Aug 2, 2013

Exports at Stake Without WRDA Passage

AUGUST 2, 2013
By: Tyne Morgan, Ag Day TV National Reporter

Rough Waters Still Ahead on the Mississippi River
Record Crop Could Mean Train Troubles This Fall

The Water Resources Development Act provides funding for U.S. waterways, including locks, dams and dredging.

As Congress finishes up work before its summer recess, the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) remains on the table. WRDA is the legislation that provides funding for U.S. waterways, including locks and dams and dredging.

While the legislation could be taken up on the House floor this fall, the Senate passed their version in May. Debra Colbert, senior vice president of the Waterways Council, says the House has finished drafting its version of the bill, but she’s yet to see the legislation.

"What the industry is pushing for is those process delivery reforms with the Corp of Engineers," says Colbert. "We're also calling for the removal of Olmsted and we're also calling for an increase in the user fee that we pay from the current 20 cent per gallon of diesel fuel that's burned on the system to between 26 and 29 cent per gallon." Colbert says the Olmsted Project is in Kentucky and the Ohio River. It's aimed to establish a state-of-the-art lock-and-dam system. Funding was first put into place in the 1980s with an original price tag of $775 million. She says due to engineering issues and other complications, that price tag is now more like $3.2 billion and still not complete. "We would like to see that Olmsted Project removed from: inland waterways trust fund, that only about 300 tow operators pay into , because if it's not removed, we'll never be able to finish any other projects on the system, and it could draw out until about 2090," says Colbert. Currently, she says there are more than 25 locks and dams projects on a high priority maintenance list. Colbert says if funding for the Olmsted project continues in WRDA, then it will continue to eat away at the money available to fix the crumbing infrastructure system on U.S. waterways. For Colbert, failure to pass WRDA means U.S. exports will be at stake. "We hear daily about China's trillions of dollars in reinvestment and South America's investment," she says. "That gap will close, and we're starting to see it now."

Exports at Stake Without WRDA Passage

Aug 1, 2013

Boardroom to Barnyard

JULY 31, 2013
By Sean Patrick Farrell

Tara Smith, a California business woman, traded in her plush city life for the hard work of starting a farm from scratch.

RELATED Articles: 
Life on the Farm: E-I-E-I ...Oh?

Drew Kelly for The New York Times

Clockwise from top left, biodynamic pigs, chicks, laying hens and cattle raised on Tara Smith's 300-acre spread in Sonoma County, Calif. More Photos »

Boardroom to Barnyard

Jul 31, 2013

The Paleo Diet Explained

Published on May 20, 2012

What is the Paleo diet and why should you care? Well, it's the original human diet and it's probably still the healthiest way you could eat.

Here the world's #1 expert, professor Loren Cordain, explains what you need to know and answers common questions. For example: Is Paleo always low carb? What's wrong with vegan diets? What single dairy product is ok to eat?

Professor Cordain's website:

More similar interviews:

More for your health:
The Paleo Diet Explained

Pastured vs Omega-3 vs Conventional Eggs - What's The Difference?

by Kris Gunnars
I love eggs and eat 3-4 of them for breakfast, every single day.

I don’t lose sleep over it, because research shows that they are good for my health.

But depending on what the hens themselves ate, the nutritional value of the eggs can differ greatly.
The Different Types of Eggs Are a Confusing Mess

There are several different types of eggs, which can leave people confused.

What all of them have in common is that they come from chickens, but they vary depending on how the chickens were raised and what they were fed.
Conventional Eggs – These are your standard supermarket eggs. The chickens are usually raised in an overfilled hen house or a cage and never see the light of day.

They are usually fed grain-based crap, supplemented with vitamins and minerals. May also be treated with antibiotics and hormones.

Organic Eggs – Were not treated with antibiotics or hormones and received organic feed. May have had limited access to the outdoors.

Pastured Eggs – Chickens are allowed to roam free, eating plants and insects (their natural food) along with some commercial feed.

Omega-3 Enriched Eggs – Basically, they’re like conventional chickens except that their feed is supplemented with an Omega-3 source like flax seeds. May have had some access to the outside.
Conventional vs. Omega-3 Eggs

A study compared the fatty acid composition of 3 types of eggs: conventional, organic and omega-3 enriched (1).

Omega-3 eggs had 39% less Arachidonic Acid, an inflammatory Omega-6 fatty acid that most people eat too much of.

Omega-3 eggs had 5 times as much Omega-3 as the conventional eggs.

There was very little difference between organic and conventional eggs.

It is clear that hens fed an omega-3 enriched diets lay eggs that are much higher in Omega-3 than conventional eggs.

This is important because most people eat too little Omega-3.

Unfortunately this study didn’t measure other nutrients, only the fatty acid composition.
Conventional vs. Pastured Eggs

In 2007, Mother Earth News magazine decided to test the nutritional value of pastured eggs and received such eggs from 14 different farms.

They were measured in a chemical lab, then compared to the USDA standard conventional egg.

Full chart here.

As you can see, eggs from pastured hens are more nutritious than the conventional eggs you might find at the supermarket.

They are higher in Vitamin A, E and Omega-3s. They are also lower in Cholesterol and Saturated Fat, but I don’t think that matters.

A study I found on pastured eggs produced similar results (2).
Other Terms For Eggs

There are other more loose and confusing terms, including Free Range and Cage Free, which may or may not be any better than conventional eggs.

Free range could mean that there’s a small window on the hen house where the hens have the option of going outside.

Cage free just means that they aren’t raised in a cage. They could still be raised in a smelly, dirty overstuffed hen house.
Take Home Message

At the end of the day, pastured eggs are your best bet. They are more nutritious and the hens were allowed free access to the outside and ate a more natural diet.

If you can’t get pastured eggs (like me) then Omega-3 enriched eggs will be your second best choice. If you can’t get either pastured or Omega-3 eggs, then try to find eggs that are either free-range, cage-free or organic.

But even if that’s not an option, then conventional eggs are still among the healthiestand most nutritious foods you can eat.

To sum up:

Pastured > Omega-3 > Organic > Free Range/Cage Free > Conventional

This just goes to show that what we eat isn’t all that matters… it also matters whatour foods eat.
Pastured vs Omega-3 vs Conventional Eggs - What's The Difference?

Jul 30, 2013

Loren Cordain - Origins and Evolution of the Western Diet: Health Implications for the 21st Century. - YouTube

Another lecture in IHMC's award winning lecture series.

There is growing awareness that the profound changes in the environment (e.g. in diet and other lifestyle conditions) that began with the introduction of agriculture and animal husbandry approximately 10,000 years ago occurred too recently on an evolutionary timescale for the human genome to adjust. In conjunction with this discordance between our ancient, genetically-determined biology and the nutritional, cultural and activity patterns of contemporary western populations, many of the so-called diseases of civilization have emerged. In the U.S. and most western countries, diet-related chronic diseases represent the single largest cause of morbidity and mortality. These diseases are epidemic in contemporary, westernized populations and typically afflict 50-65 % of the adult population, yet are rare or non-existent in hunter-gatherers and other less westernized people. Evidence gleaned over the past three decades now indicates that virtually all so-called diseases of civilization have multifactorial dietary elements that underlie their etiology, along with other environmental agents and genetic susceptibility. This talk will trace the origins of the Western diet and discuss the health implications.

Dr. Cordain is a Professor in the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colorado. His research emphasis over the past 15 years has focused upon the evolutionary and anthropological basis for diet, health and well being in modern humans.

Dr. Cordain's scientific publications have examined the nutritional characteristics of worldwide hunter-gatherer diets as well as the nutrient composition of wild plant and animal foods consumed by foraging humans. Over the past five years his work has focused upon the adverse health effects of the high dietary glycemic load that is ubiquitous in the typical western diet. A number of his recent papers have proposed an endocrine link between dietary induced hyperinsulinemia and acne. Currently, Dr. Cordain's research team is exploring the connection between dietary
elements that increase intestinal permeability (primarily saponins and lectins) and autoimmune disease, particularly multiple sclerosis.

Dr. Cordain is the author of more than 100 peer review publications, many of which were funded by both private and governmental agencies. He is the recent recipient of the Scholarly Excellence award at Colorado State University for his contributions into understanding optimal human nutrition. He has lectured extensively world wide, and has written three popular books (The Paleo Diet, John Wiley & Sons; The Paleo Diet for Athletes, Rodale Press; The Dietary Cure for Acne) summarizing his research findings.
Loren Cordain - Origins and Evolution of the Western Diet: Health Implications for the 21st Century. - YouTube

Shocking, Powerful & Heart Breaking Testimony From US Soldiers - YouTube

Published on Apr 13, 2013

The following Testimony Compilation is from Soldiers who have been in the wars in the middle East and therefore their accounts obviously are more credible than the propaganda we are subjected to by the mass media

Follow Choice and Truth at;


Free book online "War is a Racket" -
Shocking, Powerful & Heart Breaking Testimony From US Soldiers - YouTube

Ian Mitchell-Innes Interview on Holistic Management Planned Grazing - YouTube

Published on Mar 19, 2013

From the Archive: Interview from HMI's Future Farmers & Ranchers course held at Mt. Vernon Farm, by Holistic Management International. Ian Mitchell-Innes is a South African whose family has been on the same ranch since 1863. He has practiced many forms of ranching and farming: growing crops, feedlotting, conventional extensive ranching, irrigated tropical and cool season grasses. At the age of 48, he determined to practice Holistic Management, and completed the Certified Educators Program. Over the past 8 years, Ian has trained ranchers, farmers, families, businesses and communities in Holistic Management.

After taking Holistic Management Financial planning training, he turned off his irrigation pumps and has never turned them on again. He ceased all forms of farming (turning the soil). This amounted to a huge savings with no electricity, tractor, labor or fertilizer costs.

He reports that no dosing or dipping is done and as far as possible no chemicals are used. This past year the only supplementation given to all the cattle has been salt and bone meal (phosphate). No hay, bales or protein licks are used at all.

High Density Grazing and Holistic Grazing Planning have resulted in such an increased production and palatability of grass that half the ranch has been leased out for three years. This is despite the country being in the worst drought of 40 years. The utilization of the available grass has improved to the point of having to bring in more cattle to prepare the ground for spring.

In 2005 Ian's son, William, came back to the ranch (14,000 acres) and they have tripled the number of cattle, running two breeds. Ian runs Beefmaster cattle and William decided to ranch with Ngunis, an indigenous breed. Services that were previously outsourced are now being kept in the family with the return to South Africa of our daughter, Georgina, even though she is not living on the ranch.

Ian Mitchell-Innes Interview on Holistic Management Planned Grazing - YouTube

Editorial: Lessons of the Great Flood of '93? We haven't learned them yet : Stltoday

By the Editorial Board

The Smoke House in Chesterfield Valley, Chesterfield, Mo., is surrounded by more than 10 feet of flood waters from the Missouri River Aug. 1, 1993. The popular resturant was one of many businesses in Chesterfield Valley that was flooded when the Monarch Levee gave way flooding the valley during the 1993 flood. (AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Larry Williams)
(1) More Photos

Since the Great Flood, Missouri river towns are safer from rising waters

ST. LOUIS — Twenty years ago Tuesday, the surging Missouri River burst through the levee at Chesterfield, Mo., and drowned its commercial dist…Read more

'The mess was indescribable': It's been 20 years since the Great Flood of 1993

More than 250 communities in the Midwest were affected 20 years ago by the worst Mississippi River flood in recorded history. Read more

Twenty years ago today, Gumbo Flats ceased to exist.

The expansive area of Missouri River bottomland on the far west side of Chesterfield was inundated when the Big Muddy punched a hole in the Monarch-Chesterfield Levee. The floodwater covered Highway 40 and runways at Spirit of St. Louis Airport. It caused the evacuation of 450 inmates at what was then the county’s Adult Corrections Center. Water stood eight feet high in some of the buildings in Gumbo’s small commercial district.

This was an epic flood, the sort that leads to a capital letter name: the Great Flood of ‘93. It’s the sort of flood that leads to calls for change and scientific reports examining things like “how did this happen?” And “how do we make sure it doesn’t happen again?”

In the case of the Great Flood of ‘93, the White House commissioned a report asking 30 of the nation’s top water experts to answer those two questions.

Twenty years later, the Galloway Report might as well be buried under a ton of dirty river silt.

Reading it today, and comparing its recommendations with what emerged in the Chesterfield Valley (alas, the name “Gumbo” was a flood victim, too), makes a compelling case that our city, state and federal leaders learned little in the two decades since the Great Flood.
The Galloway Report urged limits on floodplain development. Leaders in Chesterfield brag about doing the exact opposite.
The Galloway Report suggested changes to flood insurance, crop insurance and federal damage assistance programs, to reduce incentives that promote building in areas that taxpayers might have to bail out. That didn’t happen, either. In fact, if Congress passes the Farm Bill under consideration, the agricultural incentives will be even greater.
The Galloway Report suggested managing the entire Missouri River basin as one unified watershed. There was even some movement toward that when another capital-letter flood hit in 2011. But that momentum has been lost.

“We said, if you don’t need to develop in a flood plain, don’t do it,” retired Brig. Gen. Gerald Galloway told the Post-Dispatch in 2005, when, more than a decade after the Great Flood, it was clear his report was being ignored.

He should see the Chesterfield Valley now.

Not one, but two outlet malls are being added to the more than 1.5 miles of nonstop strip-mall erected behind the rebuilt Monarch-Chesterfield Levee, in a gluttonous tribute to valuing profits over good sense.

Developers and government officials point to the more than $70 million that has been put into that levee. No doubt it’s an engineering marvel, built to withstand a so-called 500-year flood; that means the odds are 1 in 500 every year that the levee will be topped or breached.

“I am never concerned about another flood,” developer Michael Staenberg arrogantly told the West Newsmagazine this month for a story celebrating the Chesterfield Valley’s rebirth.

Here’s a better quote, one that is more informed, more accurate, and more illustrative of 20 years of ignorant development policies:

“There is no doubt in my mind that we will, some day, have a flood even higher than ’93,” David R. Busse, chief engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers in St. Louis, told the Post-Dispatch’s Tim O’Neil for a Sunday story examining the 20 years since the Great Flood.

When that flood comes — and Mr. Busse is right, it will — it will be much worse than what St. Louis experienced when sleepy Gumbo Flats led national telecasts. Multiple billions of dollars will go down the drain. Flooding downriver will come faster and higher than before. Think Katrina. Think Hurricane Sandy. Think about the fact that climate change has rendered meaningless the old formulas and the old maps for 500-year floods.

The developers, of course, will laugh all the way to the bank. In 1993, many landowners in Gumbo Flats waited until just 5 days before the flooding hit to buy insurance. They were covered. Now they’ve rebuilt on the taxpayers’ dime, and the changes proposed to flood insurance policies by the Galloway Report have been ignored. The valley will flood again. And all of us will pay.

The levee protecting their investments is bigger and badder, but it’s not as mighty as the Missouri. Even if the levee holds, it will merely push a wall of water elsewhere. Let it be somebody else’s problem.

Here’s what we’ve learned 20 years after the Great Flood of ‘93: Not one damned thing.

Editorial: Lessons of the Great Flood of '93? We haven't learned them yet : Stltoday

2013 Gulf of Mexico oxygen-free "dead zone" put at 5,840 square miles -

This map shows the hypoxia area on the Louisiana Gulf of Mexico shelf in 2013. Credit: LUMCON (Rabalais), NOAA

Published: July 29, 2013 at 6:32 PM

WASHINGTON, July 29 (UPI) -- This year's Gulf of Mexico "dead zone" from nutrient runoff from the Mississippi River is large but not as huge as expected, scientists say.

Researchers supported by the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration said the 2013 oxygen-free or hypoxic "dead" zone measures 5,840 square miles, an area the size of Connecticut. They said it shows nutrients from the Mississippi River watershed are affecting the nation's commercial and recreational marine resources in the gulf.

Models had predicted the gulf hypoxic zone would range in size from 7,286 to 8,561 square miles.

Nutrients from agricultural runoff and other human activities stimulate an overgrowth of algae in the gulf that sinks, decomposes and consumes most of the oxygen needed to support life.

"A near-record area was expected because of wet spring conditions in the Mississippi watershed and the resultant high river flows, which deliver large amounts of nutrients," Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, said. "But nature's wind-mixing events and winds forcing the mass of low oxygen water towards the east resulted in a slightly above average bottom footprint."

The hypoxic zone that forms each summer threatens valuable commercial and recreational gulf fisheries that in 2011 had a commercial dockside value of $818 million, researchers said.

Read more: 2013 Gulf of Mexico oxygen-free "dead zone" put at 5,840 square miles -

Bears pole dance when you’re not looking - What goes on when you are not there!


Published on Jul 25, 2013

Ever wonder what bears do when we're not looking? These bears were caught on camera in Kananaskis Country. These images were taken during May and June 2013. Wildlife cameras are part of a research project throughout Kananaskis Country.

By studying wildlife in Alberta's provincial parks, we can better identify population distribution, animal activity and key biodiversity hotspots. Learn more about human/wildlife conflict prevention at For more information about our research, visit

Many thanks to Ewan Dobson for letting us use his incredible music!


Agriculture and Climate Change: An Interview with Darren Doherty - National Bioneers Conference

July 24, 2013 By bioneers

Darren Doherty has developed a set of ecological agricultural practices for large-scale farming that he calls Regrarianism, based on the work of master agrarians like Rudolf Steiner, Joel Salatin, Elaine Ingham and others. Regrarianism integrates Permaculture, Keyline design, Holistic management and carbon farming to transform farms from their current atrophic condition into regenerative systems that provide ecological profit as well as economic benefit.

Bioneers: What are the basic principles of Regrarianism?

Darren: Some of the key principles are to produce stable environments with sound watersheds; increase wildlife species and stability of populations; improve water, soil and vegetation resources of cities, industry and agriculture; prevent waste of financial, human and natural resources; utilize Permaculture design principles; and develop viable decentralized energy production systems.

Bioneers: How does Regraranism help farmers mitigate and adapt to climate change?

Darren: One of the things we look at, which might seem like an unusual climate change strategy, is reducing debt, which in an agricultural environment is really crippling because it disempowers farmers from making the land stewardship decisions they would normally make. We try to get the debt out of the way by getting some higher margin activities in the stream of an enterprise so we can start to self-fund the more regenerative practices.

Bioneers: What’s the most important agricultural climate change practice?

Darren: We can start to build more soil carbon into the equation because that's one of the great buffers against climate change. Not only does it download atmospheric carbon out of the process, but it also creates a resiliency against the biggest problem in a lot of zones where there has been reliable rainfall in the past and now rainfall is unreliable.

Bioneers: How does carbon farming work?

Darren: There's an amount of carbon right above any landscape that can be utilized, primarily in the form of carbon dioxide and other carbon compounds that soil organisms, plants and others use as nutrients.

We're looking to create systems that hold more of that carbon in the organisms and the residues of those organisms for the longest possible times, and then take advantage of the benefits that the diversity and the residues provide. Whether that's residues in the form of humus, which is a very stable carbon-compound, or whether it's residues in terms of a leaf litter that's on the soil surface, which reduces evaporation.

We're trying to increase the retention time of carbon in its solid form in landscapes for as long as possible as opposed to allowing it to become gaseous, that's when it becomes quite dangerous to us all. That is what carbon farming is all about.

Bioneers: What's the relationship between carbon and water?

Darren: Every unit of soil carbon holds about eight units of water. Any farmer knows that as their carbon levels grow in their soil, so does the water holding capacity of that soil, and that also happens to increase the nutrient exchange capacity of that soil as well.

Bioneers: Can enough carbon be sequestered in soil to significantly mitigate climate change?

Darren: The only place in the world where there's more carbon than in the soil is in the ocean and in the sedimentary rocks. ­ We try to build in our system multiple elements with trees, ground cover, canopies of grasses or other plants, that keep carbon in its place for as long as possible, and therefore also hold water in place. ­

Bioneers: What’s the best way to keep carbon in place for as long as possible?

Darren: You have to understand the different kinds of carbon and the states of carbon soils. Let's look at compost, for example. Depending on the state of compost and how it's made, it's largely made up of what are called short-chain carbon molecules. So mulch, compost, leaf litter, cover crops, all of these things aren't processing carbon into its long-chain form. It's quite unstable, so as a result a lot of that carbon ends up being put back into the atmosphere.

Compost and cover crops certainly have a conditioning effect on the soil, but a lot of that carbon is being cycled within the top six inches of the soil, which is the highly aerobic zone of the soil, so carbon therefore is in a greater stage of flux.

Bioneers: Are you saying compost and cover crops are not effective ways to sequester carbon?

Darren: You might increase your net soil carbon quite heavily in the first few years by the application of compost, and all of the aforementioned methods, but will that last over the longer term? The answer is quite clearly no. Great techniques, great to do, but what we need more of is long-chain carbon. It's largely delivered in the form of polysaccharide exudate or nutrients released from plant root systems, particularly grasses.

Where we want the carbon and where farmers can look to increasing their carbon levels overall is in the depth of soil. You can have 10% carbon in the top six inches and 2% in the next 10 inches, and 1½% in the next 10 inches. That's not going to sustain agriculture over the long term, and the top 6 inches is not where carbon is going to be kept and stored and sequestered. It's pretty well impossible to get that short-chain carbon down into the depths without a lot of intervention, which requires a lot of fossil fuels. The best way to do that is to get plant roots to penetrate these depths and to put their exudates down in those depths. There are carbohydrates created out of the interaction between water, sunlight and carbon dioxide, and then manufactured by the plants as a residue, and their primary objective is to feed the soil microlife.

Bioneers: So deep-rooted plants are key to this process.

Darren: What drives the sustenance and the regeneration of the soil life is the plants. The plants are the conduit between the atmosphere and the lithosphere [the Earth’s deep outer layer, which includes soil]. They keep the lithosphere, the soil, and the rhizosphere, the root zone, alive, because they transfer the energy of the sun, manufacture the sugars as carbohydrates, as long chain carbons, and that's what feeds the economy of the soil.

I've been talking a lot lately about the relationship between using perennial systems and annual systems as an analog of our own human economy, and how if I look at an annual plant, for example, it lives fast, it dies young, it's quite profligate in the use of its resources because it leaves very little of the residue behind, it doesn’t have any savings; its whole objective is to reproduce.

If you look at a perennial plant, particularly a perennial grass, it puts very little energy into being in a nightclub, it has very fibrous, deep root systems, which have long, long term arrangements with the whole suite of soil life, it has all the very cultivated and highly developed and synergistic relationship; it has a carbohydrate starch reserve, which is like a bank where it puts a lot of its capital flows out into the general soil economy over the longest period and often when it's not raining, and it puts something behind so when disturbance occurs, it can come back. In fact, in many cases, it actually thrives on disturbance.

I think a lot of economists in the financial sector, if they wanted to know what would be a good model to base economies on, they could probably look no further than a tree or a forest or a perennial grass. Much of our agriculture is annual based. We're living fast and dying young.

Agriculture and Climate Change: An Interview with Darren Doherty - National Bioneers Conference

Jul 28, 2013

Beginner's Guide to Mulch: Organic Gardening

The best time-saving measure a gardener can take is applying mulch. This goes for every garden site, from vegetable garden to flower bed. Mulched gardens are healthier, more weed free, and more drought-resistant then unmulched gardens, so you'll spend less time watering, weeding, and fighting pest problems.

There are two basic kinds of mulch: organic and inorganic. Organic mulches include formerly living material such as chopped leaves, straw, grass clippings, compost, wood chips, shredded bark, sawdust, pine needles, and even paper. Inorganic mulches include gravel, stones, black plastic, and geotextiles (landscape fabrics).

Both types discourage weeds, but organic mulches also improve the soil as they decompose. Inorganic mulches don't break down and enrich the soil, but under certain circumstances they're the mulch of choice. For example, black plastic warms the soil and radiates heat during the night, keeping heat-loving vegetables such as eggplant and tomatoes cozy and vigorous.

Using Organic Mulches
There are two cardinal rules for using organic mulches to combat weeds. First, be sure to lay the mulch down on soil that is already weeded, and second, lay down a thick enough layer to discourage new weeds from coming up through it. It can take a 4- to 6-inch layer of mulch to completely discourage weeds, although a 2- to 3-inch layer is usually enough in shady spots where weeds aren't as troublesome as they are in full sun.

Wood chips and bark mulch: You can purchase bags of decorative wood chips or shredded bark from a local garden center to mulch your flower garden and shrub borders. A more inexpensive source of wood chips might be your tree-care company or the utility company. They may be willing to sell you a trunkload of chips at a nominal price. Many community yard waste collection sites offer chipped yard debris or composted grass clippings and fall leaves to residents for free (or for a small fee).

Shredded leaves: If you have trees on your property, shredding the fallen leaves creates a nutrient-rich mulch for free. You can use a leaf-shredding machine, but you don't really need a special machine to shred leaves—a lawn mower with a bagger will collect leaves and cut them into the perfect size for mulching.

You can spread a wood chip or shredded leaf mulch anywhere on your property, but it looks especially attractive in flower beds and shrub borders. Of course, it's right at home in a woodland or shade garden. Wood chips aren't a great idea for vegetable and annual flower beds, though, since you'll be digging these beds every year and the chips will get in the way. They do serve well as a mulch for garden pathways, though.

Grass clippings: Grass clippings are another readily available mulch, although it's a good idea to return at least some of your grass clippings directly to the lawn as a natural fertilizer (see the Lawns entry). It's fine to collect grass clippings occasionally to use as mulch, and the nitrogen-rich clippings are an especially good choice for mulching vegetable gardens. Your vegetables will thank you for the nitrogen boost!

Compost: If you have enough compost, it's fine to use it as a mulch. It will definitely enrich your soil and make your plants happy, but keep in mind that when any kind of mulch is dry, it's not a hospitable place for plant roots. So you may want to reserve your compost to spread as a thin layer around plants and top it with another mulch, such as chopped leaves. That way the compost will stay moist and biologically active, which will provide maximum benefit for your plants.

Pine needles: Pine needles are a trim-looking mulch for garden beds. They allow water to pass through easily and they break down slowly. Despite what you may have heard, using pine-needle mulch will not make your soil significantly more acid.

Straw and hay: Another great mulch for the vegetable garden is straw, salt hay, or weed-free hay. It looks good and has most of the benefits of the other mulches: retaining soil moisture, keeping down weeds, and adding organic matter to the soil when it breaks down. But be sure the hay you use is weed and seed free, or you'll just be making trouble for your garden. And don't pull hay or straw up to the stems of vegetables or the trunks of fruit trees or you'll be inviting slug and rodent damage.

Organic Mulching Mechanics
Spreading organic mulch saves labor and nurtures plants by:
Preventing most weed seeds from germinating; the few weeds that do pop through the mulch will be easy to pull.
Keeping the soil cool and moist in summer, reducing the need to water.
Decomposing slowly, releasing nutrients into the soil.
Encouraging earthworm activity, improving soil tilth and nutrient content.
Keeping dirt from splashing on flowers and vegetables.
Preventing alternate freezing and thawing of the soil in winter, which can heave plants from the soil.

Nothing, unfortunately, is perfect. When using organic mulches, keep in mind the following facts:

As low-nitrogen organic mulches such as wood chips and sawdust decay, nitrogen is temporarily depleted from the soil. Fertilize first with a high-nitrogen product such as blood meal or fish meal to boost soil nitrogen levels.
An organic mulch retains moisture, which can slow soil warming; in spring, pull mulch away from perennials and bulbs for faster growth.
A wet mulch piled against the stems of flowers and vegetables can cause them to rot; keep mulch about 1 inch away from crowns and stems.
Mulch piled up against woody stems of shrubs and trees can cause them to rot and encourages rodents, such as voles and mice, to nest in the mulch. Keep deep mulch pulled back about 6 to 12 inches from trunks.
In damp climates, organic mulches can harbor slugs and snails, which will munch on nearby plants; don't spread mulch near slug-susceptible plants.
Organic mulches are usually more or less acidic, depending on their content; mix some lime with the mulch beneath plants that prefer neutral or slightly alkaline soil.

Double mulch stops weeds. If you know that a garden bed is filled with weed seeds or bits of perennial weed roots, use a double-mulching technique to prevent a weed explosion. Set plants in place, water them well, then spread newspaper and top it with organic mulch.

Using Plastic Mulch
Mulching a vegetable garden with sheets of black plastic film can do wonders. When it's spread tightly over a smooth soil surface, black plastic will transmit the sun's heat to the soil beneath, effectively creating a microclimate about 3°F warmer than an unmulched garden. Because the plastic film remains warm and dry, it protects the fruits of vining crops such as strawberries, melons, and cucumbers from rotting and keeps them clean. And of course, the mulch prevents weed growth and retains soil moisture.

Infrared transmitting (IRT) plastics cost more than standard black plastic, but they can result in even higher yields. These plastics warm the soil as well as clear plastic does, but also control weeds as well as black plastic does.

In raised bed gardens, lay down a sheet of plastic over the entire bed. Bury it at the edges or weigh the plastic down with rocks. Then 384punch holes in it for the plants. A bulb planter makes quick work of hole cutting. Sow seeds or plant transplants in the holes.

Because water can't permeate plastic, the mulch retains soil moisture but it also keeps rainwater from soaking the planting bed. Thus, the ideal watering system for a plastic-covered bed is soaker hoses or drip hoses laid on the soil surface before you put down the plastic.

Don't use plastic as a mulch under shrubs. Although it keeps out weeds and can be camouflaged with decorative mulch, black plastic destroys the shrubs' long-term health. Because water and air cannot penetrate the plastic, roots grow very close to the soil surface—sometimes right beneath the plastic—seeking moisture and oxygen. The shallow roots suffer from lack of oxygen and moisture and from extremes of heat and cold. Eventually the plants decline and die. Stick to organic mulches such as shredded leaves, bark, wood chips, or compost under your trees and shrubs.

Plastic Imperfectio
Although black plastic mulch seems like a great boon to organic gardeners, its use is not problem free. One issue of concern with black plastic is its manufacture (it's a petroleum product) and its disposal—there are very few places it can be recycled. If you carefully lift black plastic at the end of the growing season and store it in a dry place over winter, you should be able to reuse it for several years, but eventually if will become torn and you'll have to throw it away.

An alternative is a biodegradable plastic mulch (cornstarch based). These materials are designed to break down in place by the end of the growing season, and you can dig any remaining bits into the soil. However, one of the breakdown products of biodegradable plastic mulch is carbon dioxide. Black paper mulch made from recycled paper is also available, but these products are usually treated with a synthetic antimicrobial substance to prevent them from breaking down too quickly.

Unlike black plastic, landscape fabrics let air and water through to the soil beneath while keeping weeds from coming up. But landscape fabrics (geotextiles) have some of the same drawbacks as black plastic. To begin with, they are petroleum products. When exposed to light, they degrade over time, so to make them last longer, you have to cover them with a second mulch (they're ugly, so you'd want to, anyway). However, many gardeners have discovered that shrub roots grow up into the landscape fabric, creating real problems when you eventually want to remove it. And weeds that germinate in the surface mulch send roots down into the fabric, too, tearing it when you pull them out.
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