also necessary)  


This is the same results I have with quack grass. What I use is discarded wall to wall carpet.  I mow grass from my field and cover the area a foot deep then put the carpet on top.  rain soaks through the carpet and is not dried out by wind and sun.  Soil organisms break down everything under the carpet but the perennial roots so when I remove the carpet in the spring broad fork and raking removes the majority of the roots. Apply another layer of grass and the carpet and transplant in the edge between 2 pieces of carpet.
 
Ralph Kettell
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Good luck Ralph with your rocket oven! I have a blog post about rocket ovens (just an intro) in the works and I hope to get it out not next Monday but the following Monday. Next Monday will be a shorter blog post about the chop and drop method.

Thanks Daron!  My rocket oven s coming along and I will be ready to start posting photos in the next 2 weeks or so.  I am about to build and test the engine.  I have made several design mods to improve insulation and heat flow through the oven.  I plan on testing the oven without the final insulation installed so I can compare the heat distribution through the oven.  It is going to be a pretty tricked out oven and stand when it is finished.  For one thing I created a mounting system for the oven which does not rely on crushing the bottom rock wool insulation to support the weight of the oven.  I am also still designing adjustable shelves in the oven based on reworked shelves from an old oven.  All of it takes time and unfortunately I have a bunch of other projects that steal any free time.  

Can't wait to see your oven posts.

Sincerely,

Ralph
 
Daron Williams
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Thanks all for the comments! And good luck with your rocket oven Ralph!

About mulch and slugs... I have found that the areas I mulch heavily actually have less slugs than the areas where I have yet to mulch. Western Washington is known for slugs and I have a ton of them at my place.

A theory I have seen is that mulch also provides habitat for predators of slugs. In this area that includes a type of big black beetle and garter snakes.

What do you all think?
 
Nicole Alderman
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When I mulched with leaves, I got TONS of slugs. So many that they ate things before they even managed to grow all the way out of the ground. I've found slugs don't seem to like poultry bedding (pine shavings+duck poop) or woodchips as much. But, leaves really seem to harbor slugs, at least on my property.

So, I got ducks. Now I have nice mulch, eggs, and no more slugs!
 
Hans Quistorff
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A theory I have seen is that mulch also provides habitat for predators of slugs. In this area that includes a type of big black beetle and garter snakes.

What do you all think?


Just across the water from you, I have found that since I have been covering my grass mulch with carpet both the snakes and black beetles have increased and slugs have decreased. The mulch overwinters under the carpet which seems to be a more favorable habitat for the predators than the slugs and their eggs. In fact survival of slug eggs is probably the the major source of slug out breaks. My mother would pay neighbor children for bringing her garter snakes to put in the garden.
What have permies in other regions noted to be slug and slug egg predators?
 
Daron Williams
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Thanks for the comment Hans! I have really noticed an increase in the garter snake and black beetle populations in areas I have mulched. So far everywhere I have mulched has seen a decrease in slugs.

I'm really curious what permies in other areas have for slug predators - great question! I have heard that garter snakes in eastern Washington don't eat slugs. Apparently a study was done where eastern WA and western WA garter snakes were bred and some of the babies would eat slugs and some would not which made the researchers think that it was a genetic difference between the two garter snake populations.

I also heard from a person in Chicago that the black beetles were really good in his area at controlling slugs.

What have you all observed?
 
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Steve Thorn wrote:I keep them whole to provide the most coverage and put them down thick enough to block out other vegetation.



Sometimes whole works, sometimes they really need to be chopped or mixed with other materials. You really don't want to end up with an impermeable cake of leaves. I prefer various sized leaves, mixed, with pine needles or other filler to break it up.

I put down a thick layer of leaves over a new garden area last fall. Now, as the snow melts off I can see the leaves in some areas are a thick layer that just sheds water, while in other areas water soaks through to the ground. In another section, I nearly fell because I didn't notice that the leaves had formed a slippery mat where I was trying to walk (or wade!) through them.
 
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Steve Thorn wrote:Hey Daron, great informative post.

The downsides for me, like you mentioned in your blog, are if you want to plant there immediately, it can be hard to plant seeds with the leaves, or you can wait for a season for the plants below to die off.

Really enjoyed the post and blog!



Then transplant! That solves your seed issue.

The way I do it.

* Start seeds.
* Transfer seedlings to 4 or 6" pots for further development
* rake mulch cover away.
* using a post hole digger punch a hole thru the cardboard.
* Amend hole with compost/lime/amendments till full.
* plant transplant right on top of the hole.
* rake mulch back to surface of the potting soil.

Then stand back.

May take a bit more time that dropping seeds but you can start sooner and you save labor over the season. Weed suppression is already in place with the mulch. Fertilizing is mostly complete. etc.

If you still want to plant seeds my neighbor might have a solution. He removes the mulch from a spot plants the seed. Then covers the spot with a milk jug with the bottom cut off. Seems to work for him. (course it helps to have a few kids that drink milk like water to have a supply of jugs. Sigh...)
 
john mcginnis
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Nina Jay wrote:My experience of aggressive creeping weeds, like quack grass and creeping thistle,  is that the mulch has to be 40 cm thick at least and it has to stay that way for a year, ie. you have to keep adding it if it decomposes and shrinks.

If I don't have that much mulch I use black plastic mulch on top and keep it on for a full growing season. It is tempting to start growing sooner but it really pays to wait for a full year.

Cardboard + mulch on top does not IME make much difference, the cardboard decomposes a lot faster than the quack grass dies. So the amount of mulch on top needs to be about the same, with or without cardboard.

I know plastic mulch isn't the most permie solution... I'm not that fond of it ideologically speaking. I've learnt to tolerate it because it's durable (I use UV-resistant black plastic mulch for professional veg growers) and lasts many years, doesn't tear, can be removed in one piece and reused and finally recycled after use, and you don't need much of it, one roll would be enough for most home gardeners for a life time.

Compare this with importing big quantities of manure and wood chips and I think it is not easy to say what is better. Applying large quantities of organic matter is labour-intensive and transporting them from far consumes more natural resources than transporting a roll of plastic mulch due to much larger volume and weight. On the other hand, the organic materials are good for the soil so you are importing nutrients too.

On my farm, I mainly rely on composted manure & bedding from my own animals and plastic mulch on top of it, until I find a better way

Whatever I do, I am careful not to dig, because I find it just makes the weed problem worse.




I put down billboard vinyl. Yes its plastic but its at least 40mils thick and can be reused. (one is 6yo and still usable.) I container garden right on top of it with pots and grow bags. Move it all the next year in another spot.
 
john mcginnis
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Mike Jay wrote:

Daron Williams wrote:Good point about the chickens - are your chickens free range?

 Yup.  Their favorite thing is to go around just after the missus has raked the wood chips back onto the flower beds and kick it all back off again.  Some day we'll outsmart them.



Reverse the cycle. Put some cracked corn in the spots you want the mulch removed. Chickens do the work. Plant your seeds. Put a barrier fence up to keep the chickens out.
 
Mike Jay Haasl
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I think it's easier to skooch the chips away and plant myself.  Then I can disturb the soil/mulch for a few seconds instead of having the chickens tear it up.  But it all depends on your goals (and your chickens).
 
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i have done a lot of sheet mulching but unlike most of the posters here i add a lot of soil on top of the sheet mulch, more similar to "Lasagna"  gardening.

so it might be - thick cardboard 4-5 layers thick, super thick...then wood chips/leaves/straw/sawdust/grass clippings/branches etc...next layer - manure/compost etc...then screened local soil /bag soil/ top soil for the top...which then may be topped sooner or later with more straw/and or woodchips.

well i do different things in different places, but this is the most common way i build new beds starting with lawn.... sometimes i will remove top layer of sod/weeds...or dig down before starting(then screen this soil back to the top of the bed)
...and sometimes just on top of mowed grass/weeds....with rocks or logs to define the edge of a slightly raised bed.

agree- water and keeping the layers wet is the key to this working best, i usually do it slowly and timed with the rains..... or water by hand frequently and wait some time in between putting down the layers.

extra tip - a simple and free ish slug deterant is to leave some loose boards around in the garden, beside desireable edibles. just leave boards, say slightly propped up on the edge of the raised bed...or whatever else.

the next day pick up the boards slowly and almost guaranteed there will be a few slugs who are stuck to the bottom of  the board, which you can now remove.
 
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I leave either some logs in a pile or stones, every 50' or so. Initially there are tons of slugs. Then there are tons of toad turds and few slugs. then there are blacksnakes and few toads. then there is a nice little balance.
 
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We decided to plant a few things in a 10x10 spot in our back yard this year.  My father decided to plant a garden at his place this year as well.  My brother in law brought over his tiller and they tilled a nice spot, planted 5 rows about 25 feet long and put a fence around it.  You can barely see some of the plants for the bermuda and crab grass.

I didn't till.  I mowed the grass really close in the selected area, then hit it with the weed eater to get it even shorter.  After putting up a chicken wire fence to keep my dogs from tromping through it, I put down a layer of grass clippings and last year's leaves, followed by a double layer of cardboard boxes, then more grass clippings.  After my seedlings grew big enough, I simply cut holes in the cardboard and transferred the seedlings.  I've had very little grass try to come up where I cut holes for my seedlings, and while the cardboard is definitely softening up, it hasn't fallen apart yet.  Each time I mow, I wait a couple days for the grass to dry, then rake it up and add it to my garden area.  My plants are doing well, and I have no weeds.

It has been an extremely wet year here in Southeast Missouri, but I have compared soil moisture in the yard to soil moisture in the garden area after a few sunny days and I will have to say that the garden area is definitely retaining moisture longer between rains.  The carpet of dry grass and leaves looks pretty sweet, and I like that I'm not battling weeds, bermuda grass, and crab grass.  My Dad grew up on a farm and was involved in agricultural sales most of his adult life.  He frowned and grunted when I turned down his offer of the tiller and told him what I was doing instead.  In his mind, a garden is bare dirt with plants in nice rows and no weeds.  Anything else is too hippy for him.  Oh yes, and he thinks I'm crazy because I didn't spray Roundup first.

We are preparing for a future garden area at our homestead while in the process of building our house there.  We have raked and raked leaves to compost.  Amazing how quickly they start breaking down.  I dug up the topsoil where we started laying deadfall logs and branches from clearing the land to start hugulkultur beds.  The leaf mulch and topsoil will be put on top.  Didn't make sense to me to leave that nice, beautiful topsoil full of organic matter and worms under the beds.

 
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