Monday, May 20, 2013

Adventures in Mulching

Illicit grass harvesting team!
As I mentioned in an earlier post about living mulch for containers, I'm not using the usual black plastic this year in the garden. It never felt quite right to me, although the benefits of weed suppression, soil warming, and moisture retention were all apparent. It's plastic, though, and that means it's made from oil, that it won't easily break down, and can't be reused.

And it does nothing for the soil. It helps the plants in the short term and keeps my work load slightly lighter for the season, which are things I don't take lightly. I go away for the better part of August and September, and I come home each time to weed chaos. Plus, summer is hot, hot, hot and often dry. But unlike straw or even compost from my bin it doesn't feed the community that lives below the soil surface that does more work in my garden than I'll ever do in a lifetime. I don't take that lightly, either. After all the reading and thinking I've been doing, the visit to Hamma Farm only confirmed that I needed to find a way to support that living community. Organic mulch it is.

The problem, though, is where to find it. Word has it that leaves are out as radiation readings are still a bit higher than most folks are comfortable with. (One idea is that it is still washing down through the soil to where a trees deep roots will take it up.) Tall grass grows in the chestnut orchard, but the farmers recently mowed it to tidy for summer events. I used it to mulch the strawberries last fall, and it worked like a charm after a bit of drying.

Luckily, a small park just north of our apartment is full of a similar grass. I'd remembered it while lying awake one night thinking about different farming ideas and checked on it the next day. Sure enough the grass was tall, green, and gaily waving in the evening breeze. A few nights later with the faithful spouse, a good friend, our bike trailer, gloves, and scissors, we went harvesting. While we did get a few strange looks and a few barks from dogs perturbed that their favorite spot was occupied, we managed to fill the trailer and all three bike baskets in less than an hour.

The grass is now laid out in the garden to dry. Half of it is set on over-turned trays so air can circulate below as well as above and the other half is laid directly on the soil. I'm hoping to see if the trays make a difference in drying time and quality. Netting is placed over all of this to keep to both keep things from blowing around too much in our infamous Tokyo winds and try to take advantage of them for this project. Here's hoping!

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