Trace Oswald wrote:Elle, most people that mulch heavily use a resource that is available in their area that is free. Lots of people use wood chips. Wood chips are the premier mulch in my opinion, and can be had for free most places. I don't have a source that will deliver them, so I have hauled many, many pickup loads that I loaded by hand. It seems most things in life cost time or money :) I have done an area larger than yours, but it is a lot of work up front. In the summer months, I haul 4 or 5 pickup loads a week.
If you don't have a large amount of some type of free mulch available, it may be better for you to use cover crops instead. I think mulch works better, but as you've found, there is a point beyond which it just isn't feasible unless you find a company willing to deliver wood chips to your location.
One other thing I have done is to use sawdust on my garden paths. It doesn't break down into soil very quickly, but it suppresses weeds and is usually available free. It does help keep moisture in and will become soil eventually.
Eric Hanson wrote:hairy vetch. If you want a LOT of mulch and a LOT of fixed nitrogen in your soil, then hairy vetch might just be for you. It is among the very highest nitrogen fixer of just about any plant. It will also give you heaps and heaps of mulching material. It will also grow in long vines and cover everything in its path if you are not careful!
Eric Hanson wrote:Trace,
I did not know that chickens love it. That is some great synergy we could get going. Do the chickens tend to tame it for you?
Eric Hanson wrote:Elle,
I was about to recommend you plant a cover crop, but I see that Trace beat me to it! At the very least, you could plant a low-growing cover crop in your walking paths and that will at least keep the dust from blowing around. If you were so inclined, perhaps you could devote some portion of your beds to growing cover crops for at least part of the season. Three crops come to mind that are annuals and might help you out. The first is buckwheat. Buckwheat will grow fast and as long as you mow it before going to seed, it will give you plenty of material for a mulch. The second is Crimson Clover. This will produce a lot of mulch also, but also fix a very nice quantity of nitrogen for you. Again, the mow-before-seeding rule applies. The final cover crop I will mention is hairy vetch. If you want a LOT of mulch and a LOT of fixed nitrogen in your soil, then hairy vetch might just be for you. It is among the very highest nitrogen fixer of just about any plant. It will also give you heaps and heaps of mulching material. It will also grow in long vines and cover everything in its path if you are not careful! Some people are put off by hairy vetch's rather rude and unruly growing habits. On the other hand, some are willing to overlook this, maybe even desire it as it is grows a lot of valuable compost/mulch in a short amount of time. That mulch/compost is also pretty high in nutrients. It can work but you do have to keep after it. Personally, if I were really desperate for a LOT of material to get quickly, I would consider hairy vetch and just try my best to flip the growing vines back into the appropriate bed and not let it take over the garden.
These are only 3 possible cover crops. I mentioned these three because they are easy to grow and will produce a lot of biomass quickly. Crimson Clover and Hairy Vetch will also fix a lot of nitrogen for you. For your paths, you might consider Dutch White Clover. This grows close to the ground and also fixes nitrogen.
These are only suggestions and there are numerous other options you may wish to consider. And of course, as always, if you have any other questions, please ask.
Bryant RedHawk wrote:If you can get the round bales pretty cheaply come spring or even summer, that would be the time to get as many as you can and just store the ones you don't use immediately.
I limit my beds to 4 foot wide and 70 feet long since we are raising all our beds for easier access for us as we age.
One way we do this is to straw bale garden many of our vegetables, gets the plants up to a good height for us and after two years we just plop down new bales on top of the old ones.
These beds are now getting cinder block surrounds so I can do two rows of blocks which will give us seating when working on the beds.
The straw is treated with spent coffee grounds then watered until saturated, this goes on for three to four weeks to get the bales started composting internally.
When we plant we make a hole and fill it with soil, this means that once the bales have disintegrated they are more like compost and after three sets of bales in the surrounds, we have great garden soil that we have been using as we were filling up the bed.
round bales are great since you can usually just open them and roll them out, super for long garden beds, and they are normally the right width too. (here they are 40 to 70 dollars since they are hay, straw only comes in square bales at 6 dollars each for nice tight bales)
Mike Jay wrote:Our garden is 60'x120'. We mulch the paths with about 5 trailer loads of wood chips every 2-3 years. We mulch the beds in the fall with chipped up leaves and grass clippings from our 1/2 acre yard. Judging by your pictures, fall leaves may not be in tremendous supply for you? If there's a town/city nearby where the residents bag up their leaves, that's a great source for material.
Our supply of leaves and clippings end up about 2" deep. By spring they are much thinner.
Are there grass lands around that you could harvest material from with a scythe? Or the side of the road? Just thinking outside the box a bit here...
Eric Hanson wrote:Elle,
I am just curious, what cover crops did you plant? I am afraid that when I last posted I did not see that you are in Wyoming. Certainly you have much higher aridity than I do in Southern Illinois. Could you plant something like a Sorghum hybrid? These tend to like a drier environment.
You mentioned irrigation. Irrigation is sometimes a contentious topic on this site, but personally I believe that if you do need water, you need it. I have had some very good luck with drip line irrigation. I can lay out a 450' (though I rarely go any larger than 100') long soaker line that has one 1/2 Ga/hr pressure compensating emitter per foot. These are not terribly expensive, and they just slowly ooze water gently into the soil. Ideally, you want a mulch over it, but there is no reason you can't just lay it down and let it soak into the ground. If 1/2 Ga/hr is not enough, you can lay a 250' line of 1Ga/hr emitters per foot. If you did decide to go this route just to get your cover crop off the ground, I would lay the lines zigzagging a cross the ground. The will make little moist spots in the ground and these will spout fourth your cover crop. Once your cover crop gets started, you could rearrange the tubing so that it hits different areas and keep irrigating, or if you get a really dry-tolerant ground cover, just stop.
I did a brief online search for cover crops that might work in your area. What I found as possibilities are sorghum-Sudan grass, yellow clover, Austrian winter peas, and rye. I have no idea if you tried any of these, but they might be worth a shot. Further, I think you will have luck with your drip line irrigation. Just out of curiosity, how much access to water do you have?
Let me know if any of this sound remotely helpful. Sorry to hear that your previous cover cropping did not go as planed. I silver lining though is your orchard. I am not surprised that your plants did better near the trees. If plants are water-stressed, trees will give a nice bit of shade during the worst time of the day.
Let us know how things go,
Su Ba wrote:A suggestion of another possible option..............
Elle, do you have land that you're not using, and importantly, could mowed with a lawnmower? My line of thinking is to harvest the weeds for mulch. Just mow them down before they go to seed. Using a grass catcher could give you a trashcanful of clippings in 8 to 15 minutes time, depending upon how thick the greenery is growing.
I get permission to mow some of my neighbors' land, just so I can gather grass clippings. One neighbor doesn't pay me to do the mowing, but that's ok. I'll mow his place last on the list whenever I need more mulch. But two of the neighbors will actually pay me a bit. The one with the orchard pays me the most, so he's number one on my mowing list. I keep his orchard looking tidy. The second neighbor doesn't pay me as much per hour so he's second in the list. The zero pay guy is at the bottom of my priorities, but his grass comes in handy during the summer when I need the mulch the most.
I know you have kids, so maybe you can't do mowing. A thought would be to pay local teen so much $ per trashcanful of grass clippings. Don't know if that would work. Around my area kids don't want to work for spending money anymore, like they did when I was growing up. I offered young people here $1 per trashcanful of grass clippings or brush clippings, but I got no takers. I up'ed it to $2 and still no takers.
Eric Hanson wrote:Elle, sounds like a tough area to grow in!
But you do have at least some success, some things can grow, and best of all, you are a trier.
If I had to guess, your sprinkler did not do too much for your trees. Sprinklers do a good job of getting the air a little bit more humid (that is, most of the water evaporates well before soaking in in case I was not clear). Sun and wind will probably ruin your sprinkler-watering plans. Personally, I loved the drip irrigator. It delivers plenty of water, but does not lose much to evaporation. I bet that if you can get your lines on the ground, you can keep the soil moist enough for a cover crop to take. At that point, the cover crop and irrigation will be helping each other--water helping grow the crop while the crop shades and protects the land. In fact, I bet that you can get that sparse clover to close in better. Best of all, you can do this without spraying massive amounts of water into the air just to evaporate almost instantaneously.
I am not surprised that there are some pretty tight watering restrictions in your area. Do you get metered or how are you regulated on water usage--or do the neighbors just give you the evil eye when you are watering (joking, mostly). I am lucky that I live in the more humid part of the country (lucky for water usage that is, the heat with all the humidity we get is sometimes appalling. You would not think that you could get to nearly 100% humidity and not have rain, but we have had summers when we had high heat, extremely high humidity and strangely, drought!) in that I can get pretty much as much water as I need, and more importantly, it stays around unlike the water near you.
Have you tried cowpeas?
Out of curiosity, how much snow do you get? Did your 11 inches include melt water from snow?
Eric Hanson wrote:Elle,
What type of mower is your tractor mower? Is is a rear rough cutter? a finish mower? A sickle bar mower?
Samantha Lewis wrote:Hi Elle,
Looks like you have animals there. If you remove all their old bedding, and put it on your garden bed, that will feed your garden now so you can plant in spring. Bed them fresh and when it gets dirty add it to the garden bed. That way all the mulch/straw/hay you do have to buy or transport you can be using it twice. first they sleep on it and inoculate it with poop and then it feeds your garden. Also used stall bedding stays in place a lot better in the wind
Joylynn Hardesty wrote:Regarding Cowpeas...
The company you linked has chosen the 'right' variety! Not all cowpeas are equal for a cover crop. Iron and clay are advertised as having "Sprawling vines" at southern exposure seed exchange. (Linked for variety references, not affordability!) There are varieties listed as "half long" or "semi-bush" that wouldn't be as good for cover cropping, but do well for people who like to have walkways in their gardens.
All the cowpeas I have grown survive our seasonal drought, which is only two months here, and um, 70 inches of rain annually. But I hope this is helpful anyway.
Tj Jefferson wrote:Elle,
I don't miss those conditions honestly. It's really hard. I hope I don't sound negative, but the thing you need is time. Those depleted and fast-draining soils need to incorporate what little carbon is formed into subsurface organic matter. If you have not already, I recommend Gabe Brown's work on this. He relies on cattle to drive the organic matter in using density, and he has now incredibly productive soil in his acreage. This is all based on Alan Savory's work. It sounds wrong at first because you are losing so much forage to trampling, but you are making deposits in the soil bank which pay off big time down the road.
How can you do that in your little garden? That's for you to figure out. I think I would go with a one-year pig plan, assume it will take a year to get soil from dirt. Keep them in the place you want for a garden and feed them corn like Joel Salatin's piggerator concept. It will take a lot of hay for one year, but a good part of that will stay around. Can you make biochar to get the piggies to mix in while they work? You might have to bury little caches of corn to get them to till for you. Carbon near the surface in that climate goes back into the atmosphere so quickly without cover. I used to garden in Colorado in a similar climate and we used to cover it in winter to keep from losing carbon with cardboard. I never tried that in summer but I bet it would work, and it's pretty cheap. Doesn't look too nice but whatever.
The other mulch you may be able to use is rock mulch. Very effective but heavy. It also can act as a windbreak but provides homes for rattlensakes and vermin. Eventually we quit that due to ground squirrel infestation.
Compaction is a problem for us having such heavy clay soil.
Tj Jefferson wrote:
Compaction is a problem for us having such heavy clay soil.
The compaction is a problem if there is no organic matter down deep. The clay particles start turning into sedimentary rock basically because they start forming sheets which you can see when you dig it kind of flakes up. Once it is compacted you might have to broadfork it a little, but that hardpan is working to decrease evaporation too, you can kind of use it as a pseudo rock mulch. If you are that compacted the other relatively cheap fix is gypsum, which would go in at the same time, and let the piggies get it worked in. It's mined in SW Wyoming, been there many times. There are threads on here with people breaking up salvage drywall sheets for that too which is cheap if someone is renovating near there.
I had real compaction here, and I had to figure out why and then maybe it wouldn't just reoccur. For me it was rain on bare soil. The fix was to let the vegetation cover it, but you aren't able to even get weed cover probably for that purpose. If it is from animals, then once you fork it and keep them off, as long as you get roots into it, you should be golden. That and some compost tea to get microbes deep into the soil (one time application) should get you going. I use tillage radishes over the winter, they might work for you. I can say the first year they looked ridiculous and grew up not down, but each year they get further into the soil. Again a one-time disturbance might be just the thing. I resisted tilling, but I think it would have been a good idea in retrospect.
I guess based on what you are describing, maybe broadfork in some corn and then put the pigs on there for a week to turn it, then seed your garden. Never let it be rootless, that is the Gabe Brown approach, with as much litter as possible for the cover.
Eric Hanson wrote:Elle,
I would be willing to bet that if you can get tiller radishes to grow you could get other cover crops to grow in close proximity with them. Maybe the tiller radishes could be an important stepping stone to getting a decent cover crop established.
It certainly is a good thing you are a trier.