Deep Mulching in Manitoba

manitoba_mumNovember 16, 2013

I watched the "Back to Eden" movie about the marvels of deep mulching and wonder if anyone in our prairie climate has experience with this kind of mulching? Would it work for us as demonstrated in the movie?

We've experiencing really unusual weather, mostly too much rain at the wrong time or cold/dry when it should be warm. We are definitely going to transition to raised beds. Our experiemnt in the 2013 growing season showed us that the beds drained quickly while the conventional garden flooded and stayed wet. The soil seemed to warm up quicker in the raised beds, as well. We used a light mulch of dried grass clippings which worked beautifully when it was dry.

My chief concern with deep mulching is how it will affect the soil warm up in early spring. In raised beds that shouldn't be a big problem, if we keep with what worked last year. I'm wondering if we will be wasting effort spreading a thick layer of mulch on the gardens that are not raised?

Sources of mulch are: wood chips from living trees (Hydro line cleared with brushing machines - left a beautiful debris field to excavate), composted bedding from goats, chicken manure/sawdust; composting leaves and grass clippings

Anyone with experience to share is greatly appreciated.

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xaroline(zone 3 Calgary)

I have no experience with deep mulching.
Mulch usually makes the ground stay frozen longer in the spring to my way of thinking. But it does protect against the harsh winter.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 11:06PM
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northspruce(z3a MB CDA)

One of my gardening friends is huge into mulch and uses it thick. It shouldn't make much difference to soil thawing, at worst your spring bulbs might be later than everyone else's.

I don't use mulch because it gets in my way, but I do put a thick layer of leaves on my perennial beds and sometimes they are still frozen underneath when I remove them. I have noticed that my bulbs are later than neighbours', but it keeps the roses from harsh freeze/thaw cycles in spring which can kill them.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 4:25PM
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Pudge 2b

You haven't indicated if this is your plan for vegetable gardening or general flower gardening. I think mulch for perennials, shrubs, bulbs, etc is good. As Gillian mentioned, mulch does stop the freeze/thaw cycle that can kill many shrubs and perennials. It's better in our climate for them to be late emerging than to be up/leafed and killed by late spring frost. I like to put down a fall mulch of straw mixed with leaves; I don't remove it in the spring and everything still grows the way it should although perhaps slightly later. If I have any half-finished compost, I'll add that as a mulch around the end of June.

But certainly I think there may be problems with heavy mulch and warming the soil for a vegetable garden in our climate. I think I would prefer to mulch after the soil has warmed. But if you're looking at a no-till method that they appear to be practising in the video then I'm not sure about its effectiveness here.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 8:33PM
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Yes, I am thinking primarily about our vegetable garden. I want to expand our perennial flower garden, so will keep your advice about bulbs and perennials, in mind.

It was the vision of getting the main garden to where there would be much less cultivation, especially with our senior years rapidly approaching, that made the Back to Eden documentary, so appealing.

We have very thin soil over a rocky mixture of everything from huge boulders to pockets of clay. I've developed beds where the large rocks have been removed along with some of the subsoil, then top soil, rotten manure etc has been brought in to make a more fertile seed bed. It's been a very labor intensive undertaking. Hence, you may appreciate why the idea of deep mulch--put down on less than ideal soil--sounds so great.

If deep mulching slows down early spring soil warm up, then to invest time and energy bringing in wood chips etc. may be counter productive. I'm very much aware of the brevity of our 90 frost free days! We don't have much wiggle room, do we?

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 4:40PM
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Manitoba Mum, how big an area are you talking about for your vegetable garden?

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 10:59PM
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Manitoba Mum, how big an area are you talking about for your vegetable garden?

nutsaboutflowers: We have 6 plots in various locations, as we've had so much rain that our main garden drowned, so we've been trying to get things up on higher ground. Here is a photo to give you an idea of where I wanted to mulch.

This plot was big enough for 100 tomatoes staked here, it's about 16' by 30'. There is another 2 plots about the same size. The other three are smaller.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2013 at 4:22PM
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As I suspected you have a much larger vegetable garden than I do. My method would be much too labour intensive for your wonderful amount of space.

The only thing that would concern me about the deep mulching is the growth of unwanted fungus. I left the wood chips from a tree stump and all I got was a bunch of mushrooms growing in it :(

    Bookmark   November 21, 2013 at 10:09AM
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I'm interested in whatever experience has taught you, because I was able to put on a fairly thick layer of mulch on these smaller plots this fall, just before freeze up.

I sifted through the debris field left from brushing our hydro line and gleaned what looked like passable wood fiber and chips that had a full year to rot before I gathered them.

If I have to, I'll remove this mulch in the spring if it really isn't going to help, esp. with the soil staying cold.

I'm still able to invest in some significant hard work if in the long run there'll be a payoff of less digging later on.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2013 at 6:30PM
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For what it's worth, here's what I do to my vegetable garden. I don't bring anything from elsewhere, I use what I have in my own yard. I don't use deep mulch anywhere, as I also agree it would get in the way.

Every time I mow my lawn during the growing season, I spread the clippings between my vegetables and some of my flower beds. If I'm in the mood , I sometimes add a thin layer of my chopped leaves saved from the previous year and then water a bit to keep them from blowing away. The grass clippings have kept the weeds down and appear to hold moisture even during the hottest times.

As soon as one crop is finished and pulled, I start composting my kitchen scraps directly in the vegetable garden. As each crop is finished, I start my trench composting in that area also. Each time I add something, I use a garden fork to stir it around a bit, and then make sure it's buried. To heck with putting all my stuff in the compost bin, waiting, and then having to shovel it onto the garden anyway. This saves me a step. Just to make sure it was working, I dug up some of it in September, about a month after burying it, and there were no visible pieces.

Once fall comes along, and there's dry leaves all over the place, I mow my lawn, dump the bag into a row, mow over it to chop the leaves more, dump, and mow again until the leaves are finely chopped. I throw a thin layer all over the lawn and then I dump most of the remainder on my garden and basically semi double dig the garden to incorporate my mixture into my clay soil. The next time I mow, it's primarily dry leaves, so I chop them up in the same manner, and dump a thin layer all over the garden and flower beds. I keep 2-3 big garbage bags full of dry chopped leaves to use in the spring and summer of the following year. My clay soil is easier to dig than last year and I have no reason not to believe it'll be better year after year :) I'm confident that as I age I'll be digging less and less.

Keep in mind that I have the time to do all this and it may seem like a lot of work.

Good luck with whatever method/methods you choose to experiment with.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2013 at 7:50PM
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Thanks for describing what you're doing.

I've always felt there was some special technique for making proper compost, but it all does go back into the soil eventually, doesn't it? What do you do in winter with your kitchen scraps?

Around here, I don't want to attract wild-life to free food. Our neighbor "feeds" the deer and has made them into perfect pests. They have no fear of humans. I cannot say I have any warm fuzzy feelings when they stake out my garden to add variety to their diet!

    Bookmark   November 29, 2013 at 6:53PM
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Pudge 2b

I just noticed that wagon wheel structure in the background ... that looks pretty cool - do you have another photo of it closer up?

    Bookmark   November 29, 2013 at 7:10PM
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Thanks. Here's a closer shot of our wheel creation. Sorry for blocking out the lettering, but at least it gives you an idea of what we did with our collection of old rake wheels.The sign is a slice of an old burle, that was once the top of a coffee table.

The flower bed leaves much to be desired. We had way too much rain early this summer, those poor flowers were practically swimming. I need to make a raised bed.

    Bookmark   November 30, 2013 at 8:28PM
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Pudge 2b

That's really inventive ... way to repurpose!

    Bookmark   December 1, 2013 at 10:34AM
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So, I know it's a little early (to put it mildly) for you northerners to have tested out the deep mulching question here. But I'd love to hear when things begin to warm up for you. I am trying to help a group out that will be planting a garden to help support orphans in Romania. I'm just starting to research growing conditions in their area etc.

BTE works fabulously in my area which is hot 100+ degrees and dry in the summer. I'm trying to figure out if it will work well for them.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2014 at 12:41PM
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I know this is a discussion from last fall but I wanted to add my two cents. Deep mulching right through the spring and summer is not a great idea if your soil is not very well-drained or not a raised bed. Mulch effectively blocks evaporation, so you run the risk of making the soil highly anoxic after a heavy rainfall event. I would reserve the use of heavy organic mulches for soils that are on a knoll, so they have other means of losing excess moisture.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2014 at 9:54PM
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