Sunday, April 4, 2010

Magic mulch - but hold your nose

Thanks to my neighbor Paul, I discovered the wonders of "lake weeds" shortly after moving into my house. Paul has taught me a lot about gardening, and we trade advice, plants, and supplies on a regular basis. Thanks, Paul, you're a great neighbor!

So what are the lake weeds, and what do you do with them? Mostly it is Eurasian Milfoil, that stuff they cut off the lakes every summer, and we use it as mulch, or to start a new bed for planting the next year.

It's great stuff, and Dane County will deliver it right to your house! Normally the trucks dump their load at the Dane County compost sites, but you can call and ask for a delivery at your house.

But make sure you have cool neighbors, because this stuff can be stinky, at least until it dries out. On the other hand, one of my neighbors said, "Some people pay a ton of money to live in a house that smells like this all summer."

Paul and I have traded off getting the delivery in our driveways. When the Dane County truck rolls up, they will dump a truckload of weeds in your driveway. Then you have to move it to wherever you want, but it's a lot of work. When they arrive, the weeds are wet and heavy. They are also tangled up, so just using a fork to get them into your wheelbarrow can mean pulling, which can be hard on your back. You will also find all sorts of surprises - whatever is in the lake can also be in your pile: dead fish, trash, cans and bottles, etc.

Sounds like lots of fun, huh?

But the rewards are really worth it. Both Paul and I used the weeds to mulch around our vegetable gardens, keeping terrestrial weeds down and fertilizing at the same time. We also used a thick layer on grassy areas where we wanted to plant new plants the following year. Because of the high nitrogen levels, and the thickness of the application we used, it smothered the grass underneath, and the following year we could simply plant in what had been sod.

How thick is "thick?" Pretty thick. Because of the high water content, 12 inches of weeds disappears to a mesh of thin stems in less than a year. I say that the stuff has half life of about 3 weeks. You think you are putting an excessive amount of weeds on your beds, but soon enough, it is almost gone.

And one more thing: this stuff is incredible in the compost bin. Just like the coffee I wrote about in my previous post, these weeds are loaded with nitrogen, which makes your leaves and food scraps decompose at lightening speed.

So a truck load full of stinky lake weeds is soon distributed to the garden as mulch, on the lawn as a way to open a new bed for planting, and some for the compost bin to break down the fall leaves. Even though it looks like more material than you could ever use, it eventually disappears. And our neighbors, even though they sort of laugh when the truck arrives - "Another delivery of stinky weeds, huh?" they'll ask - are soon also showing up with buckets and wheelbarrows to ask if they can take some for their gardens. "Do you mind if I take some for my roses?" one person queried.

No, please, help yourself. There's plenty for everyone, and we could use some help getting ride of this pile. After all, we can't use the driveway until it's gone.