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Richardson Ranch
Richardson Ranch
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4454 Hwy 71, Columbus, Texas, US
Climate zone:
Sub tropical

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Richardson Ranch

Richardson Ranch

Columbus, US

Badruddin Pitter Dana Crawford Laurie J Sykes Matthew Zarder Theron Beaudreau

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Main crop row garden modifications

Project: Richardson Ranch

Posted by Jennifer Richardson about 8 years ago

So, my father has recently had spinal surgery and lost a lot of function in his arms and legs, which has been really hard for both of us--but, on the silver lining side of things, this means I finally get my hands on his two garden plots! He has been incrementally killing my soul by dousing them in Roundup and Miracle-Gro for the last couple decades and tilling them every season, but that is all over now. (Cue evil laughter.)

There are already some perennials in place that I want to preserve, such as strawberries and asparagus, laid out in traditional rows, which currently need tons of weeding and are in constant danger of an early demise from lack of care. I can't do much about the structure of the beds (there are permanent fences and railroad ties in place), and Dad still wants me to grow his favorite annuals (which is okay by me), so it won't be very permaculture-y in some ways, but I'm planning to do a sort of "Back to Eden" type of thing--by which I mean I am going to start dumping as much mulch as possible on the things and hope it will eventually smother the weeds and help retain soil moisture and reverse the damage done by all the insecticides and herbicides and chemical fertilizers. I will do kill mulches in the parts that aren't already planted, and gradually start mixing in different crops and adding some perennial vegetables and flowers as well to break up the monoculture row scheme he's got going now.

My main issue right now is getting my hands on enough mulch. I dislike the hassle and awkwardness of trying to collect other people's waste streams (I know, sacrilege), so I will probably try to get most of my material from our ranch itself, and I don't want to invest in machinery like a wood chipper or something similar. It will be labor intensive, but I kind of enjoy trying to do things without fossil fuels or off-site resources, and I figure the scale of the plots is small enough that I can handle it, and improve it over time with slow, steady labor. I'd say both plots together are not much more than a thousand square feet, and I'll just take it bed by bed. 

Organic materials I'm using/considering:  

Ruined hay from the barn floor. It's a fire hazard where it is, and most of the weed seeds are eaten out of it by rodents. Plus the gardens are surrounded by weeds, pasture, and prairie, so it's kind of pointless to try to avoid them.

Leaves gathered up from the yard and under mature trees in our pasture. We have lots of big trees, especially oaks. Collecting and transporting the leaves is a bit tedious, but it's not too bad. I just take a five gallon bucket on my daily rambles and fill it up, bring it back, and dump it in the garden. It's adding up surprisingly fast so far. I am careful not to denude the ground under any individual tree.

Chop and drop garden waste. I take my loppers and chop and drop any weeds or weed trees that have sprung up in the garden. Easy, but there's not much volume of material here.

Chopped up twigs from the yard. Anything that falls and is small enough to get my loppers around gets chopped. Again, labor intensive, and my hands get kind of sore, but easy enough to do in small batches when I'm wandering around outside. Again, though, not much volume for the effort.

Prunings from fence lines. Our fence lines are horribly grown up, so I can endlessly lop off small branches and lop them into bits. This gives me some nice green leafy material in the mix, too, which I understand is better for the soil than having all dry wood. If I ever denude the fence lines (ha!) I can move on to all the many thousands of weed trees that are always trying to take over our pasture.

Cardboard from household packages, etc. Mostly for kill mulches, and to get bare soil covered quickly.

"Shredded" junk mail and waste paper. Again, I don't actually own or want a paper shredder, so I just cut this up with scissors or rip it up with my fingers. Boring, but easy enough to do while sitting around chatting or watching a rare episode of TV. I avoided the glossy stuff and usually the colorful stuff. And I cut out those irritating plastic windows they put in all the bills. Maybe I can even convince Dad to go paperless now, and avoid most of the mail in the first place.

I'm also considering pine needles from under our pine trees and the bedding from our chicken house (pine shavings that I got in bulk a long time ago and am still using up), but I'm worried about them perhaps being too acidic. And probably the bottom layers of the chicken bedding are well-composted, but I don't know because I've never cleaned it out; I just keep adding. I could maybe mix in some wood ash from our fireplace to balance out the pH. Or just add the needles and/or bedding in relatively small quantities compared to other mulch materials.

I may end up calling around to try to find chopped branch wood and/or buying bags of mulch to get things established, but I'll see how I do by hand on-site, first. I don't work off the ranch, and I spend a lot of time milling around, so I don't mind a slow trickle of labor as long as I don't feel harried.

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