Monday, August 12, 2013
Woodchip Woes and Mulching Madness
Estimates I have read around the average rainfall and moisture levels we get here in Missouri are showing anywhere from two to four inches of organic mulch loss per year over the entire area covered. That's a damned lot of wood chips when you figure the surface area I am covering. Yesterday afternoon I pruned a bunch of branches and some woody-like sunflower casualties and amassed a good sized pile of stuff to run through the chipper/shredder. Almost two hours of stripping and feeding and shredding/chipping produced maybe a gallon and a half to two gallons of viable material.
At that rate I figure the amount of material I got would be enough to resupply maybe a weeks worth of mulch loss at current usage, maybe a day's worth at the levels I would like to cover eventually. I have lost count of how many pickup loads of free woodchips I have hauled this Spring and Summer so far but I can tell you there is no physical way to even touch the demand here while using a small engine sized chipper/shredder alone. Perhaps if I had a larger forested area and one of those commercial grade chippers the road crews use but that is pretty solidly out of my price range.
The barn mulch mixed with sheep manure cover I used for the garden is holding up quite well and achieves the same result as the wood chip mulch but is now beginning to show some wear around the edges. The crabgrass especially is damaging to both types of cover as it breaks it down with all the spiderweb-like roots. As far as attacking ground mulch goes, crabgrass is worse than morning glory/bindweed in the wood chip sections. Many times removing the crabgrass does more immediate damage to the mulch area trying to remove all the tendrils and crabgrass appears to be quite happy living on the woodchips themselves.
As a side experiment I have let the crabgrass grow unmolested in a section or two and in just over two months of growth it has already completely engulfed a three foot square section to where you can barely tell there are any woodchips under it. As it breaks it down it loosens it up for the other grasses and weeds to push through.
The thicker matting the barn mulch creates appears to be more crabgrass resistant but does little to nothing against the morning glory and other bindweeds. Of course morning glory has one good feature in that the bees will actually forage on it some but still it is a hard to impossible weed to control with ground cover.
Both types of ground cover do negate the mud factor very satisfactorily. However the barn mulch may add too much direct nitrogen as it decomposes much faster than the woodchips causing more explosive growth but less blooming and fruit setting. It also appears to be very favorable for pumpkins to re-root themselves in which is causing an entirely new set of problems I hadn't foreseen.
Grass clippings appear to have the same overall effect as barn mulch but my guess is overall it applies more nitrogen and much less of the other additions that come with barn mulch. It doesn't last as long either but does appear to be much less appealing to crabgrass for some reason. I used grass clipping almost entirely around the squash and it is still holding good but also gives a good cover for the squashbugs to hide out in.
All three types of cover preform excellent moisture retention though.
My final analysis is this. None of the ground cover types are perfect. The fact that once covered with wood chips means tilling is out of the question as well as plowing means there is just no way you can use wood chips in an area that you cannot keep resupplied, therefore it is out as a garden cover but works great for raised beds. A combination of barn mulch and grass clippings work well for the garden area but require more manual labor each season unless of course you are using wood chips of your own making then the manual labor rate is about the same. The advantage to barn mulch especially is that it is something you have to remove constantly anyway and you have to do something with it. Grass clippings on the other hand may not be viable in a grid down situation without constant fuel inputs to gather.
In other words use what ya got folks. Each has it's advantages and drawbacks. For me a combination is the best compromise. If I had easy access to a constant supply of woodchips I would go that route but I don't. I do have easy access to a constant supply of old, trampled down hay infused with sheep waste and grass clippings so I will use them on the spots that I will plow and till every year.
It would be nice if lambing season was finished by the time garden planting started to allow easier access to the barn mulch but that doesn't happen. The lambs are usually birthed by then but still too young to be put in regular pasturage.
Unless you have a supply of anything that makes an end run around some part of the labor process there is no easy alternative. Even with a good supply of chipping material getting the end result is just as much work as weeding in my opinion.
Keep Prepping Everyone!!!