I have come up with a novel way of sourcing mulch for my garden and I’m so excited!
I have always been a bit flummoxed when it comes to mulch. I understand the importance of it – to keep weeds down and moisture in, but when you have a large garden and a small shoestring budget; buying in enough good quality mulch to go around is not an option.
It’s not just the cost that was causing me concern, but what to use as mulch was just a bewildering. There are so many different options, but I saw problems with most of them. The most commonly used mulch seems to be wood chips, but when wood breaks down it robs the soil of nitrogen and I have recently discovered it that if you are prepared to wait three – five years you can get a really nice soil from broken down wood chips. However I’m not patient – I want to grow my veggies now! The other problem I see with wood chips in a veggie garden is that it would be really hard to get a fine tilth and that would be problematic for direct sowing small seeds like carrots and you can’t really grow them any other way.
I could use hay and we have heaps available, but by the time we make our hay it is all full of weed seeds and so spreading it all around my garden wouldn’t suppress weeds, it would make the weed situation a thousand times worse! Compost is also suggested as a mulch material, but it is a nutrient rich material that all plants – including weeds – love to grow in, so I can’t see how that could be classified as suitable mulch.
Grass clippings can be used as mulch, but if you lay it on too heavy it goes all slimy and prevents aeration of the soil and if it is too light and fluffy, the nastier weeds, like dock, just grow straight through it! Newspaper works well but it is ugly and if it dries out – it blows away.
So, while I know using mulch is best practice, I really struggled to come up with a solution for my garden, until one day while feeding the chickens, I looked down at the wheat in my hand and I thought “hmmm… I wonder…” so I decided to conduct a wee experiment.
We are blessed to have a mild enough winter that some things can grow right through and so after I pulled the corn out in the late summer I had an empty bed just staring at me, begging for some form of cultivation. I stole food from the chickens and liberally sprinkled it about the bed and to my surprise – it grew!
It continued to grow steadily all winter and became such a lovely feature – the way it rustled in the wind and how good it felt to run your hand over it. It was such a fresh lush green and gave the winter garden great structure. Lately I have been noticing immature seed heads beginning to show themselves and I came to the decision it was time to pull them out before the wheat became a weed. So I spent a lovely day in the sun today harvesting my wheat.
I am really pleased with the result. It is such a shallow rooted plant that it came up easily, there was probably only half a dozen other weed plants in there, so it had done an awesome job of keeping the weeds at bay all winter. The soil is also heaps drier that the beds around it, so it has really helped to prevent soggy boggy soil – which is an unexpected bonus! There were also loads of snails in there, but there will be heaps less in my spring garden as I was able to “take care of them!”
The wheat was then bundled up with string and hung out to dry on my washing rack. Once is goes all dry and crispy, I will spread it about as a mulch – probably around my strawberries. The cool thing is it was free, and even though it may have taken nutrients from the soil – so would have the weeds that would have normally resided in the bed over the winter; the nutrients will be returned to the soil as organic matter as the mulch breaks down. So if I do this every year in every bed, then I should be able to create a closed system of nutrient cycling and I have solved my winter weed problem and my summer mulch problem. Fantastic!
Another unexpected bonus is I’ll be planting the spuds in the old wheat bed instead of the bed I have chosen as it much drier and swapping it with the peppers doesn’t affect my crop rotation program and Hubby the Un-Gardener has already turned it over for me!
Come again soon – things are starting to really come together in the garden.
Sarah the Gardener : o )