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Monday, November 2, 2015

Mulching Trees

Took me less than an hour to winter wrap my 16 trees and a couple of hours to mulch them. This leads me to believe that on a one woman scale, I can  probably more or less triple the number of trees and still care for them individually.  Maybe about 50 trees total?  And, perhaps, as I become more experienced, I will learn some tricks that will allow me to double that?  Anyway, here is my process.  Keep in mind, I did this once already, when I planted them, but with much finer mulch.  With the warm sunny days combined with lots of rain, the attack of the grass is never ending.  Several times during the summer I "chopped and dropped" the grass and other weeds; therefore, between the decomposition of the finer mulch and the attack of the grass, signs of the old cardboard & mulch are difficult to find.  Details of how I mulch below.

Farm dogs are good for guarding against zombie bunnies.

The city will load your truck or trailer for free if you don't have a cover for it.  Alas, I do have a cover on the bed of my truck, so all of this was hand loaded.  The windrows of mulch are at least as tall as a  house, so I back the truck in with the lid up and the tailgate down until the tailgate is a few inches into the mound.  I then take a stiff rake and essentially help gravity move the mulch into the truck.  Once home, I unloaded it onto a tarp near the garden and fruit trees.  Later on, when about half the mulch has been used, I will be able to drag the tarp about 100 feet so that it will be near my windbreak trees for the balance of use.  The pile looks so small for being a pickup truck full.  I was concerned that I would not be able to mulch all 16 trees, and I was right.  The last tree definitely got skimped on a bit.

This is what a pickup truck of mulch looks like.

This is what one of my apple trees looked like pre-mulching.  You can see the dry grass from the last time I cut it down.  The dry grass is a few inches thick and provides its own kind of mulch.

Before mulching.

First a layer of cardboard.  I'm not particular what kind.  I leave the tape and labels on it.  I would put a thicker layer of cardboard, but with 16 trees, I was kind of lean on cardboard, too.  A six inch deep layer of mulch over the cardboard should keep the weeds from coming through even after the cardboard decomposes.  The photo below shows a tree half-done.  Note that I do not put the cardboard or the mulch right up against the trunk of the tree, but aim to keep it about 6 inches away.

My favorite non-organic drink.  Not a purest, here.
This activity was timed to happen the morning before a drenching rain with the idea that the rain would settle the cardboard and mulch and mold it to the shape of the land.  Most of the windbreak trees did not get a full 6 inches of compost on them.  I think another trip to the city this week is probably in order.  The plan is to keep expanding the mulch to each tree's drip line as they grow.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Free Mulch from the City

There is some debate about whether or not mulch created from the city's tree trimming and yard waste pickup program should be used for food production gardeners (or by anyone at all).  Tree trimmings and such may have been subject to pesticide and herbicide spray or over spray.  Perhaps some of the materials carry disease that can contaminate your own plants.  All valid concerns; however, it appears that the mulch created by our municipality is harmless in those regards: 
  • Beans, a particularly sensitive crop, thrived with this mulch
  • Various fungus bloomed and faded throughout the summer season
  • Earthworms are loving it under the mulch - we dug nearly 3 tree holes and saw less than half a dozen worms.  Where I have mulched, they are now proliferating.
One mostly full pickup truck bed of mulch = 54 five gallon buckets.

I think a contributing factor to the quality of the mulch is that it is regularly turned when it gets to the city's mulch yard. It gets steamy hot in many places, as evidenced by the steam rising from the various piles, and that contributes to the killing of pathogens and weed seeds and the breakdown of harmful chemicals.  They don't mix a younger pile into an older pile.

So after much consideration, I am now using the city's free mulch "everywhere."
  • In the paths between garden beds
  • Around young trees, and eventually about the larger trees in our pasture
  • On garden beds to "winterize" them
  • As the bottom layer of my compost pile
Future uses
  • Sifted to incorporate the finer pieces into my garden beds
  • As the "litter" layer to my chicken run
  • In conjunction with cardboard and landscape fabric to deter weeds around the part of my home that we would like to keep looking "suburban" and along fence lines that I want to keep weed free so I can grow what I want along the fence lines
Speaking of cardboard, there are also debates about chemicals in cardboard.  The rain and the elements seem to be decomposing the cardboard with no ill effects, and it also actually seems to be quite beneficial.  Instead of hauling my boxes off to a recycle center, I used them as the underlay for various mulching projects.  After a few months of Southern heat and humidity, they are well broken down.  I imagine by next year I will not see any bits at all.  I've been retrieving the remnants of tape and labels, but even a lot of that appears to be decomposing.
Decomposing cardboard lifted from under mulch.
(Placed on winter killed grass for viewing purposes.)