Mulching a half fruiting perennial/half crop garden?

Discussion in 'Organic Gardening' started by candychikita, Jan 9, 2010.

  1. candychikita

    candychikita Member

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    Hi all!

    Having a conundrum and was hoping someone out there in the wild could solve this problem for me.

    The situation: I have fruiting perennials and fruit trees (namely blueberries, currants, josta, strawberries, grapes, rosemary, peach and cherry trees in a bed) I want to keep the weeds away, and from everything I've read, it's a good idea to mulch. One to keep weeds away, two to conserve moisture, three to stop soil erosion. I find the light coloured wood chips used on the blueberry fields around here attractive, and would like to do so on this part of my garden. I hear that it's good for the pH of the blueberries too.

    However.

    I interplant below the bushes, and beside the 'border' of strawberries (that is taking over, but I don't mind) with seasonal crops (namely carrots, snowpeas, lettuce, onions, beets) Space is at a premium - I have a 20 ft x 5 ft bed. I could make more room, but it's my front yard, so I have to stay somewhat within the 'planting code' of my area. I plan to expand in the future, but I want to conquer the first bed before screwing up my whole front yard! I have a black thumb and am compensating by nerding out and reading everything and anything on the subject of edible landscaping/urban edibles/food forestry/small space gardening/etc etc. It seemed to work: My last years' harvest showed an 85% survival rate (not bad!) and I had so much produce from the little space that my two kids and I wagon-ed it up to the local grocery store and sold it :) So. Dirt seems good, compost works, and it seems we found some things that we can grow.

    The questions:
    -Mulch with the light coloured wood chips or not?
    -And if so, and my plants need a 'top up' of organic material, what do I do? Top up over TOP of the nice mulch? Then re-mulch? Or does the rain take the dirt/poop/compost through the mulch, leaving it all nice and 'clean' again?
    -What if they need fertilizing of certain materials? -- I'm cheap and organic, so really I have compost or manure or straw or compost as my fertilizing options.
    -Am I somehow supposed to peel away the mulch to add certain components to the soil?
    -I realize that the seasonal crops take away certain nutrients from the soil...do the fruiting shrubs/trees?
    -If the mulch is in the way, how can I test the soil to see what the plants need?
    -Stuff the seasonal crops, you're messing up the happy lives of your fruiting shrubs/trees?

    I'm probably jamming way too many things in my little space, but so far things seem to be co-habitating nicely. (Heading into 3rd season) I just want to make it ok for all the plants. I don't care so much about ridiculous yields, but we want the variety and the girls LOVE the crop planting so that they can watch their own handiwork grow. We're inspired by Rosalind Creasy's garden images, and she has tonnes of stuff in all together...we want that, only in our front yard in Langley, with things that we eat.

    So. Thanks for reading. DO get back to me if you have answers. Planning THE HARVEST OF 2010!
     

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  2. lorax

    lorax Rising Contributor

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    1. You certainly can, but check what the wood chips are. Cedar and pine will make your soil more acidic over time (which is good for your blueberries, but not so hot for your peaches). A pretty alternative that doesn't have the same impact on the soils is wheat or oat straw. However, most of the seasonal crops are pretty adaptable as long as you top-dress with something rich, which it sounds like you're doing already.
    2-4. Scrape the mulch back, add the top-up as a top-dressing, then re-cover. This is a lot less work than it sounds, really. Rain will rinse the top of your chips clean, but if you goop on a bunch of manure, it's going to stay there until the rain erodes it, which is what you're trying to avoid with the mulch in the first place.
    5. Both your seasonals and your perennials do take nutrient from the soils; I'd say your best bet is to top-dress everything with aged manure at the beginning of the season, then cover with the chips.
    6. Mulch is mobile! If you need to test your soil, just scrape a bit back, take your samples, and then put the mulch back in place.
    7. Not a chance. If you practise good companion planting, your seasonals are actually helping your fruit trees. Particularly if you continue to plant legumes - these actually put more into the soil than they take out. The only thing I'd caution you is to not put your tomatoes in the same place each year, since they're quite heavy feeders and will locally deplete the soil.

    Best of luck! I cram about 25 annual and perennial crops into about 150 square feet, because I'm not afraid to let them step on each other a bit. It has worked for me for many years, both when I lived in Canada and now in Ecuador.
     
  3. candychikita

    candychikita Member

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    Wow. That was fast! Thanks for the speedy response. Got almost all the questions answered, but I now have one more on the same theme. You seem like a person in the know:

    I was thinking about putting pine sawdust near the blueberries so they could take advantage of the acidity as it decomposes, and then straw above and below the strawberry 'border'. The blueberries are at the top of a mounded row, with the strawberries creeping up it to secure the soil and stop it from just washing away. Worth doing or just stick with straw 100%? Just concerned that the acidity of the sawdust will stop the strawberries from producing, because they're in the runoff path of the blueberries. Blueberries didn't produce much, but when they did they were HUGE SWEET berries; they were first year plants though, so this year and the soil tests will tell if they need something.

    Not so sure I'm practicing 'good' companion planting but each year I'm learning! Thanks for the help!
     
  4. lorax

    lorax Rising Contributor

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    The pine-dust thing with straw sounds like it would work perfectly - the straw should keep it from blowing off when it gets windy, and the blueberries will love the acidity. I'd only do it right around the bases of the blueberries, though - this way you minimise the impact that the acidity has to that local area.
     
  5. candychikita

    candychikita Member

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    Fabulous. I'll try it then. Thanks for all your help!
     
  6. M. D. Vaden

    M. D. Vaden Active Member 10 Years

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    I like lorax' legumes suggestion. We are finally preparing a garden for next year, ourselves.

    About mulch, I don't find it highly effective for suppressing weeds. Just depends. Mulch can increase some weeds. The best part about mulch is that its often very loose and much easier to pull weeds from than the soil. So I mulch shrub beds and even some of my vegetable areas (previous garden).
     

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