Wednesday, 18 March 2015

How to grow your own mulch?

Growing my own mulch has long been a goal of mine. We use a lot of mulch in the nursery and garden and at the moment we have no problem sourcing straw but if/when the day comes that the farmers start using their own straw to improve their soil (which is becoming a more common practice), We'll be needing to step up our mulch growing efforts.


Currently, we grow enough mulch to sustain the perennial beds and around 10 % of the annual beds but rely on imported straw for mulching the other 90% of annual vegetable and nursery beds.

During this post, we'll look at what makes good mulch, a range of plants that we use for mulch and some possibilities for growing mulch for broad-scale use.

Mulch Growing in the Garden 

What makes a good mulch plant? 



My ideal mulch plant grows fast, is drought tolerant, competes minimally with crop plants, does not contain seeds that easily spreads, is easy to handle and cut, i.e,  not thorny/prickly or tough and fibrous, and can biodegrade relatively quickly (thereby returning the nutrients back to soil).

I've broadly categorized the main sources of mulch we produce in our 1500 m2 garden and 2500 m2 market garden.

Aquatic Plants 

We grow emergent wetland species such as cattails (Typha spp), sedges (Carex spp. ) and rushes (Juncus spp.) on the banks of a small pond (6m x 3m), and within a grey water reed bed (1m x 6m). The pond also provides suitable habitat for hornworts - Ceratophyllum spp. a submerged rootless perennial that gathers on the surface en masse. This plant makes an excellent mulch being rich in nitrogen, growing very fast and is easy to position around the base of plants. The emergent species provide a good thick carbon-rich mulch that helps to reduce evaporation on the terrestrial beds and we cut these back in the spring in case they are used for overwintering invertebrates. Aquatic plants are an excellent source of mulch as there are no issues with seed germinating amongst your land-based crops.

The wildlife pond, aka 'the mulch machine'  

Tap rooted Perennial/ Biennials

Deep-rooted perennial plants tend to produce a good amount of biomass, are generally drought tolerant and do not compete strongly with our crop plants. I have found native biennial weeds such as greater burdock - Arctium lappa a very useful mulch plant with the gigantic leaves growing back very fast after a cut. Lesser burdock - Arctium minus is also useful albeit to a lesser extent :) Although biennial, if you cut back these plants before flowering you can prolong their life, harvesting good quantities of seed-free biomass. It's good to allow some of the plants to flower as they are much loved by bees among other insects.

Comfrey- Symphytum x uplandicum 'Bocking 14' is a classic example of a deep-rooted mulch plant. We have the plant scattered throughout the garden and planted in dedicated mulch production patches. The plants do require irrigation however and will only provide good leaf yields if grown on fertile soil. For more on comfrey check out our blog article here. We are also using comfrey in an experimental perennial polyculture we call the biomass belt, dedicated to growing mulch see here more on this.   

A Perennial Polyculture dedicated to growing Mulch. - The Biomass Belt   



Helianthus tuberosus - Jerusalem Artichoke provides a great source of biomass. For a good tuber harvest its best to wait until the end of the season before harvesting the mulch. We can never consume as much as we produce of these tubers in the kitchen but have found them to be much appreciated by our pigs and an excellent source of fresh winter food for our rabbits.

 Leaves of Greater Burdock - Arctium lappa 

Nitrogen Fixing Trees and Shrubs 

These plants take a while to establish but make an excellent contribution. I've had good results from coppicing Paulownia tomentosa - Empress Tree when they are 3 yrs old and chop and dropping the soft new growth 3 or 4 times a year.  I am expecting to also see good results from  Alnus incana - Grey Alder and Alnus cordata - Italian Alder.  I avoid using thorny nitrogen-fixing trees and shrubs for this purpose. Annual trimming of shrubs such as  Elaeagnus umbellata - Autumn Olive and Cytisus scoparius - Broom also provides good quantities of mulch.  For more info on nitrogen fixation and nitrogen fixing plants see our previous post Nitrogen Fixation - How it Works and a Look at Some Super Nitrogen Fixing Trees, Shrubs and Herbs.

A brief intermission to let you know we've revamped our Online Store where you can find Forest Garden/ Permaculture Plants, Seeds, Cuttings, Bulbs, Rhizomes and Polyculture Multi-packs along with digital goods and services such as Online Courses, Webinars, eBooks, and Online Consultancy and finally we've added a Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree order form for Farms, Orchards, Nurseries, and Large Regenerative Landscape Projects. If there is anything in the store you would like to see but is not there, please let us know. We hope you enjoy the store and find something you like :) It's your purchases that keep our Project going. Thank you. Enter Our Store Here

Plants, Seeds, eBooks, Consultancy, Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree Orders for Permaculture, Polyculture, Forest Gardens and Regenerative Landscapes.

Lawn and Ground Cover 

One of my favourite sources of mulch is lawn trimmings. They are great for mulching potted plants or applying a mulch into tight spots.  Mixed species lawns will contain a more diverse mix of mineral nutrients, and lawns including a legume such as Trifolim repens - White Clover can provide a nitrogen rich mulch. It's a good idea to leave some of the trimmings behind to keep the lawn healthy.  

Bellis perennis, Trifolium pratense, Taraxadum officinale amongst others in our lawn 

Autumn Leaf Fall and Herbaceous Stem Residue. 

The annual shedding of leaves from trees and shrubs in our garden make a great contribution to our mulch capital. Leaves can be cleared from paths,  lawns and wildflower beds (as they will disrupt the growth in these areas) and concentrated where they are of benefit such as the base of high demanding fruiting shrubs such as Blackcurrants or Blackberries.

Herbaceous perennials such as Mellisa officinalis - Lemon Balm and  Mentha spp.- Mints will provide dead stems annually. It's always a good idea to leave hollow stems of some herbaceous perennials to remain for the winter as they are utilized by invertebrates for egg-laying and hibernating. If the plant does not have a hollow stem it can be cut back and used for mulch. Foeniculum vulgare - Fennel provides large quantities of biomass and as far as I can tell the stems are not utilized by organisms over the winter.

In the vegetable garden all the remnants of my crops after harvesting go straight back to the surface for recycling.

Foeniculum vulgare and other herbaceous perennials

Tree Prunings

Woody prunings from shrubs, trees, and vines cut into small pieces (5-10cm) make good mulch in the mature areas of the forest garden with well established fungal soils specializing in breaking down the lignified woody material.

Living Mulches 

In the more mature areas of the garden where the trees have established (5 yrs and older), I have dispensed with mulch all together in favor of ground cover plants that can be considered living mulches. Some of the most successful perennial living mulches I have found that form good dense cover in the shade includes Ajuga reptans - Bugle,  Lamium maculatum - Spotted Dead Nettle,  Sedem spurium - Caucasian Stonecrop, Vinca major -Perwinkle and  Stachys officinalis - Betony.

Lamium maculatum spreading well under a Morus alba -  Mulberry 

C4 and other Grasses 

Another great option for mulch production is perennial grasses that produce large amounts of biomass, can grow on poor to average soils are drought-tolerant, reproduce via rhizomatous growth and have seed ripening from late June onwards or have sterile seed. C4 grasses are even more suitable - For more on C4 plants see here

Two plants that appear most suitable are Miscanthus x giganteus (C4) and Arundo donax (C3). In an experiment, you can find here recorded yields of biomass were 40 t/ha/yr in M.giganteus and 30 t/ha/yr in A.donax.




Scaling up Mulch Production 

In order to grow enough mulch to provide a water-retaining, weed excluding barrier for my annual and nursery beds I would certainly need more space. A larger wetland area would be ideal, with aquatic species growing very fast and the seed-bearing parts of the plants being nonproblematic to use on terrestrial beds. If you don't have a reliable aquatic habitat, the next best option for growing quantities of mulch without irrigation and fertilization is probably grass.

You can find a plan to grow enough mulch to support approx 670 fruit trees and 1360 soft fruit shrubs for a 5ha Agroforestry Project in a previous post here.

Alley Cropping Site Design 

If you would like to learn how to design, build and manage polycultures such as the ones above we've just launched our very first Regenerative Landscape Design - Online Interactive Course -  How to Design, Build and Manage Polycultures for Landscapes, Gardens, and Farms.

We're super excited about running the course and look forward to providing you with the confidence, inspiration, and opportunity to design, build and manage regenerative landscapes, gardens, and farms that produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

Regenerative Landscape Design Online Course

You can find out more about the course here to see if it tickles your fancy, and if you subscribe to our newsletter below or you already have subscribed you are welcome to a 20% discount on the full enrollment fees for this course.  Just use the promo code SUB2020 in the section of the registration form to receive your discount. This offer is valid until the 15th of February 2020.


                                                                        


We are looking forward to providing you with this unique online learning experience - as far as we know the very first of its kind, and if you are thinking of reasons why you should do this course and whether this course is suitable for you, take a look here where we lay it all out.

Thanks for reading and if you have a favorite mulch plant, let us know in the comment box below and if you have found this post informative please share.

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Design and Build - Forest Garden Course  - Regenerative Landscape Design Course

Registration for our course is now open with a 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more). You can also take advantage of early booking discounts if you book 3 months before the course starts.


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We're hosting a range of online learning sessions including how to create habitat to enhance biodiversity, how to design and build a forest garden, polyculture design software tutorials, regenerative farm, and landscape design, urban gardening and much more. If you would like to be notified when our next sessions are coming up please add your email below and hit subscribe and we'll be in touch.




You can also register for our online training, services, and products directly here.

Please Consider Supporting Our Efforts 


Our project grows with our desire to provide better quality information. Our overheads and demands on our time also grow along with our development and this presents a challenge for us to maintain the project and activities. We do not receive any government, institutional or NGO funding for our project and rely on revenue from sales of our courses, plants, consultancy, and design work along with the support of our amazing volunteers to develop and manage the gardens and are very grateful for this. So please consider joining us for a course or event, purchasing products and services from our online store or plants from our bio nursery, participating in our online educational platforms and support the project while we support you. Feeling super generous today? You can also support us directly with a one-time donation or become a sponsor of our project providing monthly support. With your support, we will continue to improve on producing quality information and data for the community, building a world-class demonstration landscape and progress on our mission to develop and promote practices that can produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

 

We also accept donations via bank transfer in USD - EURO - GBP - AUD - NZD  - (please email for account details) and via peer to peer distributed ledger - BTC - ETH



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Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Definitions of Annual, Biennial, Perennial, and Ephemeral

Definitions of Annual, Biennial, Perennial, and Ephemeral

Annuals

Annuals are plants that go through their entire life cycle in one growing season.

Hardy annuals are plants that go through their entire life cycle in one season and that can be sown outside in the open garden in spring where it is to flower, for example, Centaurea cyanus – cornflower.
Centaurea cyanus - Cornflower


Half-hardy annuals are plants that die if exposed to the cold, so they can’t go into the garden until after the last frost and should be sown indoors in spring. They’ll keep going until killed by the first autumn frost. For example, Tagetes erecta - African Marigold.

Tagetes erecta - African Marigold

Biennials

Biennial are plants whose life cycle spans two years, so they flower and produce seeds in their second year. An example of a biennial is Armoracia rusticana - Horseradish.  

 Armoracia rusticana - Horseradish.

Perennials 

Perennials are plants that live for more than two years.


Woody perennials are plants that exhibit secondary growth resulting in wood i.e all trees and shrubs such as Cornus mas - Cornellian Cherry 

Cornus mas - Cornellian Cherry 


Herbaceous perennial are non-woody plants that die back to a rootstock each autumn and regrow in the following spring. For example, Comfrey - Symphytum uplandicum or Narcissus poeticus - Daffodil.


Comfrey - Symphytum x uplandicum 'Bocking 14'

A quick intermission just to let you know we've revamped our Online Store where you can find Forest Garden/ Permaculture Plants, Seeds, Cuttings, Bulbs, Rhizomes and Polyculture Multi-packs along with digital goods and services such as Online Courses, Webinars, eBooks, and Online Consultancy and finally we've added a Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree order form for Farms, Orchards, Nurseries, and Large Regenerative Landscape Projects. If there is anything in the store you would like to see but is not there, please let us know. We hope you enjoy the store and find something you like :) It's your purchases that keep our Project going. Thank you. Enter Our Store Here

Plants, Seeds, eBooks, Consultancy, Bulk Fruit and Nut Tree Orders for Permaculture, Polyculture, Forest Gardens and Regenerative Landscapes.

Ephemerals

Ephemeral  plants can complete several life cycles in a growing season if correct weather conditions are present, for example, the delicious wild edible Stellaria media - Chickweed.  

Chickweed - Stellaria media

Upcoming Forest Garden Courses 


If you would like to create a forest garden and gain some practical hands-on experience come and join us for our Design and Build a Forest Garden Course. We'll be covering site surveying, landscape design software, installing access, beds, irrigation channels, planting tree, shrub, herb and ground layers, and wildlife ponds. All in 3 days! And plenty of follow up material to take away with you to digest slowly.

Design and Build - Forest Garden Course  - Regenerative Landscape Design Course

Registration for our course is now open with a 15% discount on accommodation and food fees when you register as a group (2 or more). You can also take advantage of early booking discounts if you book 3 months before the course starts.


----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Please Consider Supporting Our Efforts 


Our project grows with our desire to provide better quality information. Our overheads and demands on our time also grow along with our development and this presents a challenge for us to maintain the project and activities. We do not receive any government, institutional or NGO funding for our project and rely on revenue from sales of our courses, plants, consultancy, and design work along with the support of our amazing volunteers to develop and manage the gardens and are very grateful for this. So please consider joining us for a course or event, purchasing products and services from our online store or plants from our bio nursery, participating in our online educational platforms and support the project while we support you. Feeling super generous today? You can also support us directly with a one-time donation or become a sponsor of our project providing monthly support. With your support, we will continue to improve on producing quality information and data for the community, building a world-class demonstration landscape and progress on our mission to develop and promote practices that can produce food and other resources for humans while enhancing biodiversity.

 

We also accept donations via bank transfer in USD - EURO - GBP - AUD - NZD  - (please email for account details) and via peer to peer distributed ledger - BTC - ETH



If you are not in a financial position to purchase our products and services or donate please comment, like and share our work. This helps us to spread our work further afield and is much appreciated.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Would you like to be involved in the project next season?  1-6 month placements on our polyculture study are now open. 


Permaculture and Regenerative Design Internships


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

We offer a diversity of plants and seeds for permaculture, forest gardens and regenerative landscapes including a range of fruit and nut cultivars. We Deliver all over Europe from Nov - March. - Give a happy plant a happy home :)


Our Bio-Nursery - Permaculture/Polyculture/ Regenerative Landscape Plants 


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Design and Create Webinars - Forest Gardens, Urban Gardens, Permaculture, Regenerative Farming   


We're hosting a range of online learning sessions including how to create habitat to enhance biodiversity, how to design and build a forest garden, polyculture design software tutorials, regenerative farm, and landscape design, urban gardening and much more. If you would like to be notified when our next sessions are coming up please add your email below and hit subscribe and we'll be in touch.




You can also register for our online training, services, and products directly here.

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------




If you appreciate the work we are doing you can show your support in several ways.

  • Comment, like and share our content on social media.