Archive for the ‘Mulch’ Category

Giving Lemon Balm a haircut

October 22, 2012

There’s no doubt in my mind that lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) is a weed very successful plant.

Being a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae), means it spreads by underground runners and can eventually cover large areas. It also self-seeds quite well and that’s how most of mine has spread to different places.

It has its good points, though. Listed in permaculture circles as a dynamic accumulator, it can be cut regularly and used as a nutrient-rich mulch on garden beds (preferably without seed heads). It’s dormant through the winter and grows again in spring. It’s rocketing away at the moment:

That’s a comfrey plant in the centre, struggling to get its leaves into the light.

I continually cut back the lemon balm through the spring & summer and either put it through the mulcher for mulch or compost, throw it straight into the compost, or just leave it lying on the ground in the food forest to break down there. I use hedge clippers. No noisy, fossil fuel burning whippersnippers will ever be used on this property! Hello comfrey!:

I’m using the chopped stems to build up the extension to my new hugelkultur bed:

I’ll always leave some to flower because it’s very attractive to bees. New seedlings coming up where I don’t want them can always be pulled out and unwanted established clumps can be sheet-mulched out of existence. It’s too valuable to not have in the garden.

Oh, and it makes a nice cup of herbal tea, too!

Spring things

September 2, 2012

While everyone seems to think it’s officially spring, I have to be different! My season changes go with the solstices and equinoxes, so I don’t consider spring will start until the spring equinox around the 21st of this month. Maybe climate change will eventually force an opinion change!

Anyway, here are a few ‘pre-spring’ things happening around the garden.

Red Russian kale and Purple Sprouting broccoli in a wicking box. I love the combination of colours:

Lacinato kale and parsley seem happy together in a wire ring bed:

First fruits on the loquat. Considering the number of flowers it had, not much fruit has set, but since I’ve never tasted loquats before, I’m looking forward to whatever I can get:

Native Philotheca myoporoides (formerly Eriostemon) in flower. This was in flower and covered in bees when Frogdancer brought her garden group to see the garden and she was so impressed, she went out and bought one for her garden. Sadly, there don’t seem to be many bees around so far, on this or any other flowers. I hope it’s not a bad omen for fruit set this season:

Another native, Grevillea sericea. Again usually covered in bees, but only a few on this occasion:

Nectarine in flower. This one was grown from seed (they’re one of the easiest fruits to grow from seed):

Another nectarine, this time a dwarf variety I bought at a local nursery. It’s still only 40 cm high and should get to about a metre:

A wicking box with Spinach variety Galilee from The Lost Seed. I just broadcast it over the top, covered the seed with a layer of sieved potting mix  and got excellent germination:

The Girls, heads down, bums up, digging holes (what else is new?):

Trays of seedlings inside, in a sunny window:

Wormwood. Nice ferny, silver foliage. I grow this because it’s supposed to repel insects. I’ve just pruned out all the top growth, mulched it up and spread it around the Girl’s nestbox:

Japanese radish (Daikon). First time I’ve grown this. If it’s successful, I’ll add it to my next batch of kimchi:

Wheat, growing in a wire circle bed. I want to be able to grow at least some of the chook’s food. This year I’m determined to keep the parrots off it!:

I’ve cleaned out one of the planter boxes and prepared it for a beanfeast, in other words it is going to be planted out entirely to beans. I’ll put climbing beans (Purple King) at the back and French beans in the rest of the box. I’m rather chuffed with the trellis I made for the climbers, in that the uprights are cut from melaleuca saplings which grow on the property:

Evaluating mulches

May 30, 2009

I’ve now used three different mulches/soil conditioners in the vegetable garden and so you may be interested in some comparative comments. They are mulched bracken, sugar cane and pea straw. I usually put a generous layer on top of the soil as mulch and when the particular crop is finished it gets lightly forked into the top few centimetres before the next crop is planted.

1. Mulched bracken

This grows on our bush property and so there’s any amount always available. Put through a small chipper, it makes a coarse mulch.

2. Sugar cane

I buy this at Bunnings for about $17 per compressed bale. It’s claimed to be organic and the packaging says it will cover 8 square metres at 5 cm depth.

3. Pea straw

I buy this from a local feed supply store for about $13 per bale. No idea on coverage, but I think it would be at least as good as the sugar cane.


Price: Bracken wins out here. It’s free.

Obtaining it: Bracken wins out again. It’s growing all around me. The only drawback is, I have to cut it and mulch it. Time consuming and the mulcher uses fossil fuels (but I could probably run it from a solar panel). Pea straw and sugar cane have to be transported to the retailer and then home from there. Sugar cane probably comes from Queensland (I’m in Victoria), a considerable distance. More fossil fuels. I have no idea where the pea straw comes from. It could be Victoria or interstate. More fossil fuels anyway. Sugar cane is compressed and neatly bundled in a plastic bale which I can just manage to lift (plastic’s a no-no, though) and which doesn’t mess up my car. Pea straw is compressed and tied, sheds bits all over the back of the car and is heavy and awkward to manage.

Aesthetics: Bracken is green when first mulched and applied but soon goes brown in the sun. It looks attractive (at least to me!) and doesn’t pack down with heavy rain. Pea straw and sugar cane look good as well, but the sugar cane tends to pack down with rain and needs to be lightly fluffed up with a fork. I do like the look of pea straw, though. Nothing makes a permaculture garden look more like a permaculture garden than a nice fluffy layer of fresh pea straw. It doesn’t start to really pack down until it’s been softened by rain and partially rotted.

Application: No problems with the bracken. The pea straw comes in long stringy bits and needs to be teased out of the bale. If it’s dry it can be a bit dusty but not as much as the sugar cane which is very dry and dusty to put down. I find it’s best to remove the plastic covering completely and leave the bale out in the rain or give it a bit of a sprinkle with the hose. Once it’s damp it softens and is easier (and safer on the lungs) to apply.

Rottability: Bracken takes the longest time to break down although when it does it adds potassium to the soil, as it is said to be rich in this element. I expect the pea straw will add nitrogen to the soil, but I have no information on what nutrients sugar cane will add. It can be lightly forked into the soil, increasing the organic matter and will start to break down fairly readily. Pea straw takes a bit longer to break down.

Extra bonus: From the pea straw only, as it usually contains a liberal sprinkling of dried peas and will produce a useful crop if left to do so.

Chemicals: Bracken is growing naturally, so it’s organic. The label on the bale of sugar cane claims it’s organic, too. No info on the pea straw. It’s likely to have been grown with chemicals and treated with pesticides.

Summing up: As you can see, all three mulches have pros and cons, but for me, the sugar cane mulch wins by a short half-head because of the way it quickly adds organic matter to the soil and increases it’s water-holding capacity. I’ve also put a layer of it on top of all three of my compost bins and now that we’re getting rain and it’s softening, the worms are coming up underneath it, helping to break it down and incorporate it into the compost. If I lightly fork it in and add another layer and continue to do this, it’s producing a beautiful rich friable compost, all of which will be going into my water-wicking boxes this summer.

Mulch, mulch & more mulch

February 15, 2008

Had a tree taken out a week or so ago. It was leaning a bit close to the house and dropping litter in the gutters, so it had to get the chop. The contractors were to chip it all up and had agreed that I could have the mulch. I was looking forward to a useful half-dozen barrowloads but when they arrived their truck was filled to the brim with the remains of their previous job. So I got that too.

About 10 cubic metres of the stuff. “It’s been in the truck all weekend”, he said. “It’s warming up.” Warming up! I could’ve hard-boiled eggs in it. It’d already started to char in the truck and parts of it were black. There followed a hectic rest of the day as I barrowed it in from the naturestrip and tried to get the pile spread out and reduced to a safely cool size.

In the end it didn’t catch fire and over 100 barrowloads later I’m still going and reckon I’ve moved about three quarters of it. The entire food forest area will be covered to a useful depth of 3″ and then some.

I’m really pleased because I’d concentrated on putting what mulch I could gather around the fruit trees and other sections were exposed, bone dry and cement-like. All I need now is a good shower of rain to wet the soil underneath and the worms to come to the surface and open it all up so that further rain penetrates.