10 October 2008

Simply Living - Mulching

When living simply and attending to the needs of the residents of an area, soil is important but water must be the first element to be taken into consideration. There are many converts to permaculture, but it will be clear that the people who advocate this method of growing plants are generally not doing it with only water which falls as rain from the sky. If water is available from a tap, from a community water supply it all looks and works rather well and the text below might not be relevant. If the trees that are grown are the kind which also come from the countries where the vegetables originate, it is all slightly easier to plant vegetables in a forest situation if there is water sufficient to supply all. But many would like to grow plants - vegetables and flowers using less water, or using it several times. It is possible to use less water in the garden, but generally people are still flushing their toilets with water from the community source and though some may be using the water from the septic tank, by planting berries and such things on the outflow and the grey water from their sinks - it still comes from a community water supply and much is still wasted. Water like electricity and gas and other things is becoming more and more expensive, and will soon become a major expense for the household if the world continues as it is heading. Certainly in Australia. So in what way may we grow plants we love using considerably less water in the process?

Mulch is probably the very best way to conserve water already in the ground and grow the flowers that lighten our lives as well as the vegetables that delight our taste buds and satisfy our hunger. There are many different ways of mulching the garden:

  • shade mulch
  • rock mulch
  • paper mulch
  • vegetable matter mulch

Each of the above is a desirable way toward a desirable outcome and if there is a chance to have several kinds of mulch at once all the better, as long as it fills the need of the plant and saves the water in the ground as expected. So looking at each of these mulches in turn we might find something that can be done about reducing the amount of water we use for growing vegetables and brightening up our lives. Remembering that sweet lettuce leaves are grown by keeping water up to them in quantity as they grow and having enough soil nutrient or adding sufficient nutrient during their growth cycle so the plant is able to make the most of the water it receives to deliver that taste and texture sensation we want. Some vegetable plants will not do well in just moist soil with periods of water shortage. We will only reap the favour and texture that we offer the plant to survive or thrive.

The Shade Mulch

This mulch can be natural and comes from other plants that are in the line of sun, mostly during the afternoon when the the heat from that source is at its greatest, and when the plants have already absorbed sufficient light and warmth from the mornings offering of that orb. The problem with shade mulch is that it usually comes from living trees and shrubs and these compete for water with the plants that they are shading. Though a shade mulch can be created from shade cloth or certain plant stalks and any material which inhibits the sun, and will be of benefit as a wind break as well, it is never as pleasing to the eye, because restricts the view past and over the garden. However there is no doubt that it works, though in the case of the shade cloth there are no branches for the birds to nest in either.

Rock Mulch

Rocks and stones have the benefit of never requiring to be renewed in the gardeners lifetime, and that is a bonus of sorts. They can be dug in below the soil surface, and they will retain water at their base as if they are above the ground, but the soil which is on top of them will dry out and where this soil touches the moist soil below the stones will also suck it dry and allow it to evaporate though more slowly. It is best to place the rocks or stones on top of the soil for gardens that are oft replanted anyway, though handling the rocks at each replanting is undertaken can become tedious. These rocks, stone or gravel mulches will ensure that water is allowed to reach the soil beneath it quickly and without any loss during rain or watering. That is very important in areas where the rainfall is unpredictable and unreliable in both timing and volume. The benefit of rocks and stones within the top 150mm of the soil has not been looked at in detail and will probably deliver some interesting revelations. Rocks do wear away, and plants do secrete certain substances that some might call mild acids to eat away at the elements the plants need and the rock and stone contains.

Paper Mulch

Paper mulch using newspapers or other papers that were once trees is quite reasonable, but as always depending on the garden conditions. The inks used in today's printing industries is not poisonous as it once was, however, what it does to soil and plants is not known either. Some might assume it does nothing, but there is not anything in this world that doesn't have an affect. Papers can be shredded and that assists with the breakdown of the mulch and water penetration to the soils surface, and it will disappear more quickly and become a water absorbent element of the soil as it does so. It can also be placed on the soil as sheets, and this has a different effect. But if the sheets are large and depending how many are used in a group, they will not allow the water to penetrated into the soil as easily. These mulches, because they are water absorbent are not as good in areas where the rainfall is light and low in volume and relied on as the main water for the garden. The reason being that only the mulch is watered and absorbs much if not all of it and the soil beneath experiences very little moisture and seldom enough to travel down to plant roots.

If placed in paper mulch is sheets on the garden, these must be held to the soil in some way. They can be handy if moisture can be maintained beneath them, to harvest earth worms by placing food for them under the sheets, but sheets of newspaper without being shredded are a cumbersome and high maintenance mulch in just about any conditions.

Vegetable Matter Mulch

All vegetable matter mulch is desirable because it will eventually enrich the soil, and compost mulches are very beneficial, as they usually contain worm castings and rotted vegetable matter that will release food for the flowers or vegetables which can be immediately utilised. These have the same drawback the other mulches with the exception rock/stone and shade, being they absorb water and only when completely soaked or if the rain is in deluge, allow water to travel down further to the soil and plant roots.

Grass and hay mulch is also very beneficial providing they are grasses without seed and if those to be used for mulch contain seed, it is not the invasive, difficult to eradicate type like bent grass [couch grass] or others that can make gardening a chore and is mainly weeding. The nutrient these undesirable weeds consume isn't returned to the garden, because the plants need to be physically removed and disposed of, or treated in a way that will make certain they and any seed is killed before being composted and returned to the garden.

Certain mulches like hardwood chips take a long time to break down. But because nature wants to break down the mulch, because it is not really something that fits in with the natural scheme of things to remain for a long period on the soil surface. The breaking down of these chips will deprive the plant roots they protect from the sun, of nitrogen, because this element will be used up trying to break down the high carbon wood chips. Though once the task is complete, the nitrogen will slowly become available to the plants again.

These are just some of the mulches that can be used. They are not exhaustive. The terrain and soil type and the plants to be grown will in many cases dictate the mulch that will suit the conditions. It must also be remembered as well, that some mulches are home for many insects and fungi. These thrive in the conditions that mulches create, and they are not to be discounted, as they also affect plants one way or another.

10 November 2007

Trying to turn back time.......

The thing that is always so laughable is the way so many people and that may not be you current reader, take things out of context its environment. Single it out and then try to discover something about it and attempt to put it back into a system that is usually too large to imagine.

As an example, people wanting the Australian bush to be native once again. So they work from the point they stand, where all manner of animals and plants have been introduced, and in with the animals I include the human animal which was first introduced and through intent or misadventure introduced many other living things into this previously native, if we assume that pre-people is the original environment.

So people who love wildlife in Australia, and there are many, who don't actually have any contact with these, and certainly don't find them inhibiting their chances of earning a living. Write and speak about all the native animals, amount and species, which are killed for example by the cat, physically and by the disease the cat carries. They want the cat eradicated; but its too late, and its impractical, because the cat is not the problem on its own. If white settlers had not come here then the cat would never have reached these shores, nor would the fox, or the rabbit and a plethora of other animals that have long been regarded as pests, or more recent additions like the cane toad.

These animal are not really the problem, human beings are the problem and that can no longer be altered, because people want native plants and animals and what is sometimes mistakenly defined as a pristine environment. However, are unwilling to pack up all white humans, their wares, utensils and ideas and shove them back out into other countries. The countries from whence their ancestors came, and if this was possible and done, our first nation people are now so changed that they would do as the white colonisers/invaders have done. So there is no point.

At what stage was the pristine environment? Before any humans were on the land area we occupy, or after the aboriginal people came, or after the first fleet arrived. There was never a pristine environment, it has been "contaminated" in one way or another since forever.

Its a good time to look at what we have and to bend our minds round trying to live with all these interesting and wonderful things that surround us. Some species will die out, just as humans will in time, but that is evolution, whatever can, will survive as best as is possible and we have need to better understand how everything slots together and work within that natural evolutionary process. That's what has always been happened, and that, whether we like it or not will continue.

05 August 2007

Starting something.........

Not certain that this sort of idea, blogging, can do a great deal at all. One imagines that in the future there will be government agencies who wish to do things that people want who might look at these posts and get an ideas about what could be required. Conversely, a government who would like to silence its opposition, might find the people against what they are trying to do by looking on the blog sites. In this way creating a very different society to the one we have now, which is evolving somewhat.

Our society has already been formed, not by what people have done in the past, but by which has been left undone, by being reasonably apathetic and feeling powerless to make the changes that are required for government to be accountable. This society is more and more being fragmented, which appeals too and suits government. The population as communities in cooperation must once again band together. Even if it is only expressing ideas regarding their physical, reachable community and more widely on forums and through this kind of communication, which removes all boundaries. To make known how they feel and think, and become a single entity individual, but not patriotic to anything but the formation of humanity at peace.

Language should be retained, but become more generic, so that all languages and cultures may be understood better. That all cultures respect what it is they have and forbid government to use it as a wedge, a way to create conflict with other cultures. Self education is possible through this medium, and getting the information directly from the people concerned or practicing what are the very best attributes of humanity is what is required. Sharing is one of these, and possibly writing about the way we feel, we may once again bind all the universe together by understanding. Knowing why we kill living things to live, and why they kill us for the same reason, and why we should preserve all the elements of our world, which is the universe, rather than just this planet.

It is the acknowledgment of what we can contribute in the way we live, in the time we have, and what we share that will allow us to live in peace and become a strong universal community.