Take Control! Mulching On The Cheap With Newspaper.

This year I worked with my son’s grade 4/5 class to grow a class vegetable garden on our property. They came once a week to plant, weed, mulch and… play. This garden turned out to be quite large in size, and, combined with my extra large vegetable garden this year, weeding quickly became an issue. You’d think with 25 extra sets of hands the weeding would get done, but while some were very studious, others… were not. It has been a great experience for us all, but needless to say we could never catch up with the weeds. Since I would be the only gardener during the summer months which is the prime time for weeds to grow, I knew I would have to mulch. I have mulched with straw and hay before, but this would have to be cheap. It didn’t take me long to figure out that newspapers were the way to go.

Mulching is a very successful, important part of gardening. Mulching keeps weeds down, holds moisture in, and adds nutrients back to your soil once it decomposes. This means (MUCH) less weeding, less watering, and better soil. It is a big job at first, but saves you hours of labour throughout the rest of the season.

What is mulch?
Any organic matter that is thick enough to keep light out and weeds from growing through. Mulch can be from straw, hay, wood shavings, (not cedar which is toxic), newspaper, cardboard, compost, well-rotted manure, and more. Anything that will safely biodegrade will make a good mulch. If you don’t have farm animals to give you manure, or a large composter to give you compost, then mulch can be expensive to buy by the bag. You don’t have to buy it though. Newspaper makes a great mulch since it is printed with non-toxic ink, and it readily decomposes, unlike plastic landscape fabric which has to be removed years later.

 

Where to find newspaper:
Newspaper can be found for free at recycling depots, at newspaper offices (outdated prints), or you can collect them from your friends and neighbours. You’ll be surprised how much you’ll need, so collect lots! I found bundles of newspapers in the recycling depot bin still bound together in their original bundles. Ask for your friends’ pine needles or grass clippings for the final covering to weight down the papers.

How to mulch with newspaper:

  1. It is best to weed the area first, to decrease the chance of weeds breaking through.
  2. If you have plants started already, lay newsprint, at least 5 pages thick, and overlapping by a good 3 inches, around the plants.
  3. If you haven’t planted yet, you can still mulch first, then cut holes in the paper to put your plant in at a later date.
  4. Spray down the paper with water to keep it from flying away.
  5. Weight down the paper with rocks, dirt, straw, hay, pine needles, grass clippings etc. The more the paper is covered, the less likely it will crack and allow weeds to grow through. Whatever you weight it down with does not have to be thick, but enough to cover the paper if you find it unattractive.

* Note: Don’t use the shiny inserts. They may be coated with plastic which might make them harder to decompose and they may leach toxins into your soil.

Once you are done, make sure you take time to enjoy your garden this summer! With less hours spent weeding you will have more time to relax and enjoy it!

This post has been shared on Frugal Days, Sustainable Ways and From The Farm Blog Hop #37.

Organic vs. Local Produce

I was thrilled, a few weeks back, to find organic grapes back on the shelf.  Most produce suppliers don’t stock organic grapes year-round because the price is too high.  Finally, the price has dropped and for a little while now we will have organic grapes.  I don’t even bother buying non-organic grapes since the pesticide usage on grapes is among the highest of all produce.  So I was pleased to pick up a package, priced at $3.29/lb and give my family a sweet treat.  Then I saw the label: Product of Mexico.  My elation sank back to realism and I soberly added it to my basket. 
I buy organic food, quite frankly, so I don’t expose my family to toxic pesticides that are sprayed on non-organic produce.  (Yeah, yeah, I know, certified organic doesn’t mean pesticide-free… but that’s for another post.)  There are studies that claim organic food has better flavour and higher nutritional value than non-organic food.  I also buy it because it is more environmentally friendly.   The soil isn’t fed a chemical cocktail to improve growth rates.  But organic produce may travel thousands of miles to reach me, and it is the carbon footprint from these miles that disturbs me.  Naturally, I would buy organic, local produce over anything else, but local food is often not organic.  I don’t live in a gardener’s paradise where you can grow anything, all year round.  I live in a climate where, if you are lucky, you can grow a variety of (non-tropical) produce during a few months of they year.  Rain can ruin a garden season in a matter of days, here.  So local farmers don’t always choose the organic route.  They choose the most successful route.

Produce that is fresh from the farm, that hasn’t sat in a shipping container for days (or weeks) before it is placed on the shelf, often has a higher nutrient value.  It looks, feels, smells and tastes better.  But has it been sprayed with chemicals to protect it from pests?  We don’t know.  Probably.
Buying local produce supports our local economy.  Buying from a local farmer will mean his money will go back into our local economy, and will contribute to our taxes, bringing us education, medical coverage, and parks and recreational benefits.  I love to buy local.  But I don’t love to buy anything that may harm my family.
It’s a tricky question and one that I think can only be answered by personal choice.  We can contact local farmers and see if they are using pesticides.  We can grow our own organic produce.  We can trust our Canadian government who allows (or refuses) the use of certain pesticides on our crops.  Or we can buy strictly organic, regardless of where the produce comes from.  Me?  I am leaning towards organic for health’s sake.  Give me local AND organic and I will buy it in a flash.   What I can’t grow I will have to make a decision on whether or not it will be an acceptable item to feed to my family.    And in the mean time, I think I will buy the organic grapes and hope my own garden will offset some of the fuel burned getting organic grapes to the local grocery shelves.  You can’t win them all but you can certainly do what you think is best for your family.