Article about mulching; dealing with a trapped skunk

GFM_April2014_cover_300pxThe April Growing for Market magazine is out, with my article about mulches. We use a range of mulching materials to help keep down weeds, retain soil moisture and either cool or warm the soil. We use cardboard topped by woodchips or hay for our blueberry plantings,and  hay for asparagus. In the past, we used newspaper and hay for strawberries, nowadays we use landscape fabric with holes melted into it. We use hay for garlic, summer-planted potatoes, celery, eggplants, chard, spring broccoli and cabbage. We use the biodegradable plastic (Mater-Bi or Eco One) for watermelons, peppers, cantaloupes, sweet potatoes, and sometimes cucumbers or squash. it helps warm the soil and so the warm-weather crops grow much better and this alone gives us watermelons a month earlier than previously. We also grow our own mulch, a winter cover crop of winter rye, hairy vetch and Austrian winter peas which we mow down in early May. It’s a no-till cover crop – we transplant our Roma paste tomatoes right into the dead mulch. The vetch and peas provide all the nitrogen the tomatoes need, so we don’t need to add any compost. The rye covers the soil for 6-8 weeks. then we unroll hay bales between the rows to last till the end of the long season. No-till mulches keep the soil cooler than if the soil were disked or tilled, so no-till cover crops are only suitable for crops you don’t want quickly!

Mulching beds with newspaper and straw. Photo Luke J Stovall
Mulching beds with newspaper and straw.
Photo Luke J Stovall

Other articles this month include one by Andrew Mefford about watering and fertilizing hoophouse tomatoes in Maine, and one by Brett Grohsgal about smoothing the process of making urban CSA deliveries, including an amusing taxonomy of drivers (Dawdlers, Darters/Weavers, Reckless Racers, Breakers, the Distracted, the Erratic, and Smooth Operators. If only we were all Smooth Operators! Brett also includes his tips on choosing the best delivery vehicle, where he comes out in favor of an Isuzu box truck. Ariel Pressman writes part two of a series on finding good workers and the flower grower Gretel Adams tackles managing multiple markets as well as weddings.  Everyone is jumping into action for spring!

This week in the garden we have been stymied by excess rain (again). Beasties have been eating our crops. I caught two groundhogs already. they were snacking on our kale. In the process of trapping groundhogs in a live trap, I accidentally caught a skunk. This happened last year. It could even have been the same silly skunk – it had a lot of white and not much black to its fur.

So, how to let the skunk out of the trap without arousing its ire? We brainstormed a bit and I told how I did it last year, using sticks to open the trap and a plastic sack to screen myself. One of the crew came up with a better idea, which I’ll now pass on, in case you ever need to know how to do it. She got a large piece of cloth, draped it over the trap and then delicately opened the trap by hand, through the fabric. It worked like a charm. The skunk ambled out. But then it turned round and went back in, back to sleep. Skunks are nocturnal, so I guess it thought better of setting out to find a new resting place. We left the trap open all night, and in the morning it had gone.

The fabric was so perfect we are now keeping it in the garden shed in case we need it again. It was a large piece of knit polyester – thick, drapeable, washable, and not the sort of thing anyone would have wanted to make clothes out of!

Meanwhile we have a burrowing animal biting off our broccoli seedlings from flats in the coldframe. It isn’t eating them, just felling them, and stashing them in piles. Argh! My current theory is moles. Although carnivores, they apparently use leaves to line their nests. We tried hot pepper on the seedlings, the rain washed it off. We set the flats on landscape fabric. Now they bore through the landscape fabric. The tunnels are too big for voles or mice. Today we are trying to fob them off with dumpstered iceberg lettuce, and spare kale seedlings. If anyone has ideas, please leave a comment.

On Thursday I’m off to Asheville, to the Mother Earth News Fair, where I am giving two presentations, Cold-hardy winter vegetables, and Crop rotations for vegetables and cover crops.


2 thoughts on “Article about mulching; dealing with a trapped skunk”

  1. Could you line the coldframe with hardware cloth?

    We’ve had similar experiences with skunks in traps. One time the trap was in the middle of an active work area, so Eric draped a sheet over the trap, tied a rope to the trap, and pulled it to a less busy area. Have read that skunks aren’t able to spray from within a trap because the trap isn’t big enough for them to posture…but we sure don’t want to be the ones to falsify that hypothesis!

    According to the Missouri mammal book, skunks eat moles. So, if you catch another one, there’s always the option to release it near the coldframe….

  2. Thanks Joanna, the idea of releasing the skunk next to the coldframe was good for a laugh! And might actually work! Lining the coldframe with hardware cloth would probably work, but would be expensive and inconvenient. We’re thinking next year we should get rid of the moles somehow before we put any flats in the frame, while we still have spinach growing there. Trapping and/or planting Mole Plant there. Then line the coldframe really thoroughly and fully with the landscape fabric, making sure there are no gaps. Part of the problem might have been that we cleared the spinach and lined the coldframe in sections, so the critters found the broccoli. Maybe if we had been more thorough they would never have thought it worthwhile to chew through the landscape fabric.

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