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Impermeable layer: wicking gutter = free mulch and feed for the garden

I should say up front that I spent years messing about with what's called paper clay . That's an eclectic mix of paper pulp and clay 45:55 percent. You can fire it. Make china and sculptural pieces with it. And it will fire stronger than normal clay.

I used it always. I  built puppet heads, masks and  busts out of the stuff.

In my paper gardening habits we're  not talking paper clay-ing but paper gardening.

But for me it's the same sort of material mix. A blend of elements...that respects paper's attributes.

When wet, paper pulps.When dry it hardens. When it rots it becomes 'soil'.


So as I've grown in confidence laying down more stretches of paper trench sponges in my garden I've been thinking that I could adopt some of the methodology of wicking beds.

I'm a bit ambivalent about wicking but the idea that you can lay down  an artificial  permanent reservoir under the soil layer makes a lot of ecological sense.

It's like a seam of buried rock is it not -- upon which the soil perches?

So  in layering another pathway with thick paper today  I added  a water feature: an underground aquifer held in place by a strip of plastic sheeting. 

I laid the plastic out in a 'U' shape: subterranean hardware -- and filled the U with newspaper.

Of course everything over time will pulp up and serve as compost except for the plastic which will continue to function as an impermeable layer which may prevent some of any recently precipitated water from draining away quickly into the sand below.

So my 'wicking gutter' is designed to function as a moisture collector and reservoir for the surrounding mulch and soil. It is supposed to hang onto  water longer than  mulching -- or paper sponging -- alone would.

I dug it one hand spade deep.
Will it be enough environmental manipulation to effect plant health? I don't really know as capillary action does as capillary activity only can do... I can only fiddle with the  context. 
As my plants are not on the path but in the beds -- a distance of some  50-75 cm is involved between any plant and this gutter. Is that distance too far for water to travel by dint of capillary action despite the intervening mulch layer?
Note to self: a drip irrigation system can irrigate up to 1.8 metres each side of hose.I'm not using gravity but water can move through a porous media although wicking action is limited to about 300mm UPWARDS. What about along?
I'm thinking that if the plastic formed gutter stays wet, then the overlaying mulch may at least remain moist so that I'm not losing so much water though the sand. And if the mulch stays moist (if only for longer than otherwise would be the case)...then the plants may get more of the H2O good stuff.

I'm being conservative and have constructed a gutter only 15-20 cm wide and 20-30 cm deep with the plastic in sections so water can still finally drain away after much effort on its part. The price it pays is that it has to soak a lot of that paper as it pulps.

I guess it would be preferable to bury terracotta watering containers but  feed bag plastic and gar bags are items I can recycle and get for free. 

Will it work? Will it work to warrant the extra papering, digging and effort?

I'm interested in deploying this technique for those challenging irrigation areas of my garden where sponge mulching may not be enough. My strips of news paper tubes framing garden beds are the most moist -- moistest -- places I've created. This fact is proven by the penchant for  plants to self seed along these strips because the water access is there. The addition of guttering is a way to keep more water where it can be accessed.

However, trench mulching like this needs depth rather than sheeting out left and right. Every time I inspect the tubes I mulched with months ago the soil is cooler, moister with more biological activity than the surrounding soil.

Without doubt trench mulching is way-to-go gardening on sandy soils and I suspect that real consequence presumes a permanent mulch  depth of at least 5-10 cm. Sheet mulching is a very different process that aspires to alternative but supplementary aims. Whereas plant matter -- leaves, hay, clippings and such -- are the primary source material  for sheet mulching, in my approach trench mulching is overwhelmingly paper dependent.

This  seems to have a lot in common with the  tradition of hugelkultur (in German hugelkultur translates roughly as “mound culture”) which is a gardening and farming technique whereby woody debris (fallen branches and/or logs) are used as a resource and piled into mounds which are then planted out.. Similar results can be achieved, though much more slowly, by simply burying logs and other wood waste in trenches around your yard in areas where you want to improve fertility and moisture control.


The first challenge is of course: get the wood. Burying is easy. You'll note that my habit is becoming more and more to treat rolled up newspaper and junk mail as so many logs I can bury.After all, paper is wood pulp.
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