We are planting a garden on the land that we just bought. The soil is a
really sandy loam where we are putting the garden (it's a whole lot more
sandy than loam on most of the rest of the property).
We need some heavy mulch to make this work.
We have five or six acres of planted red pine forest.
If we rake up a bunch of needles and use them to mulch the garden, will
that cause any problems?
Seeds will not germinate. Pine needles contain a chemical that
prevents germination. The chemical breaks down in approximately one
year. You will be all right as long as you plant established seedlings
through the mulch. The one thing that you can not do is seed a bed,
and then cover the seeds with a thin layer of composted needles -
nothing will come up (trust me, I have done it). Potatoes will come up
if they have already sprouted. I don't know about garlic or onions but
I think they will sprout (I have lots of bulbs under a spruce and they
are the only green stuff under there until grass comes up in august).
the other thing you will need to do is mix some ash from the stove
into those needles (they are acid). They are otherwise fairly "green"
and they should give the soil some fertility.
I am in a very similar situation to yours - one of my gardens is sandy
loam and the other is the Sahara. Heavy mulch, several inches of
manure, and plant seedlings through the mulch is the way to go. Pine
needles are a fine mulch in many respects (they don't mat, they are
relatively fertile, they break down within the year), you just have to
learn to use them. In three years, if the beds have received two
applications of manure and maybe 8 total inches of organic matter, you
should be able to ease up both with manure and with the needles (don't
need to apply every season). You will also have to plan ahead if you
plan to seed (most root vegetables and several greens are best direct
seeded). If you do apply a heavy layer of needles, it will probably
take two years for the beds to be ready for seeds. so maybe you use
needles one year, cardboard or newspaper the next (this year my
cardboard, applied in april, is already half gone), and then you seed.
One last advice: your soil is almost certainly acid and will be more
acid still with needles. If you start seeing a pattern where garlic
does better than onions, or potatoes do well but beets or chard don't,
add much more wood ash or lime. Just to give you an idea, in a 30X4
bed, you have approximately 10 tons of dirt. If the pH is 5.4, it will
take approximately 2 pounds of ash to take it to 6.4, but 20 pounds of
ash are needed to take it to 6.65.
I think I'll dig out the pH tester and give it a whirl. Meanwhile, it
looks like pine needles will be a great way to keep weeds from
Now, I need to find a good source of manure. Getting the poop won't be
as big a problem as getting it here. Of course, once the chickens get
bigger, the used litter will certainly do wonders for the garden.
We love our new piece of land, but we have lots of work to do. I'm
thinking of choosing a few areas and putting massive amounts of manure
and mulch on them so we can use those plots in a couple years. If I can
get a big enough truck or trailer, I'll try covering a large piece of
ground with about a foot of mulch, covered by a foot of dairy doo.
My soil is so alkaline it makes a soil tester act broken (it's
somewhere above 8.0), and you can see the difference under some of the
pines in that what does grow there (tumbleweeds, mustard, native grass
but not fescues) looks healthier than elsewhere. But as you say pine
straw generally does inhibit seed germination -- makes it a good mulch
for keeping down general weeds.
Oaks similarly inhibit seed germination, in fact the Calif. scrub oaks
pretty well sterilize the soil underneath them, and it takes several
years for the leaf mulch to break down enough that anything will
They work well with strawberries and blueberries, both of which require
acidic soil. I don't know where you are, but if you can raise blueberries,
I would. Strawberries will grow just about anywhere, as long as you buy
plants for your area.
One thing to remember is that pine needles are very flammable, so make sure you
keep them moist. I like using them as mulch, since they are nice and durable,
but they do burn fast and hot if they dry out. You might want to keep them away
from buildings, too, in case they do catch fire.
They're not that big a problem, as long as you keep them moist(at least the
bottom layers). I like to run them through a shredder and they make pretty good
mulch. It seems to take a bit longer than a lot of other organic materials to
break down, but the flip side of that is that it also helps protect the soil
surface longer that way too.
I'm wondering if I'm going to have to set aside another plot for next
year's garden. If the stuff is still leaching chemicals that suppress
germination, I may have to let it sit for a couple years before planting
seeds again. I might end up using the entire plot for things like
tomatoes, peppers, watermelons, squash, and the like next year. There
is some lovely ground in that area in front that looks like a flood
plane (but isn't -- or it would be flooded right now). The orchard and
chicken range is going there, but a little chicken wire would be
sufficient for putting a garden there.
or chard or lettuce or beet or cabbage. I really only seed carrots,
arugula, spinach, tatsoi and mache. I do seed some lettuce in
midseason, but the early one is always from transplants. But what you
should do is test your pine needles towards the end of the season.
when the ground is still warm, plant a few seeds of what you plan to
seed, and see how it goes. I gave the two years number based on my
experience with light mulch (maybe one inch, partially composted
needles from previous year, seeding attempted in june and july).
News flash: I'm already committed, so I'm going to plant the garden
where I had originally planned this year. Next year, I might put some
ornimentals there, or maybe something that likes sand. Either that, or
I'll put a hoop house there.
You see, my wife had bought a plum tree, so we took it down to the area
that I had slated for pasture and orchard. It's a pain to get there
because of the forest that's between the house and the low area.
Anyhow, I started digging the hole and came up with the nicest black
dirt I have seen in this area. There were lots of earthworms, and the
soil is quite moist (not surprising, considering all the rain we have
So, I'm going to cut a path to the area, run some electric fence, and
turn a large chunk of it into garden. The chickens can have that little
clearing next to the pole barn, and the goats can have the clearing
between the middle and back woods. :-)
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