MacKissic Shredder, Part 2...
Making And Using Leaf-Confetti Mulch

Dateline: 17 September 2016



In my previous blog post I told you about my new vintage (1977) MacKissic shredder. After trying to shred some wet compost, and finding that was a lost cause, I concluded that it would be best to wait until fall when the leaves start falling to put the shredder to use.

But I couldn't wait. The fact is, I have woods with a layer of year-old leaves and small twigs right behind my house. And it hasn't rained much this year so everything is dry. So I raked up a bunch of old leaves and ran them through the MacKissic.


The result was, as you can see from the pictures, a lovely shredded confetti of leaves. Will Bonsall is a big advocate for making and using leaf confetti as a mulch in the garden. He collects and shreds TONS of leaves ever year. He stockpiles shredded leaves in the fall (and keeps them dry) to use the following growing season. He also stores dry unshredded leaves through the winter to shred and use the next year. This is discussed in his book, Will Bonsall's Essential Guide to Radical, Self-Reliant Gardening.

I always figured that leaves are best shredded only for compost, not saved and used as a mulch the next year. This idea of using leaf confetti as a mulch is new to me.

Will writes in his book that the shredded leaves will not mat down and, "Shredding leaves is worth the effort, because the shreds will not blow around the garden..." Besides that, leaves-as-mulch feed the soil. They are high in nitrogen and minerals.

Will lives in Maine and he grows a variety of grains (including quinoa!) on a small scale. Once the grains are up a few inches, he sprinkles the leaf confetti over the plants. I like that idea.

I have a single garden bed that is currently planted with a cover crop of field peas. The peas are up a little bit and looking real nice. Here's a picture...



That bed is an ideal place to try out Will's leaf-confetti mulch idea. So that's what I did...

(click the picture for a larger view)
I think this idea makes a lot of sense. 

The garden bed above grew green beans this year. I cut the old bean tops off at ground level and planted the field peas without turning the soil. In about three weeks, I will remove the top growth of peas, leave the leaf confetti in place, and plant the bed to garlic. It is a no-till gardening experiment. 

I'm hoping the roots and the leaves will contribute to the overall soil health, which will contribute to overall plant health.


22 comments:

  1. Herrick, I started using leaf mulch a few years ago. I have a combo leaf blower/shredder which does a great job of making leaf mulch albeit with a bit more work than a standalone unit. The mulch has worked really well.

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    1. Excellent. I'm always the last to discover these things. :-)

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  2. Elizabeth L. Johnson said,
    As the Lord told Paul Gautschi about what was on the forest floor next to his house, it's the "covering" that is invaluable for your garden; and a thick covering, at that! Whether pine mulch, straw mulch, wood chips, or etc., the fact that it is "covering" is what makes the difference. Liken that to the blood on the altar in old Israel's temple sacrifices: it's the covering that works!

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    1. Paul Gautschi is definitely an inspiring gardener. I love to listen to him and watch the YouTube videos with him.

      I have never considered a connection between the blood covering of sin and mulch. That's an interesting concept that I'll have to ponder some.

      As always, thank you for your comment, Elizabeth.

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  3. This is slightly off the subject, but a question regarding the black plastic weed cloth you use. This is the first season I am using the cloth and my seeds aren't germinating like they did prior to the weed cloth. If it was just one plant, I might attribute to bad seeds, but it is everything I've planted. My cucumbers have come up, but seem to have stopped growing (they are still very small). My green beans have been sporadic, of which are usually super easy to grow. Same for my carrots and beets. We do live in deep South Texas and it is still super hot during the day (Temp around 97 with a heat index 100+ yesterday). Is it just too hot? Am I cooking them before they can even get above the ground? I also have a drip system I am using for the first time which has been challenging....it doesn't seem to water evenly. I thought this was going to be an answer to my weeding issue (I have a 25'x50' garden, on top of a few animals...I have 8 children I homeschool, who also help quite a bit around the farmstead....as you can see, I need to try to keep my chores as simplistic as possible). Would love any advice you have to offer.....didn't know if you, or one of your readers had ever struggled with the same thing....
    Thanks

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    1. I think your suspicion of it being too hot may be correct. Texas is another world compared to upstate NY when it comes to growing a garden. In hotter environments I think a black plastic mulch can be successfully used to get soil warmed in the spring, and it can be used as an occultation cover, and in walkways, but if the soil is continually too hot because of black plastic heat buildup, most garden plants they will have trouble growing.

      My personal experiments using black plastic as a mulch in my garden have been mostly positive but not entirely. It definitely holds moisture in the soil, and eliminates weeding, but in some instances, if the plastic is too close to the plants, they don't do so well. That being the case, I'm preparing now to try a whole different black plastic approach next year.

      Into the large sheet of black plastic I am going to lay out and cut an arrangement of 30" x 30" garden beds. Each small bed will be planted and cared for by covering the soil with a natural (non-plastic) mulch. The plastic will serve the important purpose of eliminating all weeding in the walkways and between the beds, while the naturally mulched beds will give the plants a more ideal growing environment.

      A 30" x 30" garden bed can be surprisingly productive and it is entirely MANAGEABLE, which is no small thing. Sometimes a big garden can be overwhelming to care for. But if the walkways are covered, and the beds are manageable, they can be more easily tended and the whole garden experience can be a lot more satisfying. That's what I'm thinking. Every large task, when broken into smaller parts is easier.

      It's kind of a hybrid black plastic approach.

      I'm not sure what to say about the drip irrigation. I have decided against using it because it's a hassle to set up and here in NY we have sufficient subsoil moisture to supply most plantings. This is especially the case when a mulch is used and plants are not crammed together too closely.

      I wish you the best with your gardening journey.

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    2. I lived in Central North Texas for years and the best weed barrier I found that didn't kill my seedlings was straw; a nice, 3 inch deep (at least) barrier of straw. It's cheap and wasn't too hot and the weeds were easy to pull if one happened to push though. Plus I employed my 4 children to help weed in the early mornings and evenings after supper. Even at 4 years old, my son was eager to "help" me in the garden. Good luck!

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    3. My two cents worth: Regarding Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, might it be a combination of things? Too hot, inadequate watering and maybe one other consideration. I would also inquire on your inputs such as straw, compost and the like. A possibility that your inputs were contaminated with an herbicide?
      Not that I am an expert, by any stretch of the imagination, but it may be a combination. If you are able, pkease do comeback and share with us your outcomes and discoveries.
      Respectfully,
      Pam Baker

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    4. Thanks so much for all the advice. I am considering pulling up a few rows of the plastic and trying to reseed again. I will also look for a supplier of straw. I've tried hay, but as you know...it carries with it seed which can be a pain to deal with due to the fact it grows under the hay before you realize you have a problem. I will try to re-post once I see how things go. Again, thanks so much for the responses.

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    5. Elizabeth—
      Your mention of straw got me to wondering about running straw through my MacKissic shredder. So I bought a bale and tried it. I'll blog about it shortly. It's good to get your children out in the garden helping. Hopefully they will continue to be eager helpers as they get older!

      Pam—
      I wish I had read your comment about the herbicide in straw before I bought a bale and ran it through my shredder. How could I have forgotten the herbicide issue???

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    6. Mr. Kimball, it is certainly understandable considering the excitement over your new homestead tool. Of course, it all depends from whence the bale came.
      A little story for you. The closest big town to us is Brattleboro. Brattleboro is much like Berkeley and Boulder, if you catch my drift. They had mandatory recycling three years ago and this past year, mandatory composting. And they encourage people to go to the recycling center and pick up compost for their yard and garden.
      I would no sooner do that as I would cut off my nose. We are talking every person in Brattleboro composting their foodstuffs. And heaven knows what else. I would not trust that compost if it was the last dirt on Earth. Because, people are, well, manners prevent me from saying. I am leery of buying "organic" straw and hay at Agway because I don't trust people. That is why I want large animals on the homestead...for their outputs....but first I must make a pasture....
      Oh the list just gets bigger.
      And the years shorter. And the wallet, lighter.
      Keep up the great work, it is so nice to see your words and deeds.
      Respectfully, Pam

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  4. On another note~ Herrick when do you purchase your seeds for the following season? I have noticed some of my favorite garden centers have seeds for next year's garden on sale already. Should I take a chance on these seeds and risk poor germination for my 2017 garden (old seeds)? Or do you think it's "safe" to purchase seeds now, months in advance?
    Thanks,
    Elizabeth

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    1. If they are good quality seeds it is safe to purchase them now and keep them in a cool, dry place. I keep my garden seeds in a Tupperware bread container in the fridge. I typically buy garden seeds in November or December. But that's just me.

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  5. Have the four wheel version this unit. It also has the chipper on it, but have found the chipper does nothing but eat belts. Have a different unit to chip branches with. Have found the Mackissic really shines grinding up old dry cow manure clods. Just run about a three ton load thru mine, for next years garden. I lay a big tarp down under the machine, makes cleaning up much easier. Keep up the good work.

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    1. I have a picture in my mind of how beautiful those shredded dry cow manure clods must look. :-)
      Now I need to find me some of those!

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  6. Hi Herrick, Two years ago my middle son went out and bought one of this zero radius turn lawn mowers from Caterpillar that runs on propane to see if he could up our sales of LPG. He asked me at the time if I wanted a grass catcher attached to it. So being basically lazy I told him yes. SO for all subsequent mowing s of the yards, I have been dumping the clippings into the compost pile. After reading your post above, I ran right out and jumped on it and spent about 20 minutes going around every tree on the property and sucking up the leaves. Man I mean to tell you, that is some fine leaf mulch! The collection tub/basket/ whatever holds about 6, 55 gallon trash bags worth of leave mulch per full load. Now I"M TRYING TO FIGURE OUT HOW i can keep a lot of it dry till next spring. Up on wood or plastic pallets and covered with a good strong canvas, waterproof tarp is looking good to me. By putting it in bags, I can use them for my carrot and turnip/rutabaga clamps!

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    1. Brilliant.
      Everett, you have fully grasped the concept! :-)

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  7. Elizabeth L. Johnson said,

    On the subject of possible pesticide/herbicide contamination: If y'all will go to Jill Winger's blog, Prairiehomestead.com and scroll down to the one entry titled "I Think I Poisoned My Garden" (unfortunately not dated, but I believe was posted on Aug. 30, 2016), she also shows pictures of contaminated tomato plants. Click on a phrase about bioassay test and it will take you to a site, Dow Agrosciences, Bioassay for Auxinic Herbicides in Soil, Manure, or Compost. I have just finished a bioassay test myself, to test bags of boughten manure given me. I used green bean seeds. In my test, fortunately there are no signs of twisted, deformed beans that would come from contaminated manure. Boy, was I relieved! This blog entry and reader comments really point out possibilities even from neighbor farms, let alone boughten products, or supposed organic product, bought or generously given. Yes folks, we have to be so cautious, just when we thought we were safe!

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  8. Elizabeth L. Johnson said,
    Correction: theprairiehomestead.com

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  9. I've refrained from posting here because I realize I can often sound like a Debbie Downer. I wonder, however, with successive annual layers of carbon-rich material that will contribute to the soil what is everyone doing to add nitrogen (green stuff) to the mulch. Do you do it annually to the bed? Do you amend mulch with green stuff as you lay it out on the beds? I think about a 25:1 ration would be good to ensure a good mix, don't you all think? Love to know your thoughts.

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  10. Thank you for sharing this beautiful post. It was really inspiring, I just can't wait for the spring to come!

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