Tag Archives: no-till

Do Wood Chips Make Good Mulch?

I may never be able to say enough good things about mulch. It protects soil from erosion, adds nutrients, and so much more. Despite the growing interest in no-till gardening and permaculture, some people are still hesitant to use wood chips as mulch in their garden. They may not break down as quickly as other mulches but wood chips still have many benefits. 

Wood chip mulch are not only a favorite of some for gardening purposes, even animals like it and actually is beneficial to them. A pet lover from TreeHousePuppies, Janni, reported that the reason why dogs love bedding mulch is because “it is gentle on the paws, it protects the soil below, it is surprisingly comfortable to lay in, and it does not require much maintenance.” There are quite a few choices when choosing which one is for your dog and doing a little research will help you be informed before getting it.

Where to Find Wood Chips

One of the best things about wood chips is that you can often find them for free and you can be fairly certain that they’re free of chemicals, trash, and weed seeds. To locate free wood chips ask your town or city for the company that trims roadsides and power-lines. These companies are often looking for ways to get rid of the excess of wood chips they create. Sometimes if you live near where they’re cutting they’ll even deliver it to your yard for free. Alternatively, check with local landscaping companies and arborists as well as garden supply and feed stores. While colored bark mulches are usually pricey they may offer plain wood chips for a decent price. 

What About “Nitrogen Tie-Up”

For anyone unfamiliar, “nitrogen tie-up” is when the nitrogen in your soil is being used by microorganisms to break down carbon material (like wood chips) making it unavailable to plants for a time. However this doesn’t make wood chips bad, remember plants need carbon too! Some farmers also see other benefits of “nitrogen tie-up” like the fact that the nitrogen doesn’t leach out of the soil or too far down for plants to reach. If it seems like your wood chips are taking too long to break down or you’re seeing signs of nitrogen deficiency you can add amendments to boost your nitrogen levels and help your wood chips break down. Grass clippings, seaweed, chicken manure, and soy meal are all great options depending on where you live and what you have available.

Moisture Control & Weed Suppression

Wood chips do an excellent job at helping to keep your soils evenly moist. Many people know that they help keep your soil from drying out which is very important in dry climates or for those without access to irrigation. However, fewer people are aware that wood chips can help with soggy soils too. Wood chips help absorb excess moisture and are a great way to add organic matter to heavy clay soils. Also worth noting is how a thick layer of wood chips can help suppress weeds and unlike black plastic, it will fully break down leaving you without clean up and a smaller environmental impact.

Wood Chips are Prime Habitat

Two important features in organic gardens are fungus and beneficial insects. Wood chips are an excellent way to encourage both of these. Many of the types of fungus in your garden that help break down organic material into usable nutrients for plants will thrive with the addition of wood chips. Some people, like awesome folks of Edible Acres, actually grow edible mushrooms like wine caps on the wood chips in their garden! Several insects like earthworms and predatory beetles also enjoy habitat created by wood chips. Earthworms like the moist soil and will feed on the wood chips as they break down and predatory beetles will use them as shelter as they feed on the harmful pests that attack garden plants. 

If you’re looking to add mulch to your garden this year consider wood chips. In most areas of the east coast, they’re readily available and can help you create healthier soils and a more productive garden. 

No-Till Permanent Beds & SESE at the Mother Earth News Fair

Less work, better production is every gardener’s dream. One method that can help you to achieve this dream is to use a minimal or no-till permanent bed system.

More Production

Permanent beds perform better because the soil is never compacted and rarely disturbed. By using no-till practices on permanent beds beneficial insects, microbes, and fungi are allowed to thrive in the soil making for healthier more productive plants.

The pathways between permanent beds also encourage beneficial insects. They can be mulched to provide habitat for species like predatory insects or cover cropped with something like white clover that can be kept fairly short and still attract pollinators. Additionally cover cropped pathways can be mowed and the clippings can be used to add organic matter to the beds.

Permanent beds especially with pathways in cover crop helps reduce erosion keeping more nutrients in the beds for your plants.

Less Work

Unless you’ve got one of those rototilling Fastline Tractors then is usually a very time consuming spring project. Obviously no-till agriculture eliminates this need but it also reduces the amount of space that you have to carefully maintain. Mulch or mow where you walk rather than worrying about keeping it weed free.

Permanent beds can also help you plan out plantings for easy rotation and maintenance. You can easily keep track of what was where each year and space plantings to allow for easy cultivation with hand tools like a wheel how or stirrup hoe. They also make it easier to set up drip irrigation systems which are more efficient than overhead watering.

Finally, they make it easier to integrate perennials and self sowing plants into your garden plan. These plants make productive low maintenance additions.

Less Money

Tillers can be a costly expense for farmers and gardeners alike. Avoiding the initial cost of a tiller plus the fuel that goes into running a it at least once a year is a great way to save money in the garden.

As permanent no-till beds also keep your beds healthier they’ll reduce the need for costly outside inputs.

Mother Earth News Fair

June 2-3 Southern Exposure will be putting on a few workshops at the Maryland Mother Earth News Fair! If you’re in the area be sure to check out SESE’s workshops for some excellent gardening advice.

Grow More, Work Less: Expert tips for your vegetable garden with Ira Wallace

Available in: Maryland – North Carolina

Maryland Time: Sunday – 10:00-11:00 a.m.

Stage: Heirloom Gardener Stage

Simple tips and techniques for adding self-sowing annual, perennial, and biennial vegetables to your garden. Learn how to save time and money in your edible landscape, permaculture beds, or any vegetable garden.

Sun Growing Common and Uncommon Greens for Summer Salads and More

Available in: Maryland – North Carolina

Maryland Time: Sunday – 1:00-1:30 p.m.

Stage: Heirloom Gardener Stage

Salad greens are some of the most satisfying plants a gardener can grow. What else can you sow a little of in a bare patch and start harvesting just four weeks later? If you’ve mastered the basic greens (such as romaine, leaf lettuces, and spinach) and you’re looking for something a little different, or if your salad patch looks a little peaked in mid-summer, Ira Wallace has a few adventurous ideas for you as well as tips, varieties, and timing to keep the ordinary greens coming. Learn about 10 out-of-the-ordinary greens to try this year, including some that bridge the mid-summer gap between the cool, prolific spring and fall salad seasons.

Turmeric and Ginger: Growing for medicinal and culinary use

Available in: Maryland – North Carolina

Maryland Time: Saturday – 10:00-11:00 a.m.

Stage: Mother Earth Living Stage

There’s nothing fresher than turmeric and ginger you grow yourself! Learn the fundamentals of planting turmeric and ginger for a bountiful harvest. Ann Codrington shares her tips and tricks to get the moisture, timing, and temperature just right for sprouting, and shows participants how to care for plants as they go through their natural phases of growth.

Hands-on: Seed-Cleaning Techniques and Tips  Irena Hollowell, Gryphon Corpus, and Sappho Heavey

Available in: Maryland

Maryland Time: Saturday – 11:30-12:30 p.m.

Stage: Hands-On Demonstrations

Irena Hollowell, Gryphon Corpus, and Sappho Heavey show you how to clean seeds you’ve harvested in your garden for good germination rates and shelf life. This workshop focuses on the threshing, winnowing, and screening of seeds that mature in dry pods or seedheads (such as beans, okra, and lettuce), and participants can try their own hand at winnowing. Hollowell also briefly touches on the fermentation of seeds that mature wet. These methods are applicable to seeds of flowers and herbs, as well as vegetables. Take home handouts and seed samples. Note: An extra pass is required for this workshop. Space is limited, get your passes today.

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11 Ways to Make Your Garden More Eco-Friendly This Year

Of course growing your own food is in itself environmentally friendly. Food from a backyard garden uses significantly less fossil fuels than produce from the grocery store. It’s not kept refrigerated for days or shipped halfway around the world.

Backyard gardens still have there own impact though. Through growing food humans are impacting the environment. It doesn’t have to be a bad impact though. You can make your garden a benefit for the environment and species around you.

Install a rain barrel.

If you live somewhere that they’re legal a rain barrel can be a great addition to your garden. You can use water that would otherwise run into the ground.

Grow a pollinator garden.

Pollinator’s numbers are dwindling. They’re losing habitat and being killed by pesticides. You can help make life a little easier on them and encourage them to pollinate your plants by planting a pollinator garden with our handy guide.

Make compost.

Composting is easy and not as smelly as you’d think. You also don’t have to purchase a fancy bin. You can do something simple like a bin made of pallets or even no bin at all. Mother Earth News has a great article on composting here.

Use natural garden amendments.

Even certified organic chemical fertilizers and amendments are far from perfect. Using them can lead to excessive nutrient run-off causing algae blooms in nearby creeks.  Natural fertilizers like compost, plant materials, and wood ash are better alternatives. Check out more options here.

Use grey water.

Grey water is water thats been used in your sink or shower. In some places it’s legal to route this water to your garden rather than your septic tank and use this water to water fruit trees and bushes.

Grow cover crops.

Cover crops add nutrients to the soil without the risk of over fertilizing. They also add habitat for beneficial insects and microbes and prevent soil erosion.

Make your garden water efficient.

There’s a variety of methods to do this including adding swales, berms, and terraces to hold water. It’s also good to use drip irrigation rather than overhead which can evaporate.

Go no-till.

Gardens don’t actually need to be tilled if they’re managed properly. No-till gardening is actually better for soil health and uses no fuel like running a rototiller would!

Add mulch.

I talk about mulch all the time but it’s super important. As far as keeping your garden as eco-friendly as possible, mulch helps to hold in moisture, lessening the need for watering and helps prevent soil erosion. It also adds habitat for beneficial insects.

 

Add habitats for pollinators and beneficial insects.

The addition of pollinator and beneficial insect habitats can be great for your garden and them. You can find a lot of free plans on the internet for houses for beneficial creatures like birds, bats, toads, and insects. Many birds also appreciate a variety of different height plants to land on in the garden while birds and beneficial insects will utilize plant material left standing through the winter.

Utilize permaculture principles.

An entire book would be needed to explain permaculture but many of its principles can be used to help design a garden that works with nature to produce harvests without the need for large water or nutrient inputs. If you want an eco-friendly garden researching permaculture can help get you there.

 

All of our actions impact the world around us. Backyard gardens minimize some of the negative impacts that are found in our current food system but as growers we can choose to take that a step further and make our gardens as eco-friendly as possible.