Common household remedies request
Well, I'm about halfway through a massive garden upgrade! So, readers, this is more a random request for thoughts, since things seem to be going pretty well. I'm making paths, and sheet mulching.
I finally opted for permanence (despite a very helpful earlier discussion, where I thought I'd come down on the side of temporary).
- Stone dust. I got a yard, and
- a wheelbarrow is helpful to move it;
- a garden trowel;
- a shovel with a flat end to distribute the stone dust more evenly than a spade;
- weed barrier, and accoutrements, with
- scissors to cut it; and
- a push broom to smooth the stone dust.
1. Removing the weeds from the existing, earthen paths is the hard part (and the theme of this whole effort is that doing it right in February or the fall, when there's nothing growing, is a heckuva lot easier than doing it sorta right, in June, when everything is growing as fast as it possibly can).
What I discovered works the best isn't pulling the weeds out, but rather cutting the earth up with my garden trowel, and then shaking the weeds (and their roots) out of the resulting loose soil and tossing them aside; I'd say about five minutes a foot for a three-foot wide path. This works for me because my soil is pretty good; I don't think this idea would work at all for turf, say. I know that cutting the soil up risks redistributing rhizomes, but that should be covered by step 2:
2. I got "professional quality" weed barrier; it was more expensive, so it has to be better (and I'm sure it's better than black plastic). It's one of those random-weave meshes, colored gray (and not bio-degradable (damn. Not petroleum-free, which I was thinking of as a marketing slogan))).
3. The paths I'm working on now are lined with bricks that have been lying about the house for years, plus some that I got from a rebuilt chimney next door. So, I cut the weed barrier to length with the scissors, doubled it over (six-foot width to three-foot), then lifted the bricks, laid down the barrier, and put the bricks back down over the barrier's edges, either side. And then I stuck some keen plastic spikes through the barrier into the soil to hold it in place (too expensive! Plastic means petroleum!). Probably obsessive, but it felt thorough.
4. Then I shoveled stone dust between the brick borders, roughly as high as the bricks (which are wide-side down, so roughly two inches thick).
5. And then I used a push broom to rake and smooth the stone dust kinda level, not looking for sidewalk-level, but at least level enough so there are no obvious places for puddles to collect, though doubtless some will.
6. Finally, I made sure that there's stone dust between the bricks where they butt up against each other, like poor man's mortar.
So, we'll see what happens! Ideally, the doubled-over weed barrier at the bottom, plus two inches of stone dust, plus sealing the spaces between the bricks along the border should prevent any weeds from poking through. But plants are smarter than we are, so we'll see. I'm also guessing that the stone dust, being, like sand, a slow moving fluid, will be able to cope with the winter a lot better than flagstones will.
So, right now, I have two paths (with more to come). My tomato patch is U-shaped, with paths on either side and up the middle. While the sheet mulch prevents both weeds, and splashing mildew-infected soil up onto the tomato leaves, the paths make the plants accessible for maintenance or picking from either side, while minimizing touch (which spreads TMV and blight). And my working theory of "let vines be vines" also means I do a single staking before the plants turn into a great single mass of canopy and support each other, which also minimizing touch. Greater yield, more beauty, less work.
So, not only does the stone dust feel great under my bare feet, especially when warmed by the sun, the paths support Lambert's General Theory Of Tomato Growth!
(II) Sheet mulch
See "Greater Plant and Soil Health for Less Work", which sums up the case for sheet mulching. Especially the "Less Work" part. I don't like anything that sounds like work. Here's what I did, and I'll explain the whys as I go along:
In a perfect or at least a better world, I would have tested my soil and added the correct amendments. That's what the Extension people say, and they're right. That's what I should have done in February, but unfortunately this is June! But the nice thing about gardening is that you always get a chance to do the right thing next year. (And isn't it good and privileged not to be a real peasant, where crop failure kills?)
- straw (no seeds*)
- lots of newspapers, plus
- a source of water. I used hoses and soaker hoses.
My driver on schedule -- this being, as I have mentioned, June -- was simply sourcing the material and having it delivered, since I don't drive (and people do tend to hoard sources of very good compost). If you have a Blue Seal in your area, they have straw and will deliver. Compost and stone dust are available from most landscape suppliers. Everything else you can get at your hardware store.
Let's assume you're sheet mulching a bed of peppers already in the ground:
1. Lay down a bed of compost over the entire bed. If compost is scarce, make sure at least the peppers get some. I used some fantastic seafood compost from a local supplier, which pleased me, since the main alternative up here is to use a compost that originates at least partially in municipal solid waste (and from a huge and evil landfill operation that is also killing off local composting operations by leveraging its scale and political connections). Also, I've had great results using it already.
2. Water the newly composted bed thoroughly. I lay down soaker hoses for at least an hour.
3. Lay down newspaper, maybe four-ply thick, over the bed. Obviously -- it's June -- you're going to lay the newspaper around the plants, and not over them. (If you had put down the mulch before planting, like, not in June, all you'd have to do at planting time is poke a hole in the sheet and bed each pepper down). It's OK to use newsprint (I used the Financial Times, which gives a pleasing pink color), but don't use slick paper. (Newsprint, even colored newsprint, uses soy-based inks, which are OK for the garden, but the papermaking process for coated paper uses a lot of bad chemicals.)
The newspaper is there for several reasons: First, it's a weed barrier, since it denies weeds the light they need to grow (less work). Second, and even more importantly, it's a heat collector, and the heat makes earthworms very, very happy. They make their way up through the soil to bask, as it were, against the warmth of the Financial Times, and they turn your soil for you (less work). The over-arching concept is that the compost/newspaper/straw layering imitates the natural decomposition process of, say, the forest floor, so you are never tilling the earth, just adding new layers to it (less work).
My great error here was not having enough newspaper! I'm sure there's a substitute product or substance, but I don't know what it is right now.
4. Lay down straw over the newspaper, and mess about with it so it's more or less evenly distributed and, this being June, doesn't cover of the peppers that are already in the ground, or leave them in shadow.
The straw captures water, especially rainwater and even dew, so you don't need to water as often (less work), and when you do, you can target individual plants directly (less work). Further, the straw and the newspaper together (as I said above) protect the plants from splashed mildew. And ultimately, the straw decomposes, adding to the fertility and texture of your soil.
5. Add layers year by year as needed.
That should be it! I've got anecdotal evidence that sheet mulching increases yield over and above that caused by composting (which would make sense, if only of reduced mildew). However, enjoy: (1) No weeding, (2) less watering, (3) never turning the soil over.
All that means a lot less work, and less work is just full of win.
So, readers, thoughts? Suggestions? I'm working on a small scale, with vegetables, and CD is working on a much, much larger scale, mostly (as I understand it) with flowers, so if CD is here today, I'd be interested in what she has to say. Chacun à son goût ...
NOTE * I think that's straw. Or maybe it's hay. Ask your vendor for whatever has no seeds.