Archives for category: mulch

I have a No Man’s land full of every kind of weed between my property and the adjoining property. Not only is the area really ugly, the switch grass invades the beds — an assault so powerful it overwhelms the clover, which does prevent seeding, but can’t prevent rhizomes.

But the light is partial, the soil is bad, and I don’t have time to ameliorate. So I decided to cover up the entire area with black plastic weed blocker from Fedco, as you see.

Here’s a close-up. So now the beds are defended from weeds by the plastic, which hopefully will cause everything underneath it to rot, and by the clover (which I think, since it is so tender and succulent, is also bait for woodchucks). The few weeds that remain I can pull, and soon the sheet mulch will protect that area as well.

One of those early spring days where it’s cooler inside than out, so the windows are steamy on the outside.

weather.com, in its usual hysterical fashion, had predicted driving rain, but what we got was steady light rain with a lovely mist. I figured this was perfect weather to seed some new white clover around the borders of the garden, so I weeded out the dandelions and a little quackgrass, and did that. (See here for the stacking functions of clover.) The earth was cold on the fingers, but there were lots of worms. (I took pictures, which I’d share if I could find the right USB cable to get them out of the camera.) After I scattered the seed, I mixed up the earth a little with a rake, so that the rain didn’t just carry the seeds away.

And now three days of warmth. More tiny shoots are appearing in the hitherto dormant milk jugs, giving me hope that I’ll still get a decent yield.

Here’s my rock garden — at least, my flower beds surrounded by rocks — after a very light shower: There are circular marks where single droplets struck the stone!

The soil of the bed was mulched, it’s dark with carbon, and soaking up moisture; the soil of the “lawn,” which I really want to abolish, wasn’t, isn’t, and isn’t. Mulch really does help soil become more and more like itself, doesn’t it? Whereas a “lawn” is as empty and flat as a mirror.

Today I noticed that inside the woodchuck fence, the ice had mostly melted, and outside, it had mostly not. Why?

I’m guessing that inside the fence, the beds are covered with leaf mulch, and outside, the earth is covered with dead grass. The dark mulch absorbs heat, but the pale green or straw-colored grass does not. So, after fresh snow, the inside and outside snow pack start out even, but as the melt proceeds, the layer between the earth and the snow begins to show through. When that happens, melting accelerates where heat is absorbed. Confirmation of this idea comes from inside the fence: The icy areas are stone dust paths, which are not mulched, and are light-colored.

The effect shown in the image demonstrates the permaculture principle of stacking functions: Not only does leaf mulch improve the soil by (1) rotting and (2) capturing moisture from the melt, it also (3) raises soil temperature (which should extend the season, if only slightly). Leaf mulch for the win!

Oh, we see, once again, how water instruments the land.

I’m told that rosemary doesn’t survive winter easily, but for some reason this rosemary has been indestructible. I’m not sure why! It is in the wrong place — not near my zone zero — so I very rarely do anything with it other than hack it back, but since it’s happy where it is, there it shall stay.

Also, look at the that nice dark brown leaf mulch. Not only is it doing its job by capturing the snow melt, it’s happily rotting. That tomato patch (crossed fingers) will be happy.

But all I’ve got is this metal butterfly!

Things that taking photos with the iPad helps me see:

1. Ice instruments irregularities in the ground.

2. Those rocks from a long-ago border: I’ve got to move them somewhere useful before they get buried under the grass at the border, again. Rocks don’t come cheap, ya know!

3. The leaf mulch I put down last fall is really doing its job, capturing all that melt.

OK, OK, irrational exuberance. In July if it’s 39° F, I’ll feel like putting on a coat. But today, I feel like walking barefoot!

Banking the house with leaves.

Step (1)(a): Rake the leaves and put them in garbage bags. Since I no longer sing in the choir at The Church of The Lawn, I don’t believe in raking leaves just to make the property “look good.” But raking leaves to save on fuel? That’s a good use of mu time. Sometimes your neighbors will even let you rake their lawns, and move the organic matter onto your property! No photo, though; I don’t do action shots. Social note: Give neighbors back vegetables in the summer.

Step (1)(b) Bank the house against the prevailing wind by piling up the bags. The coldest rooms in the house — which are over a crawlspace that starts at ground level and has an earthen floor — turned into the warmest rooms after I started banking that side of the house.

Step (2) Leave the bags in place and let the leaves rot. This year, the bags got stacked bottom up, so water doesn’t leak in through the twistied top and get the leaves wet, wrecking their R value. But come spring, I’m going to try something new: I’m going to turn the bags right-side up, rip a hole, then pour in water and some compost starter. Then, after the black bags soak up the sun for the summer and fall, I’ll see if they’ve gotten farther along toward being compost than they got last year.

Step (3)(a) Drag the bags from the house to the garden.

Step (3) (b) Open the bags and spread the leaves on the beds.

Return to (1)(a) where the cycle repeats.

Oh, the garbage bags: Bag integrity through winter, spring, summer and into fall is a requirement; so is heat absorption. So, alas, I use thick petroleum-based black bags, and not thin biodegradeable ones. I’ve tried recycling the bag scraps as “soil warmers” around the stems of young plants, but it turns out that transparent plastic is better for that. So right now, the bags are ending up in the landfill after only one season.

* * *

Banking the house this way illustrates at least two permaculture principles:

1. Stacking functions. The leaves perform at least two functions during the banking cycle: They insulate the house, and they enrich the soil.

2. Basic principle: “Let no organic matter leave the property!”

3. Basic principle: Use what comes to hand.

Plus, it’s wicked cheap, easy to do, and more than pays for itself.

>> Where’d I get the idea it was the 18th, anyhow? Always a bad sign when I live in the future, even if by only one day. I must be more anxious for February to end than I knew.

Here’s how my garden looked in November 2011, annotated on my iPad with Skitch. The yellow arrow shows the direction of the sun. The white arrow shows the prevailing wind.