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Sheet mulching vs. mulching

Steve Nicolini


Joined: Nov 15, 2008
Posts: 224
So I am considering sheet mulching an area with four fruit trees standing in a line.  We have a ton of hay on the way and I am wondering if the cardboard will keep the nutrient rich water from reaching the tree roots.  The trees aren't in the best shape right now and my first concern is saving them.

Would it be better to just mulch really thick?  Does the cardboard serve any purpose other than to kill the grass?

Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
As far as I've been able to tell, the cardboard is mainly useful for cutting off light to weeds and weed seeds. That alone will prevent some types of weeds from sprouting, will help to rot some other kinds, and will help to stress some of the perennial types and reduce the store of food in their roots.

However, I think that a thick enough mulch will do the same thing.  If you haven't got a goodly amount of mulch, then use the cardboard and cover with what mulch you have.

But unless the hay is mixed with manure, the nutrients won't be breaking down awfully fast --- probably about as fast as the cardboard will.  Cardboard that is kept moist (even in fall/winter/spring) will rot faster than cardboard that manages to dry out (even just on top).  Cardboard under rocks (placed to hold the cardboard down to kill weeds because you don't have any mulch) will rot faster than exposed cardboard.

Keep the mulch away from the trunk of the tree to avoid rot and rodent damage, and if you can, spread it about 1.5 times as far from the trunk as the dripline.

I can't see mulch of any kind having any negative effect on your trees, and esp in warm, dry weather, it will help prevent the stresses of switching between too wet and too dry.  Check the trees for dead wood and prune it off, and get it away from the trees.  If any are fruit trees, try to remove all fallen fruit as soon as it falls, or let animals in to clean it up, as many pests multiply through fallen fruit.

Sue
Jocelyn Campbell
steward

Joined: Nov 09, 2008
Posts: 2454
Location: Missoula, MT
    
  60
Okay, this group has great information, so I have to ask something about sheet mulching with cardboard or newspaper. Is there any concern about the ink and glues in paper and cardboard? I know many newspaper inks changed to soy instead of lead in the last decade, but did all of them? And what about ink and glues in cardboard?

I won't necessarily be sheet mulching at my condo, but I do plan on restarting my worm bin for my containers and using paper or cardboard in a worm bin presents similar concerns for me.


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Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
I can only say what I suspect.

I suspect that the plain black printing on cardboard is probably the same soy-based ink that is used in newspapers, simply because it's pretty cheap.

I suspect that the very bright, very dense color on slick paper that is attached to some boxes may have chemical contaminants in the print, because the color IS the contaminant in some forms of printing.

Here is a list of toxic pigments. http://captainpackrat.com/furry/toxicity.htm
But many of them have been replaced with non-toxic synthetics, so how do you know which was used?

If anyone finds anything definite on this (one way or the other), please post.

Sue
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14855
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I've touched onto this topic about 40 times.

I think it would be great to find a web page that has a definitive answer, but I suspect we won't see something like that for a long, long time.  So when it comes to using cardboard and newspaper as mulch, here are my general impressions:

The ink:  as Susan pointed out - the plain, black ink is usually considered fine by most folks and the color inks are usually avoided by most folks. 

The glue that holds the bits of paper together:  for those that don't know, nearly all paper and cardboard is made from from a wood/fiber pulp that has some glues in it.  The pulp is pressed into paper.  This is the part that really concerns me.  I have read reports that the glues break down into formaldehyde and other materials (including some other toxins). 

Some papers and glues are considered to be of higher quality - they will last longer, or be shinier or ... has some other quality.  These "higher quality" papers/cardboards tend to have even more toxic stuff in them.  You might even smell the paper and think it smells like chemicals.  Have you ever opened a magazine and encountered a chemically smell?  That's what I'm talking about. 

So, the number one reason I don't use paper or cardboard is because of the paper glue. 

But!  There's more!

It doesn't take much paper/cardboard to be "too much".  They can mat into a layer of ....  stuff that air and water have a difficult time penetrating.  This can suffocate and dehydrate the very plant you are trying to help!

Overall - I never use paper or cardboard for a mulch.  I know that I am in a minority on this issue.  There are many big, big, superhero names in the permaculture world that use paper and cardboard for mulch all the time.  Including Mollison, Holzer and Stamets.  However, I also know that I am not alone.  I would guess about 30% of the permaculture community refuses to use paper/cardboard mulch.

If you have hay, I cannot imagine why you would think for even one second of using anything other than hay.  I was talking with Albert Posthema about this very topic last night and I think he said it best:  "If you have hay, use hay.  Hay is perfect!"


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Steve Nicolini


Joined: Nov 15, 2008
Posts: 224
I like it... hay I mean.  Not cardboard. 
Kelda Miller


Joined: Jun 30, 2007
Posts: 763
No way. Use Straw. Hay is full of seeds, so you're going to get a lot of grass growing.

BUT if you have hay in abundance maybe use it and it'll be easy to rip out what sprouts, and then mulch the area with those weeds.

I'm also a permie that selectively uses cardboard. Only with big areas that need major weed suppression.

If the area is small, then weeding it by hand, then mulching, is less work then digging those ditches for the cardboard to go perpindicular in along the edge. I will however use the ditch/cardboard method on the side of the bed that butts up to weedy/lawn/neighbors-fence-with-weeds-coming in. As a barrier.

If the area is large, but doesn't need major weed suppression, I'd just mulch and mulch and mulch. Any weeds that come up through that will be easy to pull.


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paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14855
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Straw has exactly the same amount of seeds as hay. 

My experience with either is that stuff grows out of about 5% of it.  So if something pops out of any, just throw more hay/straw on it.

Steve Nicolini


Joined: Nov 15, 2008
Posts: 224
Mulch is the answer.  More hay!

Anyone in western WA have a good source for wet hay or straw?
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
Maybe you could put an ad in your local FreeCycle or Craigslist for spoiled hay or straw.  I understand that cattle will eat questionable hay, but horses are more finicky.  Know any horse people or stables?

Sue
Steve Nicolini


Joined: Nov 15, 2008
Posts: 224
Well I have met a few via telephone during my search for wet hay.  One gal told me she would drop it off and never showed! 

I have an ad out now and I've been getting about one call per week. 

You know those round bales that weigh about 1/2 ton?  Do you think 5 people could roll those on the ground?  This guy called today and he has those bales and a trailer to move them with.  Maybe a winch?
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
You may be able to lever those big bales off a truck.  Ask the guy who wants to get rid of them.  Some farmers have old boom trucks for things like that. 

Once they're on the ground, I wonder if you could unroll them?  They may kind of flake off like a grass mat unrolling, but I'm not sure.  Has anyone ever watched them rolling them up at harvest?

Sue

Kelda Miller


Joined: Jun 30, 2007
Posts: 763
Not like it matters too much, but the definition of straw is, Paul,
"an agricultural by-product, the dry stalk of a cereal plant, after the grain or seed has been removed."

I mean noone really makes 'hay' bale houses for a reason.

But whatever you can get I think is great. A big roll sounds like a mother lode!
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14855
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Well, I'd be interested to know your source on that.

My impression is gonna be a lot rougher. 

"Hay" is green and generally fed to critters. 

"Straw" is yellow or brown and generally used as absorbent bedding.

They can be the same plant harvest at different times. 

Oats are a great example.  When cut green, dried and baled, it can be used for years as animal feed.  If you wait until the oats go dormant the stalks dry, you can cut it, bale it and use it as as straw.

The baling is actually optional.

Usually, when green, the seed heads are not mature enough to germinate as seeds - but there may be weed seeds in the hay.

Usually, a combine is run on the oat field of mature oats and the grains are harvested.  The combine header is passed just below the seed heads, making less work for the combine to process seed heads and leaving behind more (longer) straw  to be harvested.

Within the straw, there can still be weed seeds, but more frequently will be the oat seed heads from the oat plants that didn't grow as tall as most.  Plus, sometimes the combine operator accidentally cuts a patch too high and leaves some grain (seed) behind. 

This knowledge is drawn from my having driven combines for several years, plus doing a lot of hay/straw cutting, raking, baling for many more years.  And using it for animal feed/bedding for even more years.  And for using either as mulch for even more years than that. 

In fact, one time a neighbor had a beautiful oat field.  I asked the neighbor if he had plans for the straw - he said I could have it.  He called me one day to say that his combine was broken and that he would like me to come get the straw right away - complete with the seed heads in tact. 

So we had bales of straw loaded with oats.  When using it as mulch, about 5% of the time a big gob of oats would germinate and spring up. 

So ....  you might see why I question the definition you found.  Perhaps, for the sake of brevity, they left out some of the finer points of what is hay vs. what is straw.

Steve Nicolini


Joined: Nov 15, 2008
Posts: 224
So if someone tells me they have hay, they might be talking about straw.  And visa versa.  Maybe its just potato potaato?  Different strokes for different folks? 
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14855
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
Some people are easily confused.  Mostly because they don't have a lot of experience with it. 

I once baled a lot of lousy hay.  It was on the border between hay and straw. 

I would have to say that the definition of hay would be something like cutting green stuff, drying it and setting it aside to be used as food many months later.  Usually this is grass or alfalfa.  But I've seen it done with other stuff - and read about even more stuff.

I would have to say that the definition of straw would be something like cutting brown/yellow/already-dry stuff and setting it aside to be used as bedding many months later.  This is usually the stuff that is the grass-like stems that propped up some grain that has already been harvested.  But I have read about "pine straw" too.  And while I've never heard of anybody doing it, I suppose there are lots of things that could end up going down straw road if the opportunity presented itself.

Oh!  And I left out that hay typically has a carbon to nitrogen ration of 30:1 - perfect for composting!  Instant compost - just add water!  Straw typically has a carbon to nitrogen ratio of 300:1 - add water and you have something like leaf mold:  matted stuff that rots very slowly. 



Kelda Miller


Joined: Jun 30, 2007
Posts: 763
My sources on the difference between hay and straw come from the natural building movement. As I said above, people don't build hay bale houses for a reason. I think it was the Cobworks guy who first described to me why only straw is used when building cob, not hay.

Both of those building projects don't want seeds sprouting.

The definition I used above was just from wikipedia, the one for hay is "grass or legumes that have been cut, dried, and stored for use as animal feed". No mention of grain or seed being removed. But that's wikipedia, which I am open to taking with a grain of salt.

As for the carbon ratio: that's why straw bales make such great urinals!! They have so much carbon that they can take all that urine and decompose it without stinking up the place. A hay bale would break down much faster and nitrogen might overload it.

I hear what you guys are saying though, definitely. Out in the field, on the combine, the distinction between hay and straw might not be that clearcut. (Is that a pun?)

BUT, from the consumer end, with something as detail oriented as building a house, that's a really big deal. In all the permaculture courses I've been a part of teaching, we have a straw/hay definition discussion. This is so students don't build a cob oven that turns into a chia pet.

For the mulching project though, I say whatever you can get to help you mulch. And really, the seeds that come up from hay will most likely be annuals that will work great as a cover crop, as you say. But if you had a source for straw you may not have to deal with seedlings much at all.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14855
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
I think one would definitely want to use straw instead of hay for cob (or bale houses) because straw rots FAR slower than hay.

straw bale urinals:  Kelda, would you say this is a guys only thing?  I remember another thread here a month or two ago when my assumptions about women in an outhouse turned out to be terribly wrong. 

As for discussion about defining hay vs. straw during a course:  this is a point I would be extra obnoxious about.  I could probably fill three or four pages on why the seeds in hay would be about the same as straw.  In fact, organic straw would contain more weeds than organic hay!  The preference for straw over hay has everything to do with the carbon to nitrogen ratio and nothing to do with seed count.  And if anybody says anything to the contrary, I would gladly enter into a six hour discussion about it. 

As for the chia pet factor:  the seeds would need to imbibe water before they can germinate.  And then when they get to a certain size, they would need nutrients.  Hay would provide about 10 times more nutrients than straw. 

Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
Steve Nicolini wrote:
Well I have met a few via telephone during my search for wet hay.  One gal told me she would drop it off and never showed! 

I have an ad out now and I've been getting about one call per week. 

You know those round bales that weigh about 1/2 ton?  Do you think 5 people could roll those on the ground?  This guy called today and he has those bales and a trailer to move them with.  Maybe a winch?


I just purchased and rolled off one of those roundbales from my trailer today. a lighter one, prob. 900lbs, and I am a 130 lb woman. its harder on soft ground or deep grass but you jsut have to get it rocking and then once it starts rolling keep it going till it is where you want. if you need to turn it "bounce" it against a stop  ( I use a cinder block) place the block in the rolling path on the side in the direction you want to turn it. and every time you bounce it against the block it will turn a little.

I use hay for mulch it beat everything IMO. good hay has very little seeds. If it is full of seeds it was cut too late.


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"One cannot help an involuntary process. The point is not to disturb it. - Dr. Michel Odent
                                


Joined: Dec 13, 2008
Posts: 2
yo,
as a natural builder and a permie I would recommend mulching with straw for various reasons.  1, I think straw is capable of holding more moisture and shape and would be a better mulch.  I agree with that about 5% usually sprouts from straw.  Hay I would guess has considerabley more seed and has more nitrogen in it (hay is a pretty loose term, could be alfalfa which is a legume, or a grass....hay is basically animal fodder).  If you are mulching with hay, you could expect some considerable nutrients to be released by nitro getting washed off, but won't give as much of a fluff over the long run because it will be breaking down relatively fast.  Straw does release a lot of tannins when its wet, but I have never heard of them being a problem or a really great contributer to overall soil nutrient levels.  I have had good experiences mulching with straw with horse shit added.  I have also heard of several people who just mulch with horse shit.

Hay is not used in natural building because
1. it is not a waste product and is more useful as animal fodder
2. it will degrade MUCH faster than straw (even with a clay preservative)
3. it is more expensive and less available in a lot of places. 

My recommendation would be to use straw as a mulch to retain moisture (as well as an insulator to protect against harsh colds) and if you want to add nutrients make a straw/compost or shit mixture......happy mulching!
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
If you're using it for mulch, use whatever you can get your hands on.

Some people think there are fewer seeds in straw than there is in hay, but the combine and baler and time of cutting all make a difference.  Both can have seeds, or both can have few seeds. Seeds of most plants need to be mature before they will sprout, and grass cut before the seed heads are mature won't produce many weeds.  Straw is older and tends to have mature seeds heads, and it seems that if it does have many seeds, more tend to sprout.

Just pile it on deep enough and nothing much will sprout.

Sue
Steve Nicolini


Joined: Nov 15, 2008
Posts: 224
"use whatever you can get your hands on."

That's what I'm talking about Sue.  It looks like there are ups and downs to both hay and straw. 

Maybe I will mulch two of the apple trees with hay, and the other apple and peach with straw.  Then observe and collect data.  Then I can come to a conclusion to which is better... for my garden. 
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
There's your focus... YOUR garden.

Gardening is an ongoing experiment and learning experience.

Sue
                                                    


Joined: Dec 23, 2008
Posts: 6
Steve Nicolini wrote:
So I am considering sheet mulching an area with four fruit trees standing in a line.  We have a ton of hay on the way and I am wondering if the cardboard will keep the nutrient rich water from reaching the tree roots.  The trees aren't in the best shape right now and my first concern is saving them.

Would it be better to just mulch really thick?  Does the cardboard serve any purpose other than to kill the grass?




We have tried a variety of methods of mulching on our smallholding (extracts were published in Winter 2008 Permaculture Works, see my blog here for the full article http://bellapermaculture.multiply.com/journal/item/30)

We assume that you are planting into an existing ecosystem, ie grassland, because this is a system it is a stable state. What you are trying to do is alter that to a different state i.e. a woodland. So you need to try to alter the feedback mechanisms that retain the characteristics of the grassland ie the make up of the soil, the relationships of all the individual elements that hold this in it's particular state. So, what we have found the quickest and easiest way to do this for trees in grassland is to use black plastic mulch not grass based materials (such as hay) which are part of the normal grass based cycle, perpetuating the grass based eco system.

We prefer the black plastic mulch over the cardboard mulching (for reasons see link above) when planting trees. Black Plastic sheet mulch for growing trees is really effective, much more so than cardboard mulch no matter how you do it.

Although there are still problems even with black plastic mulching on our site, we have found that short tailed voles ring bark saplings, they make nests and burrows under the plastic sheeting, but so far we have been fortunate. Each time the short tailed voles only damage a proportion of trees which do recover although they don't thrive as well. We learned to plastic mulch over the entire area and not to make 'collars' of mulch around our trees, because the 'collars', it seems, are perfect short tailed vole habitat. Under the collars they ring bark trees where you can not see the damage until the sapling is dead.

This no-dig, no-weed sustainable cardboard mulch method was developed in Australia in a woodland setting. A subtropical country with lots of sunlight, therefore less possibility of aggressive persistent agricultural weeds than we have throughout the UK. Black plastic mulch does photodegrade In our experience it photo-degrades when it is in the sunshine, it is does not photodegrade as quickly when shaded as the plant saplings grow through it. So we still have to cover it to prevent it disintegrating but only with a thin layer of material. It only takes six months to photo-degrade uncovered, but it will last years mulched over with organic materials. Black plastic mulch covers better than cardboard IF we ensure that we weight both edges of each 'run' down with heavy stones.

The other major advantage we have found with using black plastic mulch over straw/cardboard mulching for growing trees is that the fungal associates do appear to establish rapidly. We suspect that this is due to reduction in evaporation from the earth surface. We assume this would be advantageous in your situation. We found rapid growth of the trees resulting from using black plastic mulch.

'will keep the nutrient rich water from reaching the tree roots'.

We are not sure what you mean by this. What nutrient rich water? Trees don't necessarily directly gain their nutrition via their roots, they need a mediator ie arbuscular mycorrhizae

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arbuscular_mycorrhizae

We argue that plastic sheet mulch is the quickest, most effective way to achieve rapid establishment. However, before all our fellow permies scream and rant at us, we see using plastic mulch as a relatively short term process; a means to an end. It is compatible with Permaculture techniques and ethics (use appropriate technology). In your situation, where you are only planting four trees, you could even recycle old plastic bags or black plastic films that have been used in farming. Transporting straw, cardboard, etc which has to be frequently replaced over the lifetime of the saplings has got significant negative impacts on the environment too. Use what you have, or what you can get very locally.


Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
I can't get anything but oat straw. never heard of anything else ever being called straw. anything else baled and not suitable for animal consumption is just considered bad hay. now in reality I have gone to buy hay and looked at it and said "that hay is more like straw, I'm not buying it". it isnt' straw but it is worth as much and that is probably where the confusion sets in.

hay decays much faster and to me that is a benefit unless the only goal is long term weed control. for me it is half weed control and and half soil improvement.
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
One problem with black plastic is that it perforates very easily.  If you put it on rocky ground, pressure from above (walking, rolling equipment) perforates it.  Where I live, running grass is a real problem, and it finds every hole. 

Another problem with plastic is that, sooner or later, you have to pull it up.  And by the time you do this, that thin layer of mulch has shifted and exposed the plastic to UV light and it is breaking apart.

Plastic may seem like a solution in the beginning, but it eventually becomes part of the problem.

I know all this firsthand because it was the favorite method of supposed weed suppression on this property before I bought it.  In the last ten years, I have spent a lot of time picking and pulling up pieces of plastic that could have been better used for constructive work.

Sue
Leah Sattler


Joined: Jun 26, 2008
Posts: 2603
I am not a fan of the black plastic either. For one it doesn't do any better job in my opinion at suppressing weeds for the reasons sue stated. It does nothing to contribute to the soil either, and its a bitch to get back up when you are finally fed up with it. With all the stuff grown thru it anchoring it to the ground and just when you think you have it all back up you will try to plant something somewheres and will find more of it. I am buying big round bales  for my garden to lay it to rest until the future owner of my house wants it...or destroys it  ops:

I have this idea floating around in my head of spraying some kind of extra gluey stuff on the hay as its being rolled and being able to have nice sheets of hay that can be moved easily to use as mulch and for soil retention.
Steve Nicolini


Joined: Nov 15, 2008
Posts: 224
extra gluey stuff... a natural way to do that is pitch glue.  But you gotta have trees.  I have also heard eyeballs, mixed with a wee bit of h2o make a glue.  But you gotta have a ready supply of eyeballs. 

My mouth dropped when I read the black plastic mulch.  My instinct says its not a great idea.  It is supported by Sue and Leah's reasoning. 

So, if I just put a thick layer of moldy hay or straw down to mulch the fruit trees, what would be the next step?  Wait until it starts breaking down?  Do I need to get manure or topsoil before sowing food forest seeds and transplanting?
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
Steve, why not get a soil test done in the area you want to plant, and see how it compares to both the needs of the trees you have and the plants you want to grow?  Make any necessary additions, such as adding lime or rock dusts or manure, etc, and then lay down your mulch. If your soil really needs the lime, you may want to work it into the soil to gradually make it useful to the plants.  It isn't very effective just lying on top of the soil.

If you did this now (weather permitting), you would be closer to having what you need in spring.  Then you could either rake the mulch away in spring, and sow seeds or set your transplants, and replace a thin layer of the mulch (very thin). As the plants grow, gradually bring the mulch back and put it around the plants (NOT right up to the stems, though).  As the plants get taller, try to have the mulch at least 8" thick, which will retain moisture and shade out most weed seeds and prevent them from sprouting.

Alternatively, you could just pull the mulch apart where you want to plant an individual plant or cluster of seeds, scoop some compost into the 'hole', plant, and later pull the mulch closer to the plant.  (The warning not to have the mulch right up to the stem of the plants still applies, esp for very young plants that might die of the damping-off fungus.)

Sue
Steve Nicolini


Joined: Nov 15, 2008
Posts: 224
Wow, Sue.  Thanks. 

That is some pretty good advice.  I got the data sheets printed out for Kinsey labs.  The snow melted away last night too.  Would it be okay to take samples if the ground is waterlogged?

I like that first plan.  It doesn't seem like TOO much work.  And I like a little work.  Can I sow seeds and set transplants at once?  Do it in one shot?

Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
I don't think it's advisable to collect soil when it's waterlogged.  Let it drain a bit until it's just kind of damp.  I think it might be more stable then.

"Can I sow seeds and set transplants at once?  Do it in one shot?"

It depends on what you're growing.  Most species have their own needs, and you have to (more or less) cater to those needs.  For what I think you're asking, time- and weather-wise, it's unlikely.  You could probably plant groups of plants and seeds that have the same basic needs all near the same time, but other groups would have to wait.

Here's just a general example, and may not be technically accurate, it's just to get my point across.  I'm going to use just vegetables for this example.

All plants tend to do best when planted at the optimum time/weather for them.  Spinach, lettuce and peas can be planted quite early in western WA, like in February.  You could sow seeds of all of them at the same time, or you could have started lettuce in containers a bit earlier, and transplanted them into the ground and sown the spinach and peas as seeds directly in the ground (these two prefer it to being transplanted), all at the same time.  [Lettuce is incredibly susceptible to slugs, so I start them in containers on a bench, out of reach of the roaming slugs (mostly).]

In March, you could plant your potatoes, as they like cool weather, and plant some more spinach and pea seeds, too.

In April, you could plant your carrot seeds and Jerusalem artichokes directly in the soil.

In May, you could plant your corn and beans directly in the soil.  If you were planting them together (so the beans could climb up the corn stalks), you would plant the corn first, let it grow to at least a foot tall, then plant the bean seeds around it.  If you planted them at the same time, the beans would strangle and pull down the corn stalks.

You might want to wait until the soil warms up in early June to sow your squashes and cucumbers, unless you started them indoors or in the greenhouse a couple of weeks early and then transplanted them in early June.

Many vegetables should be planted every week or two for a continuous supply, as you aren't likely to be able to eat 200 lettuces in a week, if you planted them all at once.  If your family could eat two lettuces a day, every day, then you would want to end up with fourteen lettuces each week.  To do that, you would plant maybe 20 seeds each week (or more, but thin them to the strongest plants). 

Bush peas and beans tend to reach picking time all at once, so you might want to have several staggered plots, but pole peas and beans can be picked daily and new ones will keep forming until the weather gets too hot or too cold or you forget to water them or the gophers get them, so you could plant them all at once.  Other crops that you would probably want to plant all at once are the ones that you can store:  carrots, potatoes, squashes, etc.

Once you've been gardening for a while, you learn to try to prepare your beds (mostly) in the fall and then mulch them.  In spring when it's time to plant, the mulch has thinned out, there are only a few weeds to pull (usually around the edges), and your earthworms and other soil creatures have been tilling the soil for you.  All you usually have to do is rake back the mulch to expose the nice soft soil, and plant your seeds and young starts.

That's the ideal, of course.  The realities of life tend to get in the way:  you broke your ankle in fall and didn't get the planting areas prepared and mulched, the weeds are taking over and have roots down to China, and you seem to be behind in doing the things that need to be done at certain times.

Also take a look at my thread under the Permaculture forum on Winter Sowing.  It's truly amazing how many plants can be sown in containers and flats in fall and winter (and even early spring), and they suddenly sprout when the time is right for them.  AND you don't have to go through the tedious and time-consuming hardening off to get them used to moving from a heat mat and fluorescent lights to the hot/cold/windy realities of life, because they were exposed to those things since they sprouted.

Onward!

Sue
Steve Nicolini


Joined: Nov 15, 2008
Posts: 224
Okay.  Thanks, once again. 

I hope this rain lets up so I can get a test done before planting time.  Sue, do you have a source for hay mulch?  I am talking wet stuff that people want to get rid of.  I have ads out in the nickel and craigslist, and I have called a few dairy farms, but no luck.
Susan Monroe


Joined: Sep 30, 2008
Posts: 1093
Location: Western WA
Try horse people instead, individuals and boarding stables.

Horses (and their owners) are much more fussy about their hay.  Cows will eat poor-quality hay, damp hay, etc, where horses won't.

Ask around if anyone had their hay barn flooded. Wet hay can spontaneously combust, so they get it out of their barn so it doesn't get burned down.

Sue
                                    


Joined: Feb 02, 2010
Posts: 4
I had a question concerning the use of hay or straw as a mulch. Many years ago I used straw I had bought as a rectangular bale at a feed store. I don't remember any problems with the soil staying moist underneath it.  In the winter of 08-09 I created a raised bed by putting compost down on the ground, then a layer of chopped up leaves on top of that with a thick layer of hay on top of that. I noticed during the winter after a good rain, whether it was a hard, fast rain, or a slow several day rain, that the mix underneath the hay always seemed to be rather dry. I was a little surprised at that, and wondered if the hay had created somewhat of a barrier so that the rain could not penetrate through like it should have. When I created the bed, I made sure that I sprayed water on it real good with a hose-end sprayer as I was building it. So, I thought everything was ok. Instead of soaking up the rain and holding it absorbed into the mix, it seemed to act as a repellant. Any idea as to why this might have been? The hay was almost a foot high when first put down, but I didn't think that would make that much difference. Any ideas anybody?
Joel Hollingsworth
volunteer

Joined: Jul 01, 2009
Posts: 2103
Location: Oakland, CA
paul wheaton wrote:
Straw has exactly the same amount of seeds as hay. 


They're different sorts of seed, though, even from the same species:

Hay seed has been selected for early maturity (its cousins are still flowering), and straw seed, for resistance to threshing/shattering (its cousins aren't attached anymore).

Either could be very useful in trying to adapt grain to a particular purpose.


"the qualities of these bacteria, like the heat of the sun, electricity, or the qualities of metals, are part of the storehouse of knowledge of all men.  They are manifestations of the laws of nature, free to all men and reserved exclusively to none." SCOTUS, Funk Bros. Seed Co. v. Kale Inoculant Co.
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14855
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
david,

Leaves, even when chopped small, are really good at creating a mat that water and air have a tough time penetrating.

robert campbell


Joined: Jun 15, 2009
Posts: 31
Location: coastal oregon
I do use cardboard as sheet mulch.  I don't use anything with colored printing.  The risk of glue breakdown is there, but as Paul mentioned it is hard to find any real evidence.  So for me it is simply a "use what is local".  Straw alone does not keep the incredibly vigorous blackberries at bay here.  So around edges where I can't mow and to prepare new plots, cardboard has been working very well. 

I also second the hesitations about black plastic.  There were several areas on my property where it has been used and it is a NIGHTMARE to remove.  Over time the weeds and mice poke holes in it, and it becomes brittle, flaking into thousands of tiny pieces scattered all over.  As I am still in a transition phase, I must admit I use a brushmower and I have accidentally hit this plastic before which is bad news). 

I've also read that the black plastic, while very effective at killing weeds, also is very effective at killing the soil life underneath it due to excessive heat and anaerobic conditions. 

Rob Sigg


Joined: Feb 04, 2010
Posts: 710
Location: PA-Zone 6
I have a lot of sources that I know in the corrugated industry I can find out about some more details and post them.


permaculture wiki: www.permies.com/permaculture
paul wheaton
steward

Joined: Apr 01, 2005
Posts: 14855
Location: missoula, montana (zone 4)
    ∞
blitz1976 wrote:
I have a lot of sources that I know in the corrugated industry I can find out about some more details and post them.


In another thread we go into a lot of detail of the different processes for making paper and cardboard.  So in response to your offer I have two things to say:


1)  Yes!  More data is always good!

2)  I'm concerned that the response will be a simple "it is safe" which seems like something drawn up by their legal department to cover their ass.  So any information about specific ingredients would be good.

Rob Sigg


Joined: Feb 04, 2010
Posts: 710
Location: PA-Zone 6
Understood, I will see what I can do about specifics.
 
 
subject: Sheet mulching vs. mulching
 
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