Anyone with experience in Straw Bale gardening?

Discussion in 'Planting, growing, nurturing Plants' started by Pakanohida, Mar 28, 2012.

  1. Dzionik

    Dzionik Junior Member

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    My experience with sawdust is good. Part of the garden, which was covered with 10cm of sawdust is now much better soil. Particularly good for mulching onions because it stops weeds well. Lack of nitrogen is not a big deal when it stays on surface. The next spring anyway remains very little of it. But because of the disturbance you can expect a rush of weeds.
     
  2. pebble

    pebble Junior Member

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    What sort of sawdust?
     
  3. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    My gophers just pushed up some dirt that had the sawdust I put underneath mulch a year ago about a meter from where I put it. I used the pellets for the kitty litter box that soak up the cat urine then get fluffy, and I was thinking it was a great combination, nitrogen/carbon, and there it was, a year later, untouched!
     
  4. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Actually, now that you mention it, onions are great for that because they don't want a lot of nitrogen, being a bulb, otherwise we'd get too much of the green part and early bolting.

    One thing I have noticed about wood products in the planting, in the fall I buy some fruit trees that are on sale, they are usually in large containers with that mix in them. You can clearly see wood bits. One fall I got two apricot trees, and I was late planting them by about six months, and they were suffering in that mix. I've noticed it in other potted perennials, too, which these days seem to cost a fortune. At first I was blaming myself, but I keep seeing it over and over again, and I know when I use my own soil mix it doesn't happen. Now I get these things out of those mixes as fast as I can.
     
  5. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    I think we may need to clarify some misinformation regarding wood products just to be sure other readers aren't confused. I would like to find a nice graph or table breaking it down but you will just have to put up with anecdotal leanings which may or may not be technically correct.

    Bark Mulch: When timber is de-barked at the mill, it's collected and sold. Here in Australia, a lot of bark mulch is from our pine timber industry (slash and hoop). Slash Pine bark is acidic in nature and most likely has a net negative effect on a lot of ornamental gardens. Bark is defined as a dead layer of tree tissue which protects the tree from the outside world. Like bark itself, bark mulch lasts a long time.

    Sawdust: Leavings from a saw after cutting through heartwood/sapwood, or timber. Made up of cellulose and lignin, timber is a maintenance product of a tree, as in there isn't a heavy exchange or holding of nutrients. Primarily carbon.

    Wood Mulch: This is harder to define. This is usually a product of a wood chipper, spinning blades or sometimes grinding (tub grinder). What goes in, is what comes out. Ideally, the best wood mulch would be prunings from young actively growing trees, with a healthy mix of nitrogen-fixers mixed in. These types of prunings consist of young branches and plenty of leaves, they also tend to hot compost by themselves after being dumped which indicate a good mix of nitrogen, carbon and bacteria. The more leaves and stems you can get from the most species would ideally hold more nutrients as different species mine different minerals.

    How to get good wood mulch? Talk to the arborist about what has gone in, reject anything that is primarily old dead timber. Mulch from a energy utility company that is conducting line trimming is almost guaranteed to be better.
     
  6. Dzionik

    Dzionik Junior Member

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    Most of mine is fresh sawdust from mill, ashes and firs. This year I put it on the path, between the garden bed and some on. Sometimes I use woodshavings from my workshop, which is dry and in need more time to become unrecognizable and its hidrophobic.
    Sweetpea I think the cat's urine to blame for the slow decay.
    Plants are sometimes packed in sawdust that has to be rejected, and planted in normal soil. Seedling plants are usually taken out earlier and stoked in damp sawdust in order to be ready when the season starts. It is also the reason why they are cheaper in the fall after spending such long time in sawdust.
     
  7. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    >>> reject anything that is primarily old dead timber. Mulch from a energy utility company that is conducting line trimming is almost guaranteed to be better.>>>

    I guess I'm not understanding this. What's wrong with old, dead timber? and why is what the power companies pruning away from lines okay? What if it's trees with growth inhibitors like red cedar and redwood, pine with pitch? Once they start composting it you won't be able to identify it and they'll never know what went into it.
     
  8. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Dzionik, except that urine is full of nitrogen, and it's exactly what is needed to break wood down, so it's not cat urine per se. I think it just wasn't enough of it. I know eventually it will break down, but I haven't been able to rely on when it will break down when it comes to wood products.
     
  9. Ludi

    Ludi Junior Member

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    We were fortunate (or unfortunate, depending on how one looks at it) to have huge numbers of whole trees cleared from beneath power lines running across the front of our property and down to the power drop in front of our house. The unfortunate part was the loss of all these trees and exposure of the house to the road somewhat which we would prefer not to have (and days and days of horrible noise). The fortunate part was we got to keep the chipper mulch from all the trees cut on our property as well as tons (probably literally) of logs for firewood from this variety of trees, mostly Live Oak, Elm, Juniper with some Hackberry and a few other species. All the smaller branches and leaves were chipped, with the trunks and large limbs left as cut logs. So the chipper debris is mostly young branches and leaves and seems to want to compost pretty actively without any other materials being added, even though there were no nitrogen fixing tree species in the mix. So far there doesn't seem to be any growth inhibiting effect from using the chipper material as mulch, even though it contains a good proportion of Juniper. My kitchen garden with this mulch is the best garden I've had so far. I keep adding additional layers, I think some areas are about a foot deep by now.
     
  10. S.O.P

    S.O.P Moderator

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    There is nothing wrong with it. It just has less nutrients bound up than young, fresh stems and leaves. If you were paying for a product, I'd ask what was in it, which answers your allelopathic question too. Avoid those species and if your arborist lies to you, that's the gamble you have to take.

    Line trimmers aren't killing trees, they are pruning mostly, which gives you a full load of leafy green material from many different trees. Which equals higher nutrient and nitrogen counts which equals better mulch.
     
  11. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Ludi, in your case you knew what kind of trees they were, and that's crucial. If I were to walk up to the power company and ask for their mulch I would have no way of knowing what went into it :) Sorry to hear they took your trees away, bummer!!

    I've found old wood to be the closest to breaking down, the best at absorbing water with nitrogen in it, and very capable of growing mold and fungi when wet. It is what Hugelkultur is based on. So far, for me, the best source of nitrogen is animal manure and green mowed grass/weeds. I can rely on those to break down quickly and create the humus, fulvic acids, lignins in compost this very year. :)
     
  12. NJNative

    NJNative Junior Member

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    So this sort of round about answered my question, but it seems there's still some confusion here regarding what is best for what succession level of plant you're growing. The more woody the plant, the more carbon it's going to need to grow, and thus more woody products on the ground being decomposed by woody digesters, mostly fungi. The more leafy the plant is, the more nitrogen it needs to grow, and so the more nitrogen rich materials it needs on the ground being decomposed by nitrogen cycles, primarily by way of nitrogen digesting bacteria. This means that, unless I plant to plant a forest where I'm growing my tomatoes (I don't, at least not directly on it, but near by), then I want to be encouraging the bacterial domination much more than the fungal domination in the soil, which means I should probably avoid woody materials, and stick with stuff like chopped up weeds, grass clippings, manure, and compost, all of which will have some, but not much carbon material in it.

    For further reading on this subject, I suggest you read the book "Teaming With Microbes" by Lowenfels and Lewis, and look into the research of Dr. Elaine Ingham. Here's a good quote from her, pretty relevant to our discussion:

    "What is the soil foodweb? Per gram of healthy soil, which is about a teaspoon of soil plus organic matter, the following organisms are found: of which are mostly unknown to scientists. Bacteria break down easy to-use organic material, and retain the nutrients, like N. P and S. in the soil. About 60% of the carbon in those organic materials are respired as carbon dioxide, but 40% of that carbon is retained as bacterial biomass. The waste products bacteria produce become soil organic matter. This "waste" material is more recalcitrant than the original plant material, but can be used by a large number of other soil organisms, exemplifying the classic statement that "One man's garbage is another's treasure". Productive garden soil should contain more bacteria than any other kind of organism, although care must be taken to make sure beneficial bacteria, instead of disease-causing bacteria, are most prevalent.- S to 60 000 meters of fungal hyphae. Fungi break down the more recalcitrant, or difficult-to-decompose, organic matter, and retain those nutrients in the soil as fungal biomass. Just like bacteria, fungal waste products become soil organic matter, and these waste materials are used by other organisms. Gardens require some fungal biomass for greatest productivity, but in order for best crop growth, there should be an equal biomass of bacteria as compared to fungi. Most grasslands or pastures have less fungi than bacterial, while all conifer forests have much more fungal, as compared to bacterial, biomass. As with bacteria, some fungi cause disease and the soil must be managed to prevent these fungi from being a problem."

    So if the goal is to eventually build a forest, lay the wood mulch on thick to encourage the fungi, which is what I will be doing in the back section where I'll be planting fruit trees, but if you want to maintain a lower succession, don't go crazy, and especially where you have entirely annual crops (as I do on my straw bales), you may want to avoid wood mulch entirely.

    Here's some links for further reading:
    https://www.amazon.com/Teaming-Microbes-Gardeners-Guide-Soil/dp/0881927775
    https://www.rain.org/~sals/ingham.html
    https://www.sustainablegrowthtexas.com/product/succession_chart.html
     
  13. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Honestly, In 30 years of studying Biointensive, organic, Permaculture and Soil Food Web ways of growing, I've never needed to add carbon anywhere, or concentrate carbon. Carbon is already a part of compost and coppiced shrubs and manure and leaves and weeds and grass, and its presence is assured if using those things.

    But the process of breaking carbon down is what makes the big difference, takes the most time, has to be done according to what size wood twigs, branches, limbs or trunks one is dealing with.

    I'm kind of scratching my head because these statements aren't quite right. :)

    >>Bacteria break down easy to-use organic material, and retain the nutrients, like N. P >>and S. in the soil.

    Actually it's the carbon that retains nutrients that have been dissolved in water (only the ones that are dissolvable in water) and have been absorbed by carbon or wood. Bacteria don't retain anything. They eat, poop, reproduce and die, creating heat.

    >>About 60% of the carbon in those organic materials are respired as carbon dioxide, but >>40% of that carbon is retained as bacterial biomass.

    Actually, carbon doesn't expire anything, Expire means for a living thing to do a gas exchange, sometimes of gas like in our lungs, (breathing in oxygen and breathing out carbon dioxide) or sometimes gas by roots of a plant. In the case of breaking down organic matter under the soil it's the plant roots that expire carbon dioxide. And above ground leaves expire oxygen.

    I don't know about the 60% figure and what it applies to.

    I have 90 fruit trees, I can't imagine just adding carbon. It does require burying the limbs or wood products with dirt and keeping them very, very wet, preferably with nitrogen in that water under the soil, so they don't dry out, then you'll get fungus. But depending on the kind of wood it is, you'll get different kinds of fungus. Even then it will take a minimum of a year under perfect circumstances for plant roots to be able to use anything from that wood, or even want to penetrate it and take advantage that way.

    So that's why a stew of ingredients, no matter what you are doing with it, mulching, composting or burying, is what plant roots are looking for. :)
     
  14. NJNative

    NJNative Junior Member

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    I was off, but not in the sense that you mentioned. Plants don't use carbon from the soil, they use it from the air, so the idea that fungi are beneficial to plants that are woody because it breaks down carbon was based on my lack of understanding of how plants absorb and use carbon. The carbon and nitrogen are primarily useful to the microorganisms, which certain plants do prefer a certain dominance of bacteria or fungi, based on what succession level they evolved in. For example, as the Ingham article I posted said, prairies and savannas are mostly dominated by bacteria, because there is a good amount of nitrogen rich material, which is bacteria's favorite food, whereas forests are dominated by fungi because of the high level of woody material, which is fungi's favorite food generally. We can look at these ecosystems, and look at the plants we are growing and try to figure which ecosystem our arrangement of plants closest resembles, and then mulch with whichever material is appropriate for that ecosystem. You shouldn't mulch a woodland garden with straw or grass clippings for example.

    In regards to what you said sweetpea, you're right, it is carbon that retains nutrients, and in the process of eating, pooping, reproducing, and dying, both bacteria and fungi release carbon as a by product, and leave it behind in the form of their dead bodies. These dead bacteria and fungi bodies can essentially be called compost, and in fact are indeed what make compost compost in the end. Once they have finished their life cycle, their bodies are essentially a stable form of carbon with high micropore space, and high cation exchange capacity, perfect for retaining water and nutrients. That's what they mean when they say 60% of the carbon is respired (by the bacteria during it's lifetime) and 40% is retained (by the bacteria in the form of poop and it's dead body once it dies).

    What you described with the burying of logs and keeping them wet with nitrogen water sound exactly like a hugel bed with a compost tea treatment. Sounds like a great technique!! :)

    In the end though, we can use science and research to tell us what the preferences of the plants are, whether they prefer more dominance of fungi or bacteria in the soil. If the fungi:bacteria ratio is not something your familiar with, please take a look at the links I posted. If anything, it'll be an interesting read for you.
     
  15. Grahame

    Grahame Senior Member

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    NJNative, In my opinion getting things to grow usually comes down to feeding the soil, if the soil is well fed, the plants will be able to grow in it. You can use all sorts of organic matter to feed the soil in all sorts of forms. The more different things you feed the soil, the more diversity of soil organisms you get. This leads to a more complex and thus more robust soil ecosystem.

    I think you can look at the dominance of the different soil organisms in the different systems both ways. Is the forest there because the area is dominated by fungi or is the fungi there because it is a forest? How can you use that information to get nature to work for you?
     
  16. sweetpea

    sweetpea Junior Member

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    Hi, NJ, yeah, the science part of this can go forever, and it can get so very complicated, especially at the microscopic level. And yet those little roots are doing things at the microscopic level, so it does help to keep in mind what we need to provide for those roots needs to be really, really teeny. And how we get it really, really teeny is my goal, anyway :)

    Have you read about Food Forests? Robert Hart has an interesting book about creating layers in height of plants/zones that when put together in a companion planting way create a rich growing zone, and these seem to help a lot where summers get hot.

    Here's his YouTube video:

    https://youtu.be/O7f8NCh3s8c


    And I try to think of carbon (meaning twigs, dead grass, dead weeds, leaves, limbs, logs and the like) as sponges that hold nutrients. So if we put sponges under the ground, keeping them wet, and the nutrients flowing through the ground in water get soaked up into the carbon sponges, they will hold still long enough for the plant roots to find them. But they are long-term sponges.

    One thing to mention,

    >> Plants don't use carbon from the soil, they use it from the air

    Well, I really hope for our safety there isn't carbon in the air, otherwise it's dangerous pollution, or bits of flying plant chaff or dust that farmers get farmer's lung from. But the gas, carbon dioxide, is in the air, and plants will take that in, and do their photosynthesis and release oxygen, lucky for us. :)
     
  17. NJNative

    NJNative Junior Member

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    I have indeed heard of Hart's work, it's mentioned in some decent detail in Edible Forest Gardens by Dave Jacke. I know all about layers, but you seem to be forgetting the ecological dynamics of one very important layer - the rhizosphere. Perhaps Elaine's point can best be made from her own mouth:

    [video]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVLF5XGxOnU[/video]

    Around 5 minutes is the pertinent information to our discussion. Certain bacteria inhibit beneficial fungi, and thus, if your compost or mulch is encouraging bacteria, it could in fact be detrimental to the fungi species so crucial to many of our woody plants. Does that mean that the plants won't benefit overall from having nutrients and organic matter and soil life introduced? Of course not, it will indeed have a decent effect, but with a bit of more detailed attention to the soil ecology, we can bring ecosystems to their fullest possible health.
     
  18. Avant-Gardener

    Avant-Gardener Junior Member

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    What you feed the soil with will favour a type of soil food web over another. Fugal food will favour fungi dominated soil life which woody plants prefer. In a natural situation it is the forest that creates the fungi conditions because that is what it needs. When starting a new system you can use that information to accelerate the process by feeding the soil the kind of materials that will favour the soil food web that you need, i.e. fungal dominated for trees/woody plants, bacterial for vegetables and 50/50 for wheat for example.
     
  19. wmthake

    wmthake Junior Member

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    Could I pipe in here a second and get an example of fungal food? I need to break down woody things too.
    thanks.
    W
     
  20. Pakanohida

    Pakanohida Junior Member

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    Well, it is both doing well here, and craptastic.

    Slugs are eating the hell out of everything & I am out there nightly removing them. Destroyed the basil that came up already.

    However, some things are doing well, such as the Snow peas.

    Maybe things will get better this month.
     

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