It’s mid summer at Mezzacello. Today many of the garden beds are resting after harvest. Seedling are coming along in the greenhouse and I am fortifying the lasagna beds with molecular iron and magnesium sulphate (Ironite and Epsom Salts) and a mix of urea, blood and bone meal. All beds will also get a good dose of algal water from the biofilter. That should help fortify the fall harvest.
You can see in the photo above the conspicuous lack of weeds in the burlap beds. The dried weeds on the stepping block are what I pulled last week when I harvested carrots, onions and shallots. There are more weeds in the mulched beds than in the burlap. The ducks are my grub and beetle assassins! The love rooting with their bills around the holes in the burlap and they eat the beetles right off the squash. They don’t eat vegetables so there is that, but you have to watch them around delicate plants like carrot or asparagus fronds. Their waddle over everything.
I am very pleased with the performance of both the lasagna garden bed matrix and burlap. It absorbs and holds moisture and nutrients very well. Now I need to start experimenting with cut patterns and spacing in the burlap matrix. This year I tried layering the burlap in strips and planting in the spaces where the burlap edges met. I find this to be impractical. It encourages creeping weeds to grow and fine seedlings grow through the burlap and become inhibited. The cut gash pulled away from the seed plant is much better. Lesson learned.
I have known for some time that the burlap has been an effective (albeit expensive) form of mulch. It holds water like a dream, controls weeds very well, and tots down beautifully. I have been curious to the why of the burlap’s effectiveness. It does not block all light from passing. It strongly filters the light. Weeds do still grow under the burlap. They grow sporadically for sure. Much much less than organic mulch or bare earth for certain.
But the other interesting impact is that weeds can be growing for weeks and one doesn’t know it. The weed takes root in the soil and starts to grow but it grows slowly starved of sunlight. You don’t notice it at first. It grows so slowly that over the course of a few weeks it finally begins pushing up the burlap. When I see this, I simply reach in either from the edge or a planting slit and pull the weed in seconds flat. Because it is so weak it pulls right out. That makes the cost of the burlap (roughly $120 for the 350 sq ft of 24 3’x5’ beds) well worth it in terms of time saved. I spend around 15 minutes a week weeding.
The Exceptions and the Victories
The one major exception is creeping clover. It loves to send its tendrils under the burlap from along the edges of the semi-raised bed. It takes seconds to pull and it slides out from beneath the burlap quite easily. You can see it along the edge of the bed in the photo above.
The most astounding victory of this burlap mulch for me has been the near complete termination of poke and belladonna in my garden. In 2018 I had a poke, belladonna, and cherry tomato catastrophe. Nothing grew. I could NOT keep up with the weeds. I felt like such a failure. I have had 3 (Three) poke plants so far in this garden. One beneath the burlap and two that grew along the edge. Belladonna is still an issue along the perimeter but has yet to grow where there is burlap.
The next horizon to explore is how to keep the fence line around the garden poke, belladonna, rye and crab grass, and rabbit and groundhog free. The plants love to grow in the welded wire fencing that is behind the picket fence. The wire keeps chicks, rabbits and groundhogs our really well, but is a liability with the weeds. This is where focus will lay next. If you have any solutions, hit me up!