mulch pile trivia and updates

It’s all about the mulch. I’ve mentioned the wide variety of vegetables that we’re growing but hands down, the biggest crop by volume and weight is mulch. When most people think of mulch piles, they have in mind a small pile of garden debris and kitchen scraps that eventully converts into an organic garden soil amendment. We’ve ratcheted it up a bit from that. Visualize a mulch pile on steroids. The picture is the current load. The stuff on the right, about 75 cubic feet, is nearly ready for use. The left side is brand new green chippings. That pile will shrink about 75% by the time it’s ready.

Florida doesn’t have soil. We have sand. And the sand has none of the traditional minerals necessary for good vegetable plant growth. Because of the climate it’s a major agricultural state but that’s as a result of constant chemical additives. There’s also no water retention at all in the soil. It can rain 4-6” in an hour and within a few minutes it will have totally disappeared into the sand. So in order to keep from continuously fertilizing and watering, we’ve been adding organic material to the soil – as much as we can produce it. At this point our mulch piles can support as much as 150 cubic feet of mulch in process at any given time. It turns from raw material to useable mulch in maybe 4 months so over the course of a year, we should produce 450 cubic feet. To calibrate the value – I was spending $1.25 for a one cubic foot bag of mulch at Lowes. So it’s not a stretch to say we’re saving $500 a year by creatiing our own mulch. And it’s not the cost so much but think about hauling 450 bags, 40 lbs each, from Lowes. I don’t want to run the math that shows me working for 50 cents an hour but prefer thinking I would have to be paying a fee at the Y or some place to burn off as much energy as I do working the mulch piles. So I look at it as a work-out alternative.

From the initial pile of raw material, we see about a 40:1 shrinkage so you can see we are working with a substantial base of raw material. Most of the shrinkage comes with the initial chipping, at least 10:1 and with some materials, even greater. The largest volume of material comes from cutting undergrowth and vines from the jungle that surrounds both our house and my neighbor’s. It’s not n exaggeration to say that if we didn’t keep more or less a constant trimming, the jungle would take the property back to the original state in a year or two. So we have a ready and easy source of material – where easy means it’s close. For us, a chipper is not a nice touch but an absolute necessity. Our’s is a 10HP beauty as you can see from the picture On the spectrum of chippers, this is between a home garden chipper and a full blown commercial machine. Without the chipper, there would be no mulch operation. We also have a large burn pile where we dispose of the large tree limbs that are trimmed or naturally fall with every wind storm. During the wet, stormy season we probably burn a load once a week; during the dry, no burn season, we reduce that to maybe once a month. So every couple of months we shovel out the ash and toss it into the mulch pile to add minerals to the greenery.

This week we added an interesting load of organic material. George has large Koi ponds around his house. Over the past few years the continuous dropping of oak leaves into the ponds started overwhelming them so Barbara took on the task of cleaning them out. It took 3 days and I would guess 30-40 five gallon bucket loads made it from the pond to the mulch pile. Plenty of large snail shells made it too. The ponds are loaded with large Koi so no doubt they contributed to the organic load. I can’t smell but George says the whole thing now smells fishy.

And as fast as the grass grows, we don’t use grass clippings. Not because they’re bad but in Fla, you use mulching mowers because grass clippings are one of the only sources of nutrients for the lawn itself. If we used lawn clippings, I guarantee the mulch pile would be twice it’s current size.

A quick update on the Gardner’s Spray. Doesn’t stop fire ants.

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Joey had a couple of bad days Wed and Thurs but by Friday afternoon he was coming out of it and planning to work a cruise on Saturday. He and Mark have some good friends who run a beach resort on Cocoa Beach and they invited them to spend a few days there to help make the bad days somewhat better. I’m guessing it did help. They also have friends capable of standing in for Joey on cruises – a huge help – so they should be able to keep the business going just fine. In general they are taking reservations only for the weekends and so far that seems to be working out ok.

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