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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I posted this thread on CS forum (Country Singletree) and turtlehead suggested that I post my ideas here about gathering mulch with my sweeper and the estimated costs, etc. So, for what it's worth, I'm doing that for discussion and maybe some will find benefit, or otherwise from this:

Grass Clippings Economics 101
So, this past spring and into this summer, with hopefully good garden fall harvests, I've been doing a bit of an excercise in estimation regarding my 'no till' garden and the grass clipping mulch applied to all that on zenstead.
It might be considered still experimental, or 'nouveau', compared to other methods so I thought I'd share some of my experiences, costs, problems, and foreseeable benefits with 'grass clippings mulch no till gardening'. There is also chicken manure involved as part of the scheme 'of the whole' as is green manure planting such as annual rye later and so on.

no pictures, so now just some numbers and ideas of what's going on and how/why I started this homesteading 'practice'. It may not be for everyone, and probably holds a lot of criticism for some. That's life. Cest la vie!

I believe it all started with trailmaking and brush clearing. Over the last couple years, I've spent a good number of waking extra moments in clearing paths into the bush and along pasture edges mainly for trails that wildlife (mainly deer) can use and so I can get into my woodlot for firewood cutting. It's a 'multi use' idea that fits in well with my particular homestead that is near wild lands for many reasons, including foraging for wild edibles at certain times of year.

So, once the trails got nicely cleared, I began using the garden tractor rotary mower deck to clear and cut the weeds, grass during times it wasn't too thick to do so. That was not used at the time as mulch until I got a sweeper attachment. That sweeper collects cleanly a LOT of grass clippings, but will leave a good percentage down on the ground also. About 100 lb. per load is what it will collect. Over a one acre mowing area that is cut to about 4 inches height, I can expect about 10 loads or approximately a ton of biomass organic matter for the garden. It's used for mulch obviously, and covers weeds in the 'no till' gardens as evidenced in photos I've shown graphically. Most notably in the potato patch is where the benefit is easily seen using deep mulch. I won't go on about the 'benefits' at this time regarding mulch, except it's used also to make compost, as feed for the turkeys and chickens (clover and trefoil). In other words, I use every bit of the approximately 9.5 tons of mulch so far collected and being used this season.

Now the numbers:
On approximately 13 acres of cutting the open old pasture areas, I'm getting approximately 9.5 tons of clippings. Take note also that pasure improvement in small increments of 2 acre plots, or so is being done. This improvment was planned, and some clover was sewn in about 5 to 7 acres that is visibly growing in nicely now (after mowing down the tall weeds mostly goldenrod).
It takes me approximately 3/4 gal. of gas to cut about 10 loads or about a ton of clippings on an acre. If gas is costing now approximately $4.00 per gallon, that comes out to about $6.00 per ton of grass clippings mulch.
I'm anticipating by seasons end that 15 tons will be mowed and used for the no till garden methods...or $90 worth of gas to make all that mulch. Even adding 20% because this is an estimate after all, that's still less than $120 for a LOT of mulch (15 tons of biomass organic matter).

I had my one garden tilled once by a guy with a small tractor who came and did about the same size as my main garden. It cost me $40 then (10 years ago). If I had tilled it all in from scratch myself, and counting the size of the potato patch, and the other 3 sisters garden with the 7 hp. troy built tiller, the gas would probably not be much less than what I'm using to mow clippings.

So, I'm going to compare the benefits, and any downside to this method of 'no till' and the old way I used to till. I spent about the same amount of time, because I'd also till between rows for hilling potatoes, corn and cultivation. The tiller also chopped up everything and tilled it into the garden at the end of the season, which took time also (and gas). With the 'no till' now, I simply can add more mulch, let loose the chickens in fall to fertilize, and plant a green manure that winter kills (such as annual rye) to get a mulch mat down again for the following spring, add more mulch and continue on with the processes.

It works for me so far.

Downside? Possibly the mulch might bring in some pasture pests to my garden, such as more grasshoppers. So far, I'm not seeing that. So far I'm seeing NO pests, and not need use of pesticides. However, this is all new, so it's a work in progress.

Interesting? or not?
 

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Very interesting--and why I want the D R leaf and lawn vac to go behind my lawn tractor. It will hold 3,100 gallon of leaves/clippings before I need to empty--and I can also get a hose to blow it where I want it--same vac will blow shredded leaves into my chicken house--and vacuum them out for the garden. Such a time-saver when you get old--I drool every time a ad comes. But-so expensive!
At this time, I'm hauling them the hard way--but same process.
 

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10 loads at 100 lbs = 1000 lbs which is HALF a ton , so your cost per ton is DOUBLE what youre figuring.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Bearfootfarm said:
10 loads at 100 lbs = 1000 lbs which is HALF a ton , so your cost per ton is DOUBLE what youre figuring.
lol. guess I made the same error when I posted in the other forum about the 'estimates'.
Let me get this straight, if I can. I cut an acre for about 20 loads. It takes 3/4 gal. for 10 loads at about a cost of $3.00. So 20 loads is $6.00 as it's posted above. In other words, I got 190 loads each around 100 pounds. That is 9.5 tons for 13 acres worth of cutting. Cost about $90 for gas. The sweeper cost $400, and I'm not including the cost of maintenance or the cost of the garden tractor in these figures, so that could be figured in over the lifespan of tractor use and the sweeper.
 

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Still impressive numbers even recalculated. I'm paying $4.50 per bale of straw and I don't like it near as well as grass clippings. Straw lets more weeds through and is coarser and more difficult to manage. The first application on a new garden is simple, of course, but then getting it around established plants can be a pain. Maybe it would be easier with rows but I garden in beds.

I'm not EVEN going to do the math to figure out what 9.5 tons of biomass would cost me at $4.50 per bale!! :help:

When you say "a one acre mowing area that is cut to about 4 inches height" do you mean it's four inches tall *after* you cut it? You can set your cutting deck to that height? How high is it before you cut it? I'm curious. And nosey. :p
 

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I couldn't stand it.
I did the math.

9.5 tons = 19000 pounds
19000 pounds / 50 pounds per bale = 380 bales
380 bales * $4.50 per bale = $1710

No wonder I don't mulch as much as I should. :baby04:
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
turtlehead said:
When you say "a one acre mowing area that is cut to about 4 inches height" do you mean it's four inches tall *after* you cut it? You can set your cutting deck to that height? How high is it before you cut it? I'm curious. And nosey. :p
I cut it so that it's 4 inches high after mowing. It's probably about 8 inches mostly when I get to mowing most of the field. It varies regarding what is growing, though. If it's that thick marsh grass, I can fill the sweeper in less than an acre's worth of cutting. If it's goldenrod or daisies mostly, it can take a bit more.

I also did like you regarding the costing of straw. I bought a big round bales on a couple of occasions before. Not sure what it weighs, but less than a ton. It's supposed to be equivalent to about 20 or less small square bales that I paid $3.50 each for just last week for my chicks pen. It's been a while since I bought a large round bale of straw, so not sure what that would cost. A small straw bale is less than 100 lb. that's for sure. Even if 20 bales were a ton, that would cost me $70, which I'm not going to do for garden mulch. 9.5 tons, by that estimate would have cost me $665 compared to less than $100 for grass clippings the way I do it. I'd have to also have the straw delivered which would add an extra cost.
Oh, the blades get worn faster for sure, but then I haven't replaced any this season yet, until I get some smoother growth than what I'm cutting now. The blade set is $70 for 3, which I probably need to replace every year now. I sharpen the old blades and use them for 'crud' mowing like fall leaves, corn stalks, or the stuff like I'm cutting now before the 'renewed' pasture growth.
 

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turtlehead said:
I couldn't stand it.
I did the math.

9.5 tons = 19000 pounds
19000 pounds / 50 pounds per bale = 380 bales
380 bales * $4.50 per bale = $1710

No wonder I don't mulch as much as I should. :baby04:
One little kink though. Straw is dry. Grass is green or wet. So how much of that is water wieght? Most things run in the neighborhood of 70 to 80% water.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
wy_white_wolf said:
One little kink though. Straw is dry. Grass is green or wet. So how much of that is water wieght? Most things run in the neighborhood of 70 to 80% water.
that is true.
There are benefits and drawbacks to using either straw or grass.
A lot of the longer marsh grass I'm gettting when it's dry is not so wet at all. That's the one I like best.
Also, the green (wet) clippings has some nitrogen and earthworm benefits to the garden soil more than would the high cellulose straw.
Also, I would still have the tall weeds around if not mowing it. But, I may twist this around in a couple years once the pasture improves enough and plant a grain crop to get both the grain for feed and the straw. But....that's investment of equipment I'm not prepared to make at this time. So...for now it's 'mow and sweep'. lol
 

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We use grass clippings in our garden to cut down on the weeds and to help retain moisture which here in Ky is a big thing (drought!) We just bought a new JD rear discharge mower with bagger to cut grass with and to save our clippings. If we ever have too many to put around our 125 tomato plants and other garden veggies, we can also use them to feed the chickens, the pigs and the sheep.

Regardless of the cost, it saves in weeding labor for us!
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Here's some pictures to show where the trail mowing and field improvement could make saving grass and weed (before seed setting) mowing better.

This picture shows generally the weeds prior to cutting that in my field are a lot of goldenrod, daisies, buttercup and other basic 'unwanted' pasture growth. It's been underseeded this spring with clover that is coming in once I mow that tall stuff.



This is an 'improving' pasture that looks pretty good with better grasses coming in rather than as much weed and is having a better mat of white clover growing.



last year that field looked something like this in the fall:



mulching of those clippings show here on the garden after a heavy rainfall and young garden plants:



Just one of many pictures I've posted before of the nice trails made and the clippings collected. Here the trail in fall is littered with lots of leaf litter which this fall I plan to scoop up with the sweeper for leaf mulch:



The deep mulch layer in my potato patch shows good use of grass clippings.



The sweeper dumping the pile of clippings after mowing.

 

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Big numbers do not always end up big in the end. 9.5 tons of grass clippings is 19,000 pounds. With that grass averaging 80%, that's 15,200 pounds or 1,900 gallons of water. That leaves 3,800 pounds of actual organic matter. With an average NPK dry analysis of 1.0-0.5-1.2, that results in just over 100 pounds of basic nutrients. 38 pounds of nitrogen, 19 of phosphorus, and 45 of potassium. That would be the equal to less than 100 pounds of 45-0-0 urea, 100 of 0-20-0 superphosphate, and 100 pounds of 0-0-45 potassium sulphate. Call your local farm supplier for prices of each to find out why everyone isn't doing it!

Martin
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
Puddleduck said:
That's a very impressive garden, moonwolf. Your land is quite beautiful, also.
thanks.
For me, it's the side benefits, and I know it's not the way everyone would wish to do it. Like I said, for my homestead, the trails I make, and some pasture weeds to get down, it works for me.

Paquebot,
I know the numbers might not add up to chemical analysis, but that's only part of the point for me. I still amend with organic fertilizers to be sure. That includes manured compost and limestone if needed. Also, the 9.5 tons is just the start of it up to now. By summers end, the total will be over 15 tons to keep up the mulch layer. I consider the weed control aspects and other mulching benefits are worth doing this. Would everyone be doing this? NO, and I wouldn't expect them to. Just depends on what your situation is, how much you want to deal with mulch, and where you can get it.
 

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Do you get grass growing in places you've mulched with it? THis would be my biggest concern, have some lovely persistent grass species here which I don't ever want in the wrong place!
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Jenn said:
Do you get grass growing in places you've mulched with it? THis would be my biggest concern, have some lovely persistent grass species here which I don't ever want in the wrong place!
I haven't had any problems with that. The 2 year plot of mulch where the potatoes are show NO signs of any stray grasses or weeds rerooting from the field mulch. In fact, the quackgrass that WAS there in that plot is gone. When I heavily mulch over that, it doesn't reappear, or if it does in small growths, it's very easy to pull out. One has to be careful not to bring in mulch from clippings that have seed heads which WILL probabaly re seed on the mulch eventually. That is why I'm cutting the goldenrod especially now, before it sets seed. Thistle and burdock are 2 that one would want to be very careful about also.
 

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moonwolf....i think it looks good.i know you like to maintain all your trails and are trying to get your pasture back in order.so all the mulch is jsut a side thing form the trails and pasture improvement.so it sorta goes hand in hand....i would like to have more lawn clippings ...but i done have the grass you got.so i will have to figure out what works for me on shangri-la homestead.but i like what you and your zenstead are doing on alot of the projects you got going on.those chickens will love some of the clippings come winter time.how much are going to save for feed for them ???? or some rabbits maybe...hmmmmm...more questions and ideas.its good to have food for thought.

martin said the leaves were good for potatoes...so the trails in the woods (with the leaves)might should be dumped in the potatoe patch this fall for sure.
 

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I thought I was the only "nut" doing this. Been doing about an acre this way for 18 years now. I usualy mow in the morning on what is anticipated to be a sunny day, then I let it sit until later in the afternoon to dry. Then I sweep it up.

I bag a lot of it in old feed bags to feed the pig and put in the shelter for bedding. A lot of it goes into the open pen and the pig roots it around and mixes it with the soil. I rake off the top and add a fresh layer every week. The rest is used as mulch in the gardens. Then in the fall I clean out the pig pen and layer this with whatever is left of the clippings into one of the compost bins.
 

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Your land looks soo beautiful. Kudos to you for making good use of a byproduct you already had.


My next door neighbors give me their clippings (4-10 lawn bags a month). some of it has chemical ferts so I have to compost before I lay it down. But it keeps them from paying money to have the trash company haul it off :shrug: and keeps the compost bin full (or as full as it can be in a residential neighborhood!)
 

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wy_white_wolf said:
One little kink though. Straw is dry. Grass is green or wet. So how much of that is water wieght? Most things run in the neighborhood of 70 to 80% water.
Where's my embarrassed smiley? Of course you're right. Assuming the dry weight of the mown pasture is 25% of the green weight, equivalent mulch costs would be $427.50.

That's still an ROI of less than two years just on savings from not having to purchase mulch, even when you figure in gasoline and maintenance.

Martin has good points about the economics of the nutritional value, too. We add nutrients via compost, and rabbit and chicken manures. We use some purchased items such as fish emulsion and blood meal too.

However we are in much the same position as moonwolf. We need mulch for the garden and we have fields that were neglected and which need improving.

I think for our situation, we need to ensure good mowings this year to get weeds in check before they form any more seed heads. I think the weeds are too out of control for us to use this years cuttings on the garden. Then next year we can mow and collect the green stuff for mulch. It will benefit the garden *and* the pastures.

Our main goals are pasture improvement and mulch acquisition. Perfect.
 
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