Wild Farm Alliance Supports Connections Between Farmer, Ecosystems & Community

By Barbara Berst Adams

Wild Farm Alliance reports that 37 percent of the Earth’s land is dedicated to agriculture, making farmland a top priority for Earth regeneration and wildlife conservation. While they assist farmers, they also connect with them for the purpose of learning from them. And that’s valuable to farmers, because we have to be careful that non-farming certifiers and agricultural advisors do not become too distant from farming itself. Often farmers are the ones on the forefront of continual discovery and innovation by being constantly engaged in their operations.

Each time we plant borders for beneficial insects or erect homes for raptors as rodent control, we’re offering something to wild nature in exchange for it being our ally as we nurture domesticated crops. Sometimes, as with Nettles Farm on Lummi Island in Washington State, nature’s bounty makes its way into the farm’s offerings.

Nettles Farm is surrounded by the sea and natural woodlands. Wild rose petals, wild plums and even edible seaweeds find their way into the foods of the chefs they supply at the famous Willows Inn.

Meanwhile, more and more information is surfacing on the huge potential agriculture has toward climate and natural resource restoration. But both farmers and wild nature are vulnerable, and like any good partnership, the union can truly sustain itself when each partner receives ongoing symbiotic support from the other. This article focuses on how eco-farmers are affected by growing desires and expectations to support ecosystems while earning a living at the same time, along with how I’ve seen an organization called Wild Farm Alliance assist them.

Even if it initially appears a future farm and wild nature partnership would be symbiotic eventually, the transition time to reach that state needs to be financially and labor-wise feasible. Farms can’t support nature if they go out of business in their attempts to do so and sell out to development or corporate agriculture. And because consumer demand fuels the farm with its financial support and policy voting, consumer understanding of the process farms must go through to reach and maintain higher states of sustainable regeneration is also intrinsic to the partnership.

man with hedgerows
Photo courtesy of Wild Farm Alliance. Hedgerows can provide a multitude of benefits including pollinator, beneficial insect and wildlife habitat, dust and wind protection and increased diversity.

Hügelkultur Gardening

By Jill Henderson

Hügelkultur (pronounced “hoogle-culture”) is German for “hill culture.” Hügelkultur entails growing crops on a raised, earthen mound that consists of a foundation of fresh or rotting logs and branches covered in layers of manure, compostable materials and soil.

Hügelkultur (pronounced “hoogle-culture”) is German for “hill culture.” Hügelkultur entails growing crops on a raised, earthen mound that consists of a foundation of fresh or rotting logs and branches covered in layers of manure, compostable materials and soil.

potatoes planted in huge bed
Planting potatoes in a hugel bed.

Hügelkultur Construction

  • Hügel beds can be made to any length, width or height desired. The average hügelkultur bed is three to five feet tall and can be rectangular, square, round or horseshoe-shaped (keyhole).
  • Beds are typically built on top of the ground and sometimes in 12- to 15-inch deep trenches.
  • Beds are generally free-standing, without any physical support or enclosure, but can be framed at the base with blocks, untreated lumber, logs or hay bales as desired.
  • A mixture of soft (faster-rotting) and hard (longer-lasting) woody base materials usually includes freshly dead or rotting firewood rounds, stumps, branches, brush and twigs.
  • Avoid wood from allelopathic trees like black walnut (for its juglone toxicity); high-resin trees like pine, spruce, yew, juniper and cedar; and hard, rot-resistant woods such as black locust, Osage orange and redwood. Any type of wood with sprouting potential (such as willow) should be completely dead before using.
  • Small branches, twigs, sawdust and coarse woodchips are used to fill voids in the woody base before construction is complete and periodically as the bed breaks down.
  • A simple hügel is covered with three to five inches of rotted manure or compost, followed by another three to five inches of garden soil or topsoil, but this can also include multiple layers of various organic materials in the fashion of a “lasagna-style” garden bed.
  • Hügel beds are ready for planting immediately after construction.

How to Build a Successful Demonstration Garden

By Louise Placek

A visitor came out one day and was inspired to do something similar on her own homestead. She asked me where you start when you have acres of “wildness.” It is pretty overwhelming, especially in this day of instant gratification.

I told her that I had to live with it for a few years, watching the native plants and their growth habits to figure out what I wanted to get rid of (or move to another place) and what I felt I could leave. I studied it all carefully, making mental notes on the lay of the land and how the plants looked and acted at different times of the year.

Then, one foot at a time, on my hands and knees, or bent over a grubbing hoe or shovel, I worked to create the garden, clearing out stuff I didn’t want and leaving or moving stuff I did. I did not have a plan. It just sort of happened.

Rosemary in bloom

One thing I have tried to do is develop “zones” for plants with similar needs. Much of this was inspired by the natural growth in the area.

I watched sun patterns (which change throughout the year), subtle differences in native soil from one side of the garden to the other, drainage trends, slopes, etc. All these things have helped me make decisions about where to put the plants I want in my garden.

Placing plants with comparable requirements for things like moisture, sun, drainage, etc., in general proximity to each other prevents disasters down the road; i.e., my water-loving malvas do not drown out my xeric rosemary.

One reason I like to grow the plants we sell in containers in my garden is to be able to take pictures of them at maturity or in bloom. These pictures graphically demonstrate the characteristics of the plant.

There is nothing like a good photograph to convince someone to try a plant in their own garden, especially if it is in a small size when you are selling it.

It might otherwise take some powerful imagination or trust to convince them that this little four inch baby plant will someday grow up to be a big, beautiful shrub.

It is also a good idea to have experience with the plants you sell.

  • How tall or wide will it get?
  • What color and size are the blooms?
  • How long does it bloom?
  • Does it need to be cut back before fall?
  • Does it overwinter well?
  • How soon does it come up in the spring from the root or from scattered, dropped seed from last year’s plant?
  • Does it tolerate some frost?
  • And, more importantly in Texas, does it tolerate the heat of summer?
  • Do the “bad boy” bugs really like it?
  • Do the butterflies, bees or beneficial insects use it for pollen or nectar?

All of this experience with plants gives you an edge. This goes for vegetable transplants too. If you grow them out and actually harvest and eat them, you will be more convincing when it comes time to sell those varieties to your retail or wholesale customers.

Garden Magic

One of the most important reasons to have a garden in front of or surrounding your greenhouse, especially if you are involved in organic container plant production, is the diminished load of pest insects. Some beneficial insects need nectar for a specific phase of their developmental cycle, and so must have flowers available to sustain them.

Butterfly on flower
Butterfly in garden

If you are growing a variety of blooming native or well-adapted annuals and perennials, you will provide them with a steady supply of food. And since pests will likely go to your garden if they are around, your army of beneficials will take care of them before they have a chance to enter your greenhouse. This provides something like a screen.

If pests do enter your greenhouse, the load will be light and easy to deal with. Besides, if you have beneficials outside, they will often work their way into the greenhouse thereby taking care of the majority of any pests that enter. It is positively miraculous how well this system works.

If you are not sure what plants to use, contact your local native plant society, your county extension agent, a local garden club, a university in your state with a horticultural department, or just get in the car and drive around, looking at some of the really nice gardens in your area. Talk to your neighbors. Find out what they have had success with and what has failed.

Retail nurseries that sell native and naturalized plants can give you lots of ideas, not only for your own garden, but they can give you a glimpse of what plants people desire. Subscribe to publications that share information on what grows well in your area. Join associations that focus on horticulture or on the types of plants that you want to grow commercially.

Your Garden Soil

It goes without saying that I recommend the use of organic techniques for sustaining and maintaining your garden.

Digging in garden
Soil health is essential in the garden.

If your soil needs help, find out what it needs (basic soil test kits are available through most agricultural extension offices), but bear in mind that good quality compost will salvage most soils (see Chapter 6, Making Compost).

It provides bulk and moisture retention for sandy soils and tilth and friability to clay soils. (If you want to find out what kind of soil you have, do a soil texture analysis. See Appendix for instructions.)

Compost also provides the nutrients, growth factors, microorganisms and humus needed to create a healthy, living soil.

If, after a year or so of amending your soil with compost, you are still having problems with pH or specific mineral deficiencies, you can judiciously add the supplements needed to balance the soil. Just remember that compost by nature is a soil balancer because the microbial activity contributes a continuous supply of nutrients by breaking down carbonaceous material.

Many pH or deficiency problems disappear after the soil has been sufficiently amended with compost.

Nutrients that were “locked up” will become available to your plants as the pH works itself to a more neutral level.

Besides, if you are growing native or well adapted plants, there is no need for extra rich, heavily amended soil. Only if you are trying to grow finicky, fussy plants will you need to monitor levels of specific nutrients.

If you have to make your soil more acidic or alkaline on a regular basis to grow the plants that you want to grow, then you are creating a tremendous amount of work for yourself. Ultimately, the plants will not thrive as their roots get farther into an incompatible, native soil.

Want more? Buy this book here.

Author Louise Placek

Louise Placek undertook the transition from a 20-year, traditional career in nursing to the unknown world of owning and operating a small container plant business. Now, to help others with the same goal, she shares her extensive knowledge and experience in regard to becoming a successful organic plant grower and business owner. With her husband Chris, she bought a hilly, 22-acre site with sandy loam soil, lots of prairie grasses, an oak and cedar woodland with wonderful wildflowers and a 50-mile view. Misty Hill Farm and the container business grew into a successful commercial venture all without the use of the standard industry chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Louise had a mission to grow outstanding plants commercially using only natural, earth-made products. A challenge at times – because there wasn’t a manual or mentor to turn to – but it has become a very worthy cause.

Natural Lawn Care

By Steven G. Herbert
From the June 2013 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine

In terms of acreage devoted to pro­duction, grass in the United States cov­ers more than 40 million acres — as much as corn, wheat, soybeans and the next five top irrigated crops com­bined. Although in most cases, it has only aesthetic value, every year Americans devote much of their leisure time and discretionary in­come to the maintenance of their lawns.

A variety of management prac­tices collectively make a huge impact not only on the health of each lawn but on the environment in general. Armed with a bit of knowledge, the homeowner can adjust his or her cultural practices in such a way as to decrease time and expense given to raising grass and become more eco-friendly at the same time.

Mowing, watering, fertilization and weed, disease and pest control, are the main cultural practices in which hu­mans indulge in pursuit of the perfect lawn. The chemical treatments asso­ciated with the latter have the most potential to do harm.

Synthetic chemicals in general do indiscriminant harm to the micro­biological life in the soil, as well as to soil macro-organisms, beneficial insects and wildlife overall. Such chemicals also commonly become contaminants in surface and groundwater.

green grass growing
Lawn management makes a huge impact not only on the health of each lawn as well as the environment.

Applica­tion of chemicals to the lawn in general is done with the intent of eliminating or killing unwanted pests or weeds, at the same time as feeding the grass. If the focus is shifted instead to build­ing a healthy foundation of underlying soil, teeming with beneficial fungi and micro- and macro-organisms, the ob­jectives of a weed and pest-free healthy lawn can be achieved as easily and often more cheaply, while leaving less of an ecological footprint.

Lawn Planning & Design

Achieving the objective of a healthy lawn begins with landscape planning and thoughtful design. Proper contouring can gently channel runoff or give it time to soak in, thereby preventing erosion, or directing it to trees, shrubs or perennial gardens. Loam with good drainage and at least 3 to 5 percent organic matter should be laid down at a minimum depth of 6 inches, with 12 to18 inches being the ideal.

Careful placement of landscape plants can prevent excessively shady areas which could lead to encroachment by mosses or development of fun­gal diseases. Water harvested from roofs can be collected for use on the lawn or directed to a rainwater garden. Such design aspects both reduce demand for water while minimizing water that re-enters streams and lakes with potential pollutants.

Lawn Grass Species Selection

The next step in creating a new lawn is choice of species of grass. You will have already measured the area and adjusted pH with the appropriate amount of lime to raise or sulfur to lower. Grass likes a slightly acidic pH (about 6.5). Proper pH optimizes availability of nutrients to the plants as well as encourages proliferation of beneficial microorganisms.

Zoysia grass
Zoysia grass plugs grow slowly to form a weed- and -heat-resistant carpet

Fall is the ideal time to seed for best root development. The choices among cool season varieties are compact, turf-type tall fes­cues, and fine-leafed types such as blue grasses, fine fescues and perennial ryes. Tall fescues are wear-tolerant, disease-resistant and can be mowed 3 to 4 inches tall.

Fine fescues are more prone to disease but are popular because they are softer to the touch and more aesthetically pleasing. The most common northern varieties used are Kentucky Bluegrass, Perennial Rye, Fairway Wheat, and Chewings, Hard, Red and Tall fescues. Of these, Chewings tolerates shade well, while turf-type Tall fescue is best in full sun. In the south, the com­mon choices are Bahia, Bermuda, Centipede, St. Augustine, Seashore, Carpet grass and Zoysia. Preference should be given toward species which are indigenous and thus better adapted to your particular environment. Your local cooperative exten­sion can help with recommendations.

It is also recommended that you avoid a monoculture by using a mix of varieties which match your specific soil and light conditions. A biodiverse lawn is better at resisting disease and pests. Look to see that the mix includes an en­dophytic fungus, which is beneficial in spite of the fact that it lives inside the plant. The fungus makes the plant taste bad to insect pests, thus protecting it naturally. Natural toxins provided by the fungus also provide disease protection. One disadvantage, however, is that animals grazing on grass with this fungus may experience adverse reactions.

In addition to a diverse mix of seed, it is advantageous for your mix to include clover, especially white clover, which fixes nitrogen in the soil. Five percent is the ideal proportion which Paul Tukey recommends in The Organic Lawn Care Manual. This can produce half of the nitrogen requirements of your lawn, he says, and leaving clippings after mowing would sup­ply sup­ply the remainder. Make sure the seed you buy is weed-free and has a germination date of less than one year.

Natural Lawn Care: Mindful Mowing

In an existing landscape, the single most important effec­tive step one can take in creating a healthy lawn is to adopt proper mowing practices. Both public and private research has shown that this alone can control as much as 80 percent of potential weed problems.

efficient mower
In an existing landscape, adopting proper mowing practices is a critical step to creating a healthy lawn.

The first rule is to mow high. The proper mowing height depends on the variety of grass, but for most it is 3 inches. Secondly, one should never remove more than one-third of the height of the grass blade. Longer grass blades are stronger, by virtue of having more surface area to photosynthesize, and help shade or crowd out weeds while better preventing the underlying soil from drying. Taller grass will also develop deeper roots, thus giving more drought resis­tance and less need for fertilizer. Also, resist the urge to mow more frequently than is necessary, especially in shady areas where grass must maximize its photosynthetic ability.

The mower blade should be kept sharp, such that it makes a cleaner cut rather than tearing the grass. Tearing makes the grass more susceptible to infection and disease. Torn grass tips turn brown, causing a brown cast to the lawn. Sharpening should be done once or twice during the season depending on area, or after every eight hours of mowing.

A sharp mower blade can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 25 percent. A spare blade can be changed out quickly so that the job can be completed while the dull blade is being serviced. It is good practice also to hose down the underside of the mower after each use for cleaner cutting and more efficient mulching. Do not mow when the grass is wet. Finally, mow in the evening or the cool part of the day, and choose a different direction each time.

toes in grass

An alternative to a gas-powered mower is an electric mower, either the plug in variety or the cord­less model. One might even try a solar charged unit. Electric mowers, like the Neuton or Black & Decker, emit half the noise, weigh less, have negligible fumes and require lower maintenance. At $200 to $500, the initial cost may be higher, and a battery charge will take 60 to 90 minutes.

If your lawn is a half acre or less (5,000 to 8,000 square feet), you may opt for the most eco-friendly choice, the reel mower ($80 to $200). Be aware that some models don’t have the capacity to adjust as high as three inches, but the Scott’s Reel Mower is one that does. Also, it is advised not to take off more than one inch of blade per mowing with a reel mower, so more frequent mowing may be required. As an added benefit, you will burn approximately 300 calories per hour pushing a reel mower.

Natural Lawn Care: Efficient Watering

Careful monitoring of moisture levels and proper watering is another neces­sary and effective step in creating and maintaining a healthy lawn. Efficiency is key, however, as this is another cause of environmental abuse.

Watering the lawn can consume more water than all other household functions put together, especially in the summer. About 8,000 gallons per year are used on the aver­age American lawn, and according to the EPA, too high a percent is wasted through excess watering. This is a pre­ventable expense of hundreds of dollars as well. The total amount of water a lawn should receive between you and Mother Nature is 1 inch per month to 1 inch weekly in the driest time. It is possible to overdo, as the soil needs to retain air as well.

Watering grass lawn
Watering the lawn can consume more water than all other household functions put together.

Watering infrequently and deeply, leaving the top three inches of soil dry most of the time will cause roots to go deeper, giving the grass a survival ad­vantage in drought and against weeds. Conversely, more frequent watering for shorter periods and to shallower depths only feeds the weeds, while causing roots of the grass to extend sideways, produc­ing thatch.

Shallow-rooted grass will start to curl when heat stressed and then turn brown. Pushing a spade into the ground is a way to check the moisture conditions in the soil and judge whether watering is needed or not. Alternatively, one can purchase a soil-moisture sensor. A rain gauge is another useful monitoring tool. Some are even capable of turning on the sprinkler only when necessary.

Keep in mind that grass naturally will go dor­mant in the hotter months and green up again later. Finally, watering is best done in early morning (before 8 a.m.) as dampness left on grass all night after an evening watering can encourage fungal diseases to develop. Obviously, water­ing sidewalks and driveways is a waste. Another monitoring tip is, if your foot leaves an impression in the grass, the lawn needs watering.

Steven Herbert is an earth scientist, transper­sonal anthropologist and international dowser. He served as an agroforestry extension agent, and as a U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Senegal, West Africa, before obtaining master gardener, master composter and urban and commu­nity forestry certifications through the state of Vermont where he now resides.

Weed Control: Mulching Questions Answered

By Anne Van Nest
From the May 2011 issue of Acres U.S.A. magazine

Weed control through mulching makes sense for many growers, but there are often questions about sourcing, safety and sustainability. May is a critical time for many gardeners to deal with existing or imminent weed issues before problems get totally out of control. Mulching is a key component of a multi-pronged approach to gaining the upper hand in the weed control battle.

Is Cypress Mulch Sustainable?

Shredded cypress is a popular mulching material for weed control because it is slow to decompose and the long strands lock together and don’t blow or float away easily. Attractive and natural looking, cypress mulch has many fans in the garden. The majestic swampy cypress forests across the Southeast, where most of the cypress mulch is harvested, are a true ecological sanctuary and face encroaching building development as more and more people flock to the Sunbelt. Gardeners are  now beginning to look at the source of their mulch and question the sustainability of cypress mulch harvesting.

A group called Save Our Cypress  is drawing attention to the harvesting practices of cypress  for  use as lumber or mulch. Their website says that “in the past cypress mulch used to be a by-product of lumber mills. This is no longer true. The mulch purchased today comes from widespread clear cutting of entire ecosystems.” The Save our Cypress website lists several alternatives to cypress mulch including leaves, pine straw, recycled yard waste, pine bark mulch  and  eucalyptus mulch.

Supporting the harvesting practices of the cypress mulch industry, the Mulch and Soil Council — a mulch certifying industry group — reports that in Louisiana,“cypress forests are growing six times faster than trees are being harvested with 400,000 new cypress trees planted each year and even more naturally regenerated.Cypress trees are not being cut in areas such as flooded swamps where they will not re-grow. Most harvested cypress is sold to sawmills. The by-products from these sawmills are sold to the mulch industry to deal with the disposal of their debris.” Using a waste by-product for mulch reduces the threat of this debris being a fire hazard or ending up in over-burdened landfills.

Whether you think that cypress mulch should be avoided because there are more sustainable alternatives or not, there are many alternatives to consider. But should colored mulches be your alternative to cypress mulch for weed control?

Are Mulch Colorants Safe?

Setting aside the fact of whether you think mulch colorants look natural or not, the aesthetically pleasing aspect should take a backseat to the health issue of whether the mulch colorants are safe for pets, plants, people and the environment. It’s a standard of good stockmanship. A little homework or a phone call before purchasing or contracting for your mulch delivery should be able to give you the answers you seek. Many of the bigger mulching  companies, such as Mobile Mulch Systems in St. Paul, Minnesota, use iron oxide pigments in their mulch that come from natural sources. They say that these colorants have proven to be completely safe for the environment. Another large mulch company, Amerimulch, uses water-based formulations, rather than solvent-based colors, which they say produces a safer colored mulch product.

The Mulch and Soil Council have investigated the use of colorants in mulch products and found that the red colorants from iron oxide have been used for centuries and are currently used extensively for many other products such as facial cosmetics and paints that result in close, frequent human interaction. They found no specific concerns with the red color used to dye mulch.

They also investigated the black used in mulch coloring. They found that carbon black “is virtually pure elemental carbon and is used in many consumer and industrial  products  such  as  tires, belts, virtually all other rubber goods, video and audiotapes, nearly all electric motors as the brush contacts, insulators, and dry cell batteries. As a pigment, it is used as a toner for paper copiers and printers, inks for newspaper, and in most dark-colored paints and coatings. Given the wide manufacture of both pure carbon black and products containing carbon black, there is a wealth of information published on the human health aspects of this material. Occupational studies over 60 years do not show any increased health risk to workers exposed to carbon black compared to the general public.”

The Mulch and Soil Council have investigated the use of colorants in mulch products.

The Mulch and Soil Council did not find any evidence that any of the components of colorants were an environmental concern when used according to label directions and rates on mulch. Dyed mulch aside, some people are not concerned so much with the colorants used for mulch. Instead, people like David Beaulieu are concerned with what is used for the mulch. He says on the About.com Landscaping website, “The source of most dyed mulch is recycled wood. So far, so good. But the problem is that some of that recycled wood may be (chromated copper arsenate) CCA-treated wood, which, used as a mulch, can raise the arsenic level in your soil. Although the use of arsenic in making pressure-treated lumber was largely banned after 2002, who’s to say part of the source of the dyed mulch you’re buying isn’t old, leftover CCA-treated wood?” Beaulieu recommends looking for Mulch and Soil Council (MSC) certified mulch that is free of CCA-treated wood.

A good suggestion from a mulch industry worker at Amerimulch.com is to look at the type of company supplying the dyed mulch. The industry has two types of suppliers: those who are land clearing companies and take the logs to a lumberyard and grind up the smaller  pieces into mulch; and those that are wood waste recycling companies that take used wood and grind up whatever they can get for mulch. The suggestion is that the land clearing companies will have products that are CCA-free and the wood recycling companies’ products have the chance that CCA-treated wood could have made it into their batches.

Is Cocoa Bean Mulch Toxic to Dogs and Cats?

The sweet smelling cocoa bean shell mulch that is popular in some parts of the country could be very hazardous to your pet. Chocolate can be toxic to your pets. The ASPCA, on its website, addresses reports that “dogs who consume enough cocoa bean shell mulch could potentially develop signs similar to that of chocolate poisoning, including vomiting and diarrhea.”

It is the residual quantities of theobromine found in chocolate that causes the trouble for dogs and cats. “We advise pet parents not to use cocoa mulch in areas where dogs can be exposed unobserved, particularly dogs who have indiscriminate eating habits,” says Dr. Steve Hansen, ASPCA Senior Vice President of Animal Health Services. He recommends shredded pine, cedar or hemlock bark as alternatives. The ASPCA website also mentions that no dogs have died from ingesting cocoa mulch and a large quantity is needed to make them sick.

On the About.com website, the Merck Veterinary Manual is referenced and approximate levels of theobromine in different types of chocolate are listed as: dry cocoa powder = 800 mg/oz, unsweetened (Baker’s) chocolate = 450 mg/oz, cocoa bean mulch = 225 mg/oz, milk chocolate, 44-64 mg/oz.

According to Dr. Rhea Morgan in The Handbook of Small Animal Practice, a toxic dose of theobromine is 100-150 mg/kg for dogs.

As an example, a 20-pound dog (9 kg) would have to eat 900-1,350 mg of theobromine, which would be 4-6 oz (.25-.4 lb) of cocoa bean mulch to receive a toxic dose.

Does Using Mulch Attract Termites and Ants to Buildings?

Donald Lewis from the Department of Entomology at the Iowa State University Extension admits that subterranean termites can be routinely found in wood chip mulch. He says that worker termites come to the soil surface to feed on wood and other cellulose materials and carry this back to share with other colony members. A moist environment such as that created under mulch is an inviting place for termites, and they will search it out. Tests done in Iowa with different types of mulches to see if one type favored termites found that mulch type had little effect and that surprisingly gravel mulches proved to be a magnet for termites.

One valuable pointer that Donald Lewis mentions is to keep mulch several inches from a house foundation, windowsills or house siding. Also watch wood chip mulch for signs of termite activity and call in a professional for an inspection and treatment estimate.

Are Newspapers Safe to use as Mulch for Weed Control?

In 1977 the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission banned the overall use of lead paint. This was followed by an EPA ban of lead in printing ink in 1985. Today’s newspaper inks contain mostly carbon black, varnish, polyethylene wax, china wood oil (tung oil), soybean oil and linseed oil. Ohio State University Extension, reporting on a study looking into the safety of using shredded newsprint bedding with black ink for livestock announced that “There is little threat of dermal absorption of ink or its ingredients once the ink is dry because the ink has achieved its stable state. The ingredients that were potentially absorbable become dry and are no longer able to be absorbed.” Charles Walters, founder of Acres U.S.A. would be the first to say that faulty logic would prevail if we believed in the assumption that newsprint being proclaimed safe for livestock bedding by Extension Agents also should be safe to use as mulch among vegetable plants — especially if non-black ink is used.

In 2005, the NOSB board approved in a formal recommendation to the National Organic Program that newspaper  or other recycled paper, without glossy or colored inks (as well as the use of plastic mulch and covers other then PVC types) continue to be included on the National List of substances used for  crop production.

Are Mulch Volcanoes Around Trees Harmful?

First, what are mulch volcanoes? Mulch volcanoes are the steep piles of excessive mulch banked up against a tree trunk. Piling mulch up like this is a very unhealthy practice and can lead to rodent, insect and disease problems and if excessive and long-term, could even kill the tree. Mulch should be kept away from tree trunks and not placed any higher than the root flare, (the flared out area at the base of the tree trunk) which should still be visible after the mulch is applied.

Gary Bachman at Mississippi State University recommends that gardeners contour the mulch layer to resemble a bowl and make sure the mulch does not touch the tree trunk. This way the bowl shape will collect rainwater or irrigation and direct it toward the tree roots, rather than having it run off of the steep-sided volcano shape. Let’s ban the practice of creating mulch volcanoes!