I grew mulch!

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.

My wheat crop - stolen from the mouths of chickens

My wheat crop – stolen from the mouths of chickens

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.

It's really easy to harvest as the roots are really shallow

It’s really easy to harvest as the roots are really shallow

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.

All bundled up ready for drying

All bundled up ready for drying

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!”

What better place to dry my wheat mulch than on the clothes drying rack!

What better place to dry my wheat mulch than on the clothes drying rack!

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 )

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15 Comments on “I grew mulch!

  1. In your climate you could also experiment with cover crops that you dig in to enrich the soil, things like buckwheat and rye grass. Sometimes they grow so fast that you could both harvest a cut mulch crop and dig in the rest.

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    • Hi there. I initially just wanted to see if I could make my own mulch, and hadn’t given much thought to cover crops. I can see some more experimenting in the future! Thanks for your ideas.
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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  2. What a lovely hope filled post! We share our gardening ethos of “Shoestring gardening” and so anything that doesn’t cost the earth (who is kidding…that doesn’t cost ANYTHING is more like it ;)) is a great tip for me! Consider us devotees of the wheat over winter club 🙂

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    • Hi there. I am really stoked with how well it worked. I’ll definitely be expanding the scheme across the whole garden – having said that I did pick up a packet of soup barley at the supermarket… hmm… I wonder?…
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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      • Nah…soup barley (pearl) is polished and the germ/bran is gone. You can get cheap barley from health food shops and it looks like short wheat. I was going to strew a mix of barley, wheat, oats and some legumes around but remembered that all 28 chooks would be following me around guzzling my efforts so am going to wait till we build our gravity fed chook run and then I will broadcast to my hearts content! 🙂 Cheers for the fantastic idea by the way 🙂

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  3. Wow, what an interesting post, I hadn’t thought about mulch in this way. It’s a but chilly here in the North East of England over winter, so I think i’ll have to use wood chip.

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  4. A brilliant post ! With humour, and experimentation and luck, and now some hungry chickens, oh and the clothes airer !! I remember hanging my grlaic out to dry one year on the washing line – I just pegged it up 🙂
    But it looks like a great answer for you, and I’m sur ethe strwaberry bed will appreciate it. You’ve got me thinking now ……

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    • Thanks Claire. I always seem to be coming up with crazy ideas for the garden. Some of them even work! Others – not so good, so I don’t tell anyone about those ones!!!
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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  5. Good for you! I bet you’ve been wandering around with a smug, satisfied grin on your face haven’t you?

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    • Hi Christine. I try to remember that pride comes before a fall, as I haven’t actually used it yet, but having said – I’m really chuffed! I cant wait for next year when all the beds are overwintered with wheat.
      Cheers Sarah ; o )

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  6. Genius! Will you break it up into smaller pieces before laying it down? Or will the longer lengths do ok? (I’ve tried mulching with a tall grass that grows here, and haven’t found a good way to lay it down yet.)

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    • Hi there. I’m think I’m going to try and lay the wheat down whole around the strawberries. At this stage it’s very much trial and error! I really hope it works!
      Cheers Sarah : o )

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