Soil talk.

I was going through my (eek! seriously disorganized) photo files yesterday and I came across these two pics that I took at the community garden this fall.   The light was absolutely amazing that day in October.

Highbush cranberry2

Highbush cranberries

Mushroom in mulch

Although they look pretty, the mushrooms are symptomatic of a problem in the community garden.  Large chunks of wood mulch were used to dress the beds along the perimeter fence when the garden was built about five years ago (and by “large,” I mean HUGE – see Exhibit A, above).  It was all done mainly for aesthetics over any practical purpose and through the years, many of the chips have been dug under, creating a soil structure akin to cement.  Pore space is at a definite premium, and will eventually affect the way crops grow.  (I won’t get into the whole carbon-nitrogen imbalance thing here, but that’s an additional issue.  I recently read that bark chips can take at least a decade to decompose in soil).  To make matters worse, this year, the mushrooms turned up in full force.  LOTS of mushrooms.  Expected, sure, but definitely not welcome.  Although we made an attempt at damage control in the fall and removed some of the uppermost layers of the wood chip/soil clumps, we’ve got a long way to go to fix this mess.  Definitely a cautionary tale about using the right mulch for the job (and in this case, about not digging it in)!

Let’s talk soil and/or mulch – do you have any problem areas in your garden? 

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21 thoughts on “Soil talk.

  1. On my husbands allotment he gets wood chippings free, so I have been using these along with manure as a winter mulch for about 3/4 years with no problem. I have to say that the chippings are very well shredded and mostly from the dreaded ( here anyway ) leylandii conifers as people are now realising that they are a nuisance. The structure of the soil has improved as it is a lot more friable, I do get the odd crop of fungi but not in the amounts that you seem to have. Unless I see a big change in the type of wood chip that comes home I will carry on using it. Hope you manage to eradicate the problem you have it must be so disheartening and such a chore now…… 😦 Sue

    • It sounds like your wood chip mulch is working for you and doing it’s job for the soil…it may be that the mulch at our community garden might have been successful had it not been dug in (well, aside from the mushrooms!). I’m really hoping we can get a bit of a handle on it this coming year. I hope the mulch you’ve been getting continues to perform well.

  2. I use lots of wood chips for mulching and it does a great job. But my garden is a perennial garden. I never used wood chips in my veggie-garden when I had one. Only on the paths that I made for deviders of the beds . I used cedar chips since they worked as a natural repellant too. I never had problems with mushrooms though…I wonder if it is not a good thing, don’t they ‘digest’ those wood chips? I am probably wrong there…
    In my Ohioan garden, mildew is the biggest culprit. I made a list of all plants and shrubs affected by it. i have removed them from the garden and they will be replaced by mildew resistant plants. Some borders I have to replant completely.
    The photos are s o pretty btw!!

    • I agree – over time, the mushrooms would consume the wood chips…which would be okay, except we don’t want them to multiply and spread into the veggie beds. If it were my own garden, I might be tempted to have a more laissez faire attitude about them, but the community gardeners may get a little upset with that. Plus, we have to “look good” for the public, who don’t seem to think that mushrooms are attractive, LOL!

      Mildew must be difficult to deal with – we occasionally have a bit of trouble with powdery mildew on our squashes, etc. at the height of summer, but nothing like what you have to combat. It’s a good thing there are some resistant selections to choose from – but it’s a shame you have to replant much of your garden because of it.

  3. I do have problems, yes! I put a layer of leaf mulch over most of the rockery for winter, but I can’t dig the rockery so it never really gets a chance to help the soil as it just blows away eventually. It does protect a lot of plants for the coldest months though.

      • I do add compost every autumn simply because the soil is so thin and stony in places and it was never really prepared for planting properly. I couldn’t bear to take everything out and start again though!

  4. When I moved to Calgary it seemed to be “the thing” to use bark mulch in gardens. My Mom always told me that it wasn’t great for the soil; however, I decided to “do as Romans do” and use bark mulch in my perennial beds (though I’m often digging around in them). Then I found out about the result of digging wood chips in, so I will be gradually removing it and sticking to leaves in the fall and living mulch for the rest of the season. Beautiful photos!

  5. Sheryl, I’ve often wondered how long it took for those wood chips to break down. Thanks for the info. I’m not a fan of them myself, and choose shredded bark when a ‘dressing’ is needed and never dig it into the ground.

    Your photos are stunning! The cranberries make my mouth water. Ummmmmm.

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