Are you like so many other people all over the United States and other countries who are planting gardens like never before? If so, you might want to consider mulching this summer. Ruth Stout, a pioneer in garden mulching and no-dig gardening, ranted and raved on this method of keeping weeds down and produce yields up – all without adding harmful chemicals and fertilizers.
The reasons to mulch are many. It adds important nutrients to the soil by decomposition of organic (plant or animal based) and inorganic (not plant or animal based) materials. I like to use compost, old hay or straw, or even pine needles when the plants need the extra acid needles provide. Grass clippings are another great choice, as well as cardboard placed under other materials to keep weeds from popping up by smothering them.
Pull the mulch up as tight to the plants as possible and don’t worry about burning them or crowding them out. This helps with weed control too as well as keeps the soil more moist in order to nourish your plants. Some plants that totally rely upon moist conditions are melons, squash, celery, and greens.
I have a large garden, really large – about 2800 square feet. I have often had to be very creative in finding suitable material for mulching. Right now, cardboard as well as wood chips (we have our own wood chipper) and rotting hay/straw from the animal pens provide a lot of the mulch in the garden. We don’t have a bagger for the mower and we don’t have much grass to mow anyway, so that’s out.
Make sure that your mulch layers are rather thick. I like to have several inches, as much as six in some places, down. It sounds like a lot, and it is, but that thick layer will rot down into the soil over the summer and by fall, it will be a lot less.
The mulch you place down provides nutrients to the organisms that feed on it and in turn, feeds your soil. Turn up a little mulch after a while and notice the earthworms! Who doesn’t love seeing that?
This is my first year doing a no-dig garden. I am totally shocked already at how many worms and other helpful organisms are inhabiting the soil beneath. By not digging or tilling the garden, I am not disturbing the natural balance of things. The worms keep the soil aerated underneath while keeping it compacted enough to walk on it and disturb nothing. My plants are doing great so far. An added bonus is extra space in which to plant because I no longer need wider rows to accomodate a tiller.
I hope you’ll give mulching, and perhaps the no-dig technique, a try in your own garden space. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.