Monday, May 5, 2014

Twigs in the Garden

I've been using twigs in my garden for so long that I don't even give them a least until today. This afternoon I had a new helper who wants to learn how I grow food. I set him to doing a bit of mulching while I organized things for a quick lesson. When I returned I found that he was done applying the mulch but had gone to the effort of "cleaning up the twigs". He had assumed that they were wind blown twigs and were thus trash to be removed. He had put them into a pile and asked me if they should be thrown into the woods or the trashcan. ....... Neither. They go back into the garden where he found them. 
In nature, leaves, stems, twigs, and even tree branches and trucks fall to the ground where they eventually decompose. Nothing is wasted. Since nature utilizes biomass pretty well, I figure that I can follow nature's example. 

I use just about any shred-able biomass as mulch. Grass. Weeds. Leaves. And I include twigs. The only requirements are that they be small enough in size so as not to interfere with a rototiller, and that they not be a plant variety that will root themselves in my garden. Some of the bushes around here sends out roots fairly readily. 

I break or cut twigs into lengths not more than 6 inches. Then I scatter them lightly in the garden aisleways.  
By putting them in the aisles, they get trod upon causing them to crack and break up even more. Eventually the grass mulch plus twigs ends up as mulch in the vegetable beds, which in turn ends up being rototilled between crops. It's a cycle thing.....
...lay mulch in aisles
...move aisle mulch onto growing veggies as they need more mulch, then replace the aisle mulch with new
...after harvesting veggies, rototill in the old mulch that had been around them.
...plant new crop and when it's ready for mulch, pull the mulch from the aisle onto the veggie bed. 

The reason why I cycle like this is twofold. First, the mulch in the aisles is constantly being walked on. Thus it gets bruised and crushed, resulting in it decomposing easier and faster. Second, I sometimes don't have mulch ready the day that the veggies need it. So grabbing the aisleway mulch is handy and timely. 

So what about those twigs? What benefits? Of course they eventually decompose, becoming soil, becoming nutrition for the garden. But I also notice that they have a bearing on soil moisture retention. Twig treated soil holds moisture better. Plus the soil also doesn't compact as badly nor become "pasty". I don't think that the twigs made the soil significantly better right away. But over the years I can see a real difference between the areas that routinely get twigs and the areas that never have had them added. 

I don't use lots of twigs, not like covering the ground in wood chips. I just use the twigs that I have. And as I said, they get trod on for weeks then get tilled in. I notice that they decompose slower than the grass clippings, but that is just fine. I'm told that woody material is good for soil fungus ecology. That's a plus. 

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