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Drag & Drop Gardening with Scurvy Weed as a green mulch: the story so far.

I invested energy  in drag and drop today. Did 2 beds in double quick time.

Just wrenched the verdant Scurvy Weed from its anchorage and dropped it as mulch where it used to grow but a moment before.

I'd been amiss because of ill health, so the coverage -- as in leaf and stem height -- was more than it should have been. But with Scurvy Weed grown as a green mulch that's all you get between the vegetables and herbs.

A jungle of Commelina cyanea is like a meadow and the plant takes over. The trick is to protect your seedlings from being  crowded out.  Since Scurvy Weed is so shallow rooted -- compared to most other 'weeds' -- it's an easy bit of gardening to pull it off the soil and drop it.

Like tossing a salad by hand.

Just because I'm deploying Scurvy Weed as a living green mulch, it doesn't follow that you should do so too. This is an experimental exercise on my part.

So far so good.

I need to adjust my gardening protocols a smidgen but I'm beginning to love the creature. As a mulch, scurvy weed makes a  delicate soft basket on which to rest clambering plants like tomatoes and squashes.

For whatever reason, I'm nasty insect free and the Cane Toads hate the torturous navigation presented by this jungle. Unlike Wandering Jew (Tradescantia fluminensis) the leaves and stems of Scurvy Weed  will not poison your pets nor irritate their skin. SW isn't an exotic weed, but a edible native. 'Tis the Wandering Jew lookalike with the blue flower.

Does my Scurvy Weed habit encourage too much greed and theft of nutrients from my vegetables?

Not sure. Not yet.

Is symbiosis happening? 

Inasmuch as I can estimate, the only plant to protest seems to be scallions -- spring onions -- and that may be due to being crowded out as the onion family likes open soil -- preferably bare -- to itself.

So adjustments are in order.

Since I'll be planting out more seedlings I'm mixing the usual comestibles with strategically located legumes like peanut and clumps of  Vetiver Grass.

My pull and drop activities replicate what a ruminant would do. That and clambering over the beds kneeling to drag at the Scurvy Weed hither and yon.

I used to sickle the Scurvy Weed, but dragging and dropping it is faster and easier -- with less chance of lacerating a prized vegetable's stem. 

Of note is my latest tool (pictured at left). A short (camp site type) shovel accompanies me through the beds. While I may use it to dig occasionally, its height is ideal to lean on when I go to stand up.

As an oft user of a walking cane for many a year I can vouch for  a push down to push up.

Spare me all the sit down gardening options with their knee saving design tools. I can get down OK -- getting up is hard. And rolling in Scurvy Weed is a pleasant enough interaction with  my own botanicals.

Unlike the usual weeding challenge, you get to move fast and pull up the plant without much effort being required.

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Comment by Dave Riley on November 22, 2020 at 8:24

Yes I've used legumes stems and leaves as mulch. They won't 'fix' nitrogen like the root microbes do but you do get a lot of material.

I've used cut Jack Bean as mulch -- as in 'dead' mulch --  to good effect.

The squashes can be cut for mulch but the leaf litter  doesn't last on the surface for long.

Since I do not compost, anything I cut goes on the garden beds or into a chook's belly.

If you pull weeds before they seed, shake off the dirt as they'll make good mulch too. That's true too of lawn clippings: there is cut grass with seeds and cut grass without.

I've used cut up trees -- stems and leaves -- and that's OK but the branches will later get in the way of activities unless you cut them up real short and make yourself prone to an attack of Repetitive Strain Injury.

In the Permaculture community harvesting mulch is done with sickles and cut and drop. They've gone blade crazy.

Vetiver isn't green mulch really. I mean like shallow rooted annual carpeting plants. It's more symbiosis and wicking. I'm working on a principle of one Vetiver clump with an impact zone  of about 75cm  radius.

  • To enrich microbiology
  • Pump up moisture
  • Confuse insects

I used to plant it as a hedge around the beds, but I reckon I get more out of each plant by targeting positions relative to the growing comestibles. With Vetiver  in situ like this you need to plan to divide each clump maybe annually but make sure when you do, you slice off the top of the deep root mass and leave that in situ underground.

In effect, you could dedicate a good percentage of your veg garden to growing Vetiver because of its many advantages. My problem is that I had to harvest most of mine last season to supply the folk crying out for slips.

Take from dave to pay whoever...

Also cut back the Vetiver clump for mulch and to ensure it doesn't shade the surrounding plants.

This image has been my long time inspiration: my muse.

Comment by Andrew Cumberland on November 21, 2020 at 20:25

Some bloke talked to me about vetiver as a green mulch.  Works great and I don't pull the plants out (unless planning to rebirth).  In a similar light, lemongrass is proving a very successful mulch as well.  I obviously don't pull them out either.  You've got me wondering about Madagascar beans as a source to mulch too.  They are a nitrogen setter and a few plants produce heaps of volume of leaves and vine.  It's the only bean that I've ever had to cut back. 

Comment by Dave Riley on November 20, 2020 at 23:50

Inasmuch as I have a notion of a  'system' forming in my head I'm also deploying Vetiver Grass and Peanut to impact on soil microbiology.

I'm tempted to also plant out Coastal Jack Bean(Canavalia rosea ) which I have been in awe of for years.

Jack Bean is easy to control but very productive of leaves and stems. While a fast growing  ground cover  it has , since it's a legume, excellent nitrogen fixing qualities. I haven't used it as a green mulch so far because the plant can be a bit fibrous and you need scissors or a blade to cut it back.

I'm also hoping to experiment with Coastal Jack Bean as a ground cover for our Vetiver nursery.

Comment by Dave Riley on November 19, 2020 at 23:06

I'm finding that Scurvy Weed growing for green mulch does require occasional attention and tricks.

  1. DRAGGING & DROPPING: Scurvy weed needs to be pulled up and dropped when it gets straggly and high such that it overshadows any other plants. This is an easy gardening task  and it doesn't take long to process a bed.
  2. GROWING SEEDLINGS: Around young seedlings you need to be protective. The best way is to allow a  zone from which the Scurvy Weed has been removed. 10-20 cm diameter per seedling  is fine. I make sure I mark newly planting seedlings by inserting a stick or short bamboo stake next to the plant. I often colour code the same species by using torn rags tied to these stakes.
  3. GROWING SEEDS: I like to clear a broad space in the Scurvy Weed jungle, dress the area with manure blends and plant directly into the soil. It is useful to mark the perimeter with something flat, so I can later locate the area if there is re-invasion. I'm using small tile off cuts and sections of old garden hose.
  4. LARGE SCURVY WEED MEADOWS: Can be whipper snipped or cut back with a sickle. I use a sickle on a long stick. If there is nothing there in way of vegetables growing, you only need to cut back by simply sweeping across the meadow to and  fro.
  5. MOST VEGETABLES WILL HAPPILY GROW AMONG THE SCURVY WEED: Because Scurvy Weed has shallow roots, 'most veges' have roots that run deeper. So once your seedlings take, you have an easy symbiosis in play. Seeds and seedlings do need a head start free  from the crowding,  but once away, you only need to keep the immediate neighbourhood of Scurvy Weed trimmed back or pulled (and dropped).
  6. TRAMPING IS GOOD: Not only is Scurvy Weed managed by dragging and dropping, but walking over it  -- as ruminants would do -- contains its vigour and packs the stems closer together in a denser mesh. Kneeling on it is fine too. The weight bruises the stems and leaves.
  7. SCURVY WEED RULES: Generally, most standard weeds I may get in my garden are smothered by the Scurvy Weed. My beds vary from full sun to part shade -- and this year, despite the seasons, there has not been a major weed outbreak. Since I'm not getting the more invasive weeds predominating, I can pull the shallow rooted Scurvy Weed easily from around a vegetable plant if I want to, without impacting on its growth or dislodging it. This is a true mulch, albeit a 'living'one. It is also easy to move handfuls of pulled Scurvy Weed around the bed to cover bare patches of soil, or tuck in a growing plant snugly.

Growing Scurvy Weed like this is, of course, growing your own mulch. That doesn't mean, that I don't also add mulch -- when it is available. Scurvy Weed may be free but it is also doing its green mulch thing during those cooler months when other mulch materials may not be available. Using the same green material also will require supplementation in way of using other stuff with different  biology and chemistry  on offer during break down.

Comment by Dave Riley on November 2, 2020 at 23:11

Just as the Scurvy Weed began to flower, I turned over a couple of beds by pulling at it. I sure got a heap of green stuff to blanket the beds.

Every centimetre of it, edible.

The chooks love it.

Unfortunately I was late in doing this drag and drop and lost a few tomato fruits because they were buried in the jungle green. But 'weeding' like this can be done quickly so it is always best to pull & drop  while the sun shines.

Earlier than I have.

Since this is more or less my only gardening labours, I treated myself to some knee pads: Fiskars Extra Light Knee Pads.

They are a great way to move around the beds at close quarters to the soil. These pads have increased my efficiency greatly. I can move hither and yon without having to stand up.

I'm a green thumb Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.

So light -- I'm walking on my knees. Communing so closely with nature at my feet knees.

Comment by Christa on October 18, 2020 at 9:17

Use whatever works for you, I think.  Live mulch has too be better than dry mulch, which is what we use due to convenience.  Most plants and fruit trees grow OK with greenery at their roots, even shallow rooted trees as in nature, the best teacher.  

I would be happy if I could find a flat growing ground cover like a carpet, so that we can walk on it.  Excluding a green lawn which would not do well in shady pathways here. 

Comment by Jeff Kiehne on October 18, 2020 at 8:59

Pak choy is another plant  that could use as a green mulch as has a lot of nutrients  and goes to seed if the weather not suitable .Have a lot of failed plant flowering at the moment  and some older ones ready to harvest seed.Planted potatoes earlier this year and dug up the soil very well  and had a few Pak choy come up and they grew very well  and was surprising that the seed survived for so long  as the Pak choy was from last year.

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