Monday, March 25, 2019

Deep Mulch Your Garden

I Absolutely Love Mulch

If there is one single thing that you learn from this blog it is the importance of mulch in your garden!  It has completely transformed my garden space into an amazing area that I love to be in.  Mind you its nothing fancy, and your not likely going to see it in a magazine any time soon.  But folks I can guarantee you that I have some amazing soil and grow some amazing plants and its all because of mulch. 

My Garden is a Drive Way

A view from the garden area looking towards our driveway.  Note that the
gravel forming the base of the driveway is also under our garden. 
Seriously.... you might think you read that wrong, but it is basically sitting on top of a gravel road.  When we moved into this house, the front corner of the property had been used as a staging area next to a couple sheds.  There was nothing growing there.  It was just gravel basically.  (You can see in the picture that the driveway is literally right next to the garden.)  But, I didn't let that stop me.  It was the south side of the property which made it perfect.  I had learned and practiced straw bale gardening techniques, and I had some experience with raised beds, so I proceeded to just start growing.  I started with a raised bed or two and instantly started a compost pile.  I brought in hay, straw, and all the grass clippings from my rather large lawn for a whole year and started mulching around the raised beds.  When the straw broke down, I added it to the compost or paths and eventually formed the small raised beds I have now out of some old scrap materials I had laying around and branches from tree removal projects.  Slowly but surely my garden space began to take form, and all the while, I was mulching with whatever I could find, and adding compost to the tops of the growing spaces. 

And then I finally decided to buy into the deep mulching method I had seen all over the internet.  Sometimes called Back to Eden, this method involves just piling up shredded tree branches.  Some practitioners even plant directly into this mix....which works by the way.  I did it on a small scale last year myself. I decided the best way to use this in the space that I had built was to mulch my paths with this stuff, and that is exactly what I started doing last year, and I love it!  

Never Leave the Soil Bare

For those of you who don't know what I am talking about, let me give you the quick version of this theory.  First rule....nature never leaves soil bare.  Bare soil is lost to wind and water erosion, so its critical to keep the soil surface covered.  Think of the forest floor as an example.  Trees loose their leaves each fall, grass and other low growing plants die back.  This biomass stays put, buried by snow in temperate regions, and is slowly worked on by the worms, bacteria, and other small organisms who convert it into usable soil.  This provides nutrients to the plants, who grow and die again, returning their leaves back to forest floor.... its a continual cycle.  

A view into the garden, still covered with mulch from last year's efforts. 
Our garden is far from this cycle.  Each year we grow a crop, harvest it, which is code for take it away, and then take time each fall to clean up and remove all the old, dead plants so our garden is ready to plant in the fall again.  The nutrients from the soil are used and then exported off site, with no chance of being returned to keep the cycle going.  If you compost your spent plants, bring your fall leaves into your garden, or add mulch, your are helping add these missing elements to the cycle, which builds amazing soil!

Which brings me to the paths in my garden.  Shredded trees are an amazing mixture of green leaves and woody stems.  When given enough time, this creates an amazing structure for building soil.  The greens break down into soil, usually with the help of worms and all those other organisms I mentioned, and the woody bits act as a sponge holding water and creating a very enjoyable surface to walk on.  Trust me.  I have mulched my paths with fall leaves, grass clippings, straw, alfalfa hay, pine needles, you name it.  Nothing, and I mean nothing compares to shredded trees.  Its amazing.  

The same section of the garden covered in a new round of shredded tree
mulch. This stuff came from a pile that had been aged so it has a rich, dark
color and is already beginning to break down. 
Now, to be clear, I am not opposed to any of those other things I mentioned.  In fact, I still use them.  But I cover them with the shreds as soon as I can.  You see for me, my paths are more than just paths, they are more like a giant composting blanket for my garden.  The worms love the environment created by this mixture.  I know that anything I plant on the edge of my growing beds is going to have roots that find their way into the soil created by these paths.  So I am not opposed to adding some grass clippings or fall leaves to this mixture.  The more diversity we can add the better soil it will create. 

As an added bonus, like I mentioned before, I can plant directly into my paths, which is something I never thought I would say.  Last year I had some flowers that I needed to plant, and I didn't really have a space that I felt would work, so I panted them into the edge of the path as an experiment.  They grew like crazy.  I was so impressed by this that I plan to expand the concept this year and plant even more plants, like herbs maybe, into the nooks and out of the way spaces scattered throughout the garden space.

If you like me have been on the fence about this shredded tree, deep mulch thing..... trust me when I tell you it is for real.  I can't believe how well it has worked and completely changed the feel of my garden for the better.  I plan to add more every spring if I can get my hands on it and will continue to do so year after year. 

As always, if you are into this sort of thing, there is more information over at our web site which you can view here. There is loads of information about gardening, composting, and even some ideas about home remodeling!  Come check it out.  We'll keep posting here on the blog, and do our best to continue to add more content to the website as well.

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