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ARE WE MULCH JUNKIES? AND HOW MUCH IS IT COSTING US? YOU CAN’T HAVE TOO MUCH.

Mulch, Mulch, Mulch is what we hear from some of the best gardeners.  Whether it be the slow natural way as in the forest (what drops and rots from above) or the introduced mulch to speed up the forest floor.  As we only have 2 large poinciana trees on our block of land, and they only have very fine leaves and tiny twigs that fall most of the time in winter, we have to supplement.

My mother-in-law Gardener, who gardened here first, used grass mulch from the grass catcher. It was spread out on the ground to dry and then used thickly on as much shaded ground as possible. This worked well for her and broke down into the soil well. Now that was 20 years ago, and Mum did that for all her gardening years (approx. 40 odd years on this block). She just buried all her scraps in the yard and bought 1 big bag of organic extra per year after the chooks became too much to handle.

We moved here around 1998, and our initial mulches many years ago was spent mushroom bags, which could be classed as compost but we used heaps of them on top of the ground and in beds to liven up the soil as well as grass clippings. We must have lugged in about 8 trailer loads ($25 per trailer) stacked with spent mushroom bags which was from the mushroom place down the road. You see this is a dark sandy based soil here which does not hold water well at all and I do not like bare soil.

This mushroom stuff broke down too quick, and we started to buy bales of organic sugarcane mulch, the ones wrapped in blue string.  We toted in large trailer loads of the stuff, 30 bales at a time, and once used a big round bale of sugarcane mulch which seemed to make a huge mess as we rolled it out.  This laying down of mulch happened mainly around September each year for about 10 years.  We also use a mechanical mulcher to take care of our prunings etc.   Our food garden area covers about 250sqm and it is covered by many wicking bins.

Now before that time, we did not know much better, and purchased trailer loads and small truck loads of premium garden soil with added manure and compost from the fellow just down the road from us. I’ve lost count of the loads that we have shoveled out of trailers.   Then we ordered a few loads of well-aged horse manure from Tim, with some Lucerne mulch a few hundred dollars worth. Later we trialed about 3 or 4 bags of bamboo mulch, which was excellent with good moisture retention, but too expensive. 

Then last year, on our trip to sugarcane country at Rocky Point, they had some compressed pea straw, which was also a great mulch but broke down quite fast, and little pea plants came up here and there and we noticed that the local mice enjoyed it as well as they nibbled away at the bags.

Now in the last month or so, we did another trip with the trailer for a load of compressed sugar cane mulch which was priced well at $3 a bag (50 covering about 10sqm ea). We topped the trailer with about 10 compressed pea straw bales as well.

Now I have just sat down and the thought came to my mind- ARE WE MULCH JUNKIES?

About 5 years ago, we all started to have back problems and mowing the yard became a big chore, so we purchased a ride-on zero turn mower which did not need a catcher as it mulched back on the grass-NO GRASS CLIPPINGS.  We have used self-mulching mowers for about 10 years prior to that.

WHERE DOES IT GO?  Does anyone else have a mulch problem?

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Comment by Dave Riley on September 6, 2018 at 20:01

Mulches are essentials I reckon in our climate. They protect the soil, suppress weeds and enrich the ecology.

Mulching is an Australian urban gardening covenant.

I'm not so much interested in outlay dollars, but the resource budget.

Why not grow your own? I mean not as a secondary to trimming your veg, but as a imperative?

Vetiver ticks so many boxes even for the home gardener. To sustain  your mulching needs you do indeed have to plant a few metre lengths of hedges but the gain from the soil enrichment due to  the growing of the Vetiver Grass makes it a big design & layout  plus.

Maybe we got a lot of our mulching national obsessiveness from the Permaculture POV with its focus on multi-functional plantings. But Vetiver transcends a lot of that

Creating your kitchen garden around Vetiver, in effect, solves the 'mulch problem' -- the conundrum.

Why send out for takeaway when you can be in-house?

So much of the gardening lore we are fed from Gardening Australia et al --  is premised on buying in stuff from the horticulture industry. The Permies scoot around this by exploring successive plantings, but after years of being victimized by the Mulch Imperative  I say 'grow your own' -- freedom to rot  is  but a grass clump away!

Comment by Elaine de Saxe on September 6, 2018 at 17:15

Several lifetimes ago I started to count the costs of gardening. I gave up after a while. Whatever it costs it is worth it to me for an excuse to be out in the sun and fresh air and to be able to pick some goodies from the garden to eat. Never mind the greenery and flowers. Worth every cent.

Comment by Christa on September 6, 2018 at 16:21

To be truthful, Dave, we would spend about $150 on organic sugar cane mulch per year and that is a big trailer load. We stack it and use it over the year.  On top of that we buy about 3 trailer loads of Tea Tree Mulch ($100) for the walking paths, it is easy to walk on.  The pea straw goes on the big wicking bins, about 10 bales ($80).      

We have fewer pesty weeds, the soil stays moist and cool most of the time.  It is easier to use for us.

This spring, we have not followed up with Tim's horse manure  but have bought some cow dung bags for the banana plants.    Cardboard and Paper and bags, rags  etc are free.   Our sandy type black soil needs covering or it dries up quick and the nutrients wash away.

Comment by Jeff Kiehne on September 6, 2018 at 15:23

Do not send money on on mulch  but do spend time cutting up trees and shredding paper and cardboard  and with tree trimmings unless they are thick do not seem to last very long  had a huge pile of grass tree trimmings  paper and cardboard and composts into a tiny pile. 

Comment by Dave Riley on September 6, 2018 at 14:40

As a matter of interest, how much do BLFers spend on mulch purchases each year?

Comment by george s on September 6, 2018 at 8:21

pros and cons, it was all said before....mulching.rtf

Comment by Dave Riley on August 27, 2018 at 22:37

Mulches-- besides covering and protecting the soil from sun and erosion -- fast track the process of humus build up. I've built my garden by relentlessly mulching it.

The process is really all about adding carbon & microbes so that the soil ecology can get to work.

But at some point you surely must reach a level of SOC -- Soil Organic Carbon -- that is sort of auto sustainable, don't you think?

Not that you should slack off, but the 'problem of weeds' is not the same as soil health. I much prefer to mulch a weed rather than get down there and pull it. This is the frustration for me at this time of year when the grass clippings aren't arriving on my verge.

It's my own personal drought.

I deserve to be a lazy gardener (I do!), but August is all work work. And that's despite my good weed/bad weed POV. Indeed, now is the time of year I am forced to actually weed the garden.

When I pull them up I usually missile them into the weed pit I have corralled  in the chook pen. It is quite deep at the moment.

The reason for this has a regrettable & tragic narrative.

In my previous garden protocol, I watered my garden using buried unglazed terracotta clay pots. But since 'upgrading' to a spear pump and sprinkler I am getting more weeds and more snails in my patch. The garden may indeed be more productive, but the mechanization of the the irrigation has been so generic  that I've caused some side effects I don't much appreciate.

Indeed, with the over head watering, mulches break down quicker.

Christa asks, "WHERE DOES IT GO?" All I can say is that the soil thanks you, the worms thank you...and maybe I could do with the exercise.

As I say to my neighbours: I don't need to join a gym. I mulch.

But then, I'll sign up to moving mulches hither and yon any or every day, rather than turn over a compost pile.

Methinks that with the Vetiver as my mulch buddy, I hopefully can look forward to an less strenuous lifestyle.

Like sand through an hour glass, these are the mulches of our lives.

Comment by Roger Clark on August 27, 2018 at 8:43

Like most of BLF members, I have used a large number of types of mulch over the years, especially in summer to protect the soil from the harsh sun. I don't worry about that so much in winter though as I think that the sun needs to warm the soil in the colder times.

Like most I have also experimented with grass clippings, sugar cane, pea straw, etc and have tried to grow my own in an effort to lessen costs, and importation of  foreign matter to try to be more sustainable. A couple of things that I have grown as mulch include :-

Lemon Grass -easy to grow and drought tolerant once established, does not provide a huge amount of bulk to use as mulch but will regrow to be used over and over - a good mulch

Qld Arrowroot - grows easily and produces a lot of large broad leaves, will also regrow each year from the bulbous roots - not a great mulch, as it tends to mat together, would need to be chopped up and maybe mixed with other mulches.

I have had good access for a number of years to various quantities and qualities of manures, mostly horse manure which as I usually get for free, I find this a good, cost effective source of mulch. It also provides a lot of exercise as most times I have had to shovel it aboard the trailer and then shovel it off. It also, obviously, adds to the fertility of the soil as it breaks down. Most people are wary of it because it can provide lots of weeds, I found this out too when I introduced nut grass to my vege beds when using manure collected in Winter (when it dies down and is not easily visible) from a new source.

My advice there is do your research and get the manure from a source where you know that the horses are fed on good quality food. Good food in means good manure out. I now get mine from a racing stables, where no one is likely to feed their horses rubbish. I always try to compost it for 3 months or so to allow any worming chemical traces to dissipate. No guarantees there, but I find that my beds have a good loading of earthworms after using this for quite a long time. 

Comment by Cathie MacLean on August 27, 2018 at 7:25

I have mulched with old clothes, bed linen, rugs,  cardboard as well as the usual leaves, cane mulch etc. It all becomes food for the soil. On the subject of ground covers, I have found the common red/purple alternanthera, cousin of our Brazilian spinach, to be a wonderful soil covering plant. It cuddles up to my eggplants and gooseberry and provides lovely shade, shelter and support. I think it is attractive but it's easy to pull out when I want to make space for something else.

Comment by Dave Riley on August 26, 2018 at 18:09

I used to get old cotton rejects from the local Op shop and mulched the paths  with those.

Similarly old rugs has been laid out on soil.

Thus endeth a family heirloom....

I think Australians are mulch obsessives in response to our climate.

Smashed unglazed terracotta makes a good mulch but broken glazed china and tiles does not --as in   left over  pieces from mosaics.

I've found easy to manage plants like Dog Bane, Okinawan Spinach, and Jack Bean to be serviceable mulches in my soil. Similarly for sweet potato. Although it is a bit if a pain, Wandering Jew/Trad makes a good mulch too.I'm not suggesting you introduce it -- but if it has already invaded it does cover the shaded areas well  and can be readily harvested for mulching after being desiccated. I prefer to soak it into weed teas then pour the dregs on the garden to ensure it doesn't colonize anew. The juice is used as fertiliser.

 I found this list:

Examples of Mulches

Organic
:
Corn cobs and stalks
Dried grass clippings
Dried leaves
Coffee grounds
Compost
Shredded bark
Nut shells
Peat moss
Straw
Chipped wood
Sawdust
Shredded Newspaper
Pine needles (for acid loving plants)
Coconut husk fiber (coir)


Inorganic
Landscape cloth
Roll plastic
Gravel, rock
Ground rubber
Decomposed granite


Living
Turfgrass
Vetch
Clover
Bean plants
Low growing shrubs
Ground covers such as ice plant

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