The Resilience Hub & Portland Maine Permaculture Message Board › compost or mulch in place?

compost or mulch in place?

alder
user 6954726
Sullivan, ME
Post #: 68
hi guys... wondering what you do with garden refuse that is not diseased at the end of the season. do you tend to compost it or use it as mulch and let it rot in place? i'm talking things like husk cherry vines, dill stalks, beet greens, carrot tops, cosmos and sunnie stalks, nasturtiums, etc. as i start to put the garden to sleep i'm having a dilemma on what to do.

thanks for your input,
katie
Penelope
user 5846522
Portland, ME
Post #: 79
in an effort to improve my efficiency i have been composting and mulching in place throughout the season as well as feeding the existing compost pile with garden and yard waste.

last week i started a new compost pile with a quantity of bagged leaves from around the hood. i then placed the bags lengthwise on the ground to form a 5 x 20 rectangle of biodegradable walls. i am layering in compost from the established pile, with leaves, kitchen stuff, and newspaper.

in an effort to really up the organic matter in some of my established veg beds i put them to sleep with sheet mulch using the green stuff from the garden, then layering on newspaper, cardboard, and compost. around the perennial plants i composted in place throughout the season.

i am in a bit of a dilemma as to whether or not i should cover the raised beds with plastic should i not have enough cardboard in an effort to keep nutrients from being leached away?
A former member
Post #: 218
Penelope, I don't know...I do know that I hate to see plastic in my garden! I put some black plastic around a few tomatoes that I hoped to get early fruits from, but next year I plan to put flat rocks around a few to hopefully get the same effect.

Katie, all my leftover stuff just gets laid around here and there. I find compost wonderful to make my starting mixture in the spring, but hope to have aged (and even fresh) animal (chicken, goat--for now) for the main garden. I hope to soon have rabbits to add to my wonderful list of plant food. My compost heap *is* my garden. It bothers me that I put 50 bales of hay on my small garden area this spring and wish I had the luxury of having put 100 bales or more because it is mostly gone now and grasses are starting to grow here and there, and everywhere. Hopefully I will be able to find mulching hay at a reasonable price next spring, but what would I do if I couldn't?
alder
user 6954726
Sullivan, ME
Post #: 69
thanks for your replies penelope and mary. i have been leaning towards mulching/composting in place, i was assuming that would be the permaculture response but am always interested in feedback. lol but i do have some compost piles going, of course i need more more more when it comes to that. i'm just so curious to see if it is easy to obtain rich friable soil without the work and excessive trips involved in making compost.

mary if you can't access or afford mulch hay or straw, i'd recommend leaves as an alternative. they're free, break down into glorious material, and add good nutrients to the soil. i guess the only con is that they can acidify, but here in NE we're already dealing w/ acidic soil and are probably remedying it one way or another as it is.

at this point i'm thinking to mulch in place with anything not diseased or seriously moldy or insect infested, and then do seaweed over that, and possibly straw or leaves if i have the resources and time. i'm also planning to skim the top layers of the paths between my raised beds and pile that material onto the beds. i'm working towards getting red and white clover to grow as a ground cover in the paths (it's spotty now but what's there is thriving, and man, talk about a mulch plant!! the clover kept getting so big this season that every week or 2 i'd go out there and cut it back and toss it into the paths). unfortunately space is tight for me so most beds still have crops in them. otherwise i'd have lots of cover crops in there and i'd either leave them all winter or leave them til much later in the season and--lack of snow cover permitting--then cover with seaweed.

katie
David S.
stereoview
Washington, ME
Post #: 276
Your leaves will be using up nitrogen in your soil as they decompose. A double edged sword. Once they are decomposed they are fine and make excellent soil. That said, it usually takes more than one season for the leaves to decompose. Grass clippings will add nitrogen needed for faster decomposition. Fungal growth is faster acting by digesting lignin than bacterial growth. The type of leaves makes a difference. Oak leaves are slow.

I used to do this. I had mixed results.

I used to use plastic. It worked very well. I got black plastic painting drop cloths at walmart in 10x25 sheets for $4. I usually got 3 years of use from a sheet. The soil decomposes faster under the plastic and is hotter, and holds water well. Weeds don't use up your nutrients and time (although other things related to this do). An interesting thing happened in 1999. I did not have time to do much with the garden so I left it all as it was from the year before and added no nutrients. I just planted last years holes. I got some of my biggest results ever that year. I had tomatoes the size of cantaloupes. It was an interesting lesson because I think the leaves from the previous year were responsible.

I still have one plastic sheet I use each year to kill vegetation in unorganized areas so I can plant a new area without herbacides or tilling. I have gotten several years use from it moving it to a new area each year. I also have an old used trampoline (no frame) that I use for the same purpose. Some light passes thru and it does not work quite as well but it is tough enough to use for many years.

David
Elaine
user 3022592
Portland, ME
Post #: 270
Dear All,

Francis and I cut plants at ground level to leave in the stems as worm tunnels. Dead and woody looking plants like string bean stalks as well as diseased looking plants get thrown in a different pile in the woods nearby, but all else gets composted either in the garden or in the compost bins depending on their toughness.

Last year for example, we laid cut up stalks of broccoli right there under the existing straw in the garden and covered al of it with a few sheets of newspaper before replacing the straw. That extends the life of the straw.

It's very similar to what I do all summer with our "garbage sandwiches" a term I coined last year after reading Hemenway's convincing section in Gaia's Garden, one I love to quote on p 58, 73-74, even 69-79. I use two sheets of newspaper, center section opened up and fold it over into a sandwich package roughly 6x8" wide. Last winter we experimented with placing these garbage sandwiches sice by side in the compost bin. Period. Just that. The snow was the water, the folded newspaper the carbon creating air spaces and of course the garbage (the 4th essential for compost) was nitrogen. It worked beautifully. By spring I noted the whole pile had noticeably shrunk, and of course by then I covered the whole thing with some straw and continued placing there during the warm seasons the tougher kitchen scraps like avocado pits and skins, peach pits and such, corncobs with husks etc. By late summer Francis and I checked the base of that pile of decomposed garbage sandwiches and saw it was on its way to becoming great compost.

Alder, -- Here's my experience with white dutch clover, -- I tried planting it thickly for our paths to feed the woodchuck, but I not only later read that it's not tough enough to withstand a lot of foot passage but saw for myself how it died and got a bit muddy. This forced me to extend some of our sawdust paths into those very frequently used paths as well.

Thanks for all your tips! I'm not sure what to do with the perennial plants in the orchard, like bee balm, foxglove, liatris. I'm tempted to do what you did, David, -- just leave them there so they'll be free to reseed, esp. the beautiful foxglove.

Elaine
alder
user 6954726
Sullivan, ME
Post #: 71
hi elaine, thanks for your reply and your tip about the garbage sandwiches. sounds intriguing! i haven't come across that bit yet in gaia's garden so i'll be checking into it

thanks also for sharing your experience with the dutch clover..... we'll see what happens. it seems that the red clover is able to withstand the traffic, as long as it is given enough time to establish.

are there other plants that are more suitable as path groundcovers?

re: your orchard perennials, i would leave whatever might reseed, either for that purpose or for the birds. otherwise i'd cut them back use that to mulch themselves. anyone: other than neatness, what is the purpose of cutting back perennials for the winter?

katie
David S.
stereoview
Washington, ME
Post #: 277
Creeping thyme is popular for ground cover but it is only semi tough.

Also, books by Ruth Stout about mulching and hay gardening would be good if you can find them. I love the "No Work Garden Book".

David
Elaine
user 3022592
Portland, ME
Post #: 272
Alder, Gaia's Garden only talks about composting in place, not garbage sandwiches (GS) which is what I thought of doing, inspired by those pages I cited. It was the doing of it that showed me it not only works great, it saves the straw. All summer long I systematically place one GS next to the other, making the round of the garden, and then making a second row etc. That's how I saw, when I made the second round, that the only thing left from the GS placed there earlier was -- a bit of newspaper! The garbage/nitrogen itself was a l l g o n e !!

Though I have to work at keeping it from crawling into the sheetmulched part of the orchard garden, I'm going to encourage Ground Ivy to cover the paths. I think that's tough enough for constantly used paths.

Thanks for mentioning the Ruth Stout No-Work Garden Book, David! When I rediscovered permaculture a little over 2 years ago someone gave me that book, hard covered too. I'll check it out. Now, however, I've got my hands full with our permaculture design course project.

Elaine
alder
user 6954726
Sullivan, ME
Post #: 72
here's a link written by MOFGA's Jean English about the benefits of using leaves as mulch in the garden. according to the article the leaves will not rob nitrogen from the soil if they are applied well shredded in the fall.

http://www.mofga.org/...­
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