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Mulching Around

One item in our gardens, orchard and berry patch that we firmly believe in is mulch. We use natural, whatever we can find mulch and spread it liberally about the property. Our mulches can be collected grass clippings, cut comfrey, or wood chips. In the berry patch (soon to be the orchard too), we have it 3-4” thick, while in the gardens it is only 2-3” thick. The benefits of mulch are many.

It helps to suppress weeds and grasses, keeps the soil cooler in summer, retains moisture so we have to irrigate less, and promotes healthy soil life. One down side is that we have to pull the mulch back in our annual garden beds in order for the ground to warm up. In our perennial beds, we just leave it alone. If we would leave it be in the annual beds, it would delay our plantings around two weeks.

Garden bed with mulch that needs more.

One thing every gardener knows is that bare soil wants to grow something, nature abhors a vacuum and bare soil is one. If you don’t plant something, nature will and its usually a plant you don’t want. By placing mulch down on that bare soil, you’re doing many things.

Covering the soil inhibits the germination of whatever seeds are in the soil you don’t want to grow, they may still grow but they’ll have to work harder and it’ll be easier for you to pull them when they emerge.

The breakdown of the material promotes fungal growth and that breakdown is also a breeding ground for beneficial soil organisms, insects, and interactions. Depending on what materials you are using you are also increasing the organic matter of your soil, and if you use comfrey you are remineralizing that soil too. This breakdown is also building soil, you may even notice that after a few years of doing this that you have more soil than you started with.

We put about an inch of new mulch on per year in all of our beds and add an inch every other year for the berry patch. We also use wood mulch in the winter chicken run as it works really well with the high nitrogen manure the chickens provide, creating a self composting system in there that doesn’t stink.

We get a lot of our mulch for free from local tree trimmers through Chip Drop, When you request you tell them what you’re looking for and where to dump on your property. Note: we asked them to dump at the end of our turnaround one year, and they filled the turn around. The more specific you can be the better. The mulch you get from them will have some greens in it and that is ok, as that helps create that beautiful self-composting system we are looking for.

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Some folks say if you mulch with woody, high carbon, materials you will bind up the nitrogen in your soil. This is FALSE, it does not bind up the nitrogen, and if you’re really worried about it, add some good quality nitrogen fertilizer when you first apply your mulch. We have never done this and have never had an issue. The facts are that some surface nitrogen will start to bind with the layer of mulch that is in contact with the soil, and that’s it. However, once that layer has composted, that nitrogen is released back into your garden, therefore there is no real nitrogen debt in your garden.

Another section of garden with good mulch cover.

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