There is one thing I haven’t managed to sort out in the garden, and it has been bothering me all season. Actually, there are many things I haven’t sorted out in the garden, but this one is especially important and that is find a good mulch solution.
In this harsh environment and in this particularly dry summer where large swaths of the country are in drought and compounded by the fact, we had that huge water leak right before Christmas, watering the garden is something I have been deeply concerned about. I love that the irrigation system only waters each bed once a week for 9 minutes and it is enough for the soil to retain the moisture locked in deep within the wonderful swamp soil I brought with me when we moved here.
But mulch is important, it helps to retain that precious moisture and it keeps weeds down by excluding light and blocking the way to the surface – however there will always be that weed that can get through even the slightest opportunity. You know the ones – you’ve seen them growing through the cracks in concrete!
The problem is my garden is very large and so to buy anything in is very expensive, if I am to do a good job at mulching. My favourite mulch is a fermented Lucerne, but one bag only does one bed! You can use compost, but I don’t trust it in the weed reduction area, as weeds seem to love its rich organic goodness. I never really understood its regular recommendation as a mulch, although I expect it would lock in moisture. So essentially any thing store bought is out of the question – unless is a couple of bucks a bag.
I did toy with the idea of getting a bale of balage. It should be along the lines of the fermented Lucerne, right?! Then I looked into it and found it was quite acidic and in order for it to be of value in the garden I would have to experiment with the addition of lime or some other agent to bring the pH into the realms of something acceptable to plants that wouldn’t hinder the uptake of nutrients. It all got a bit complicated and then the price shot up from $80 a bale, which would have easily done the whole garden a couple of times, to something no longer in my price range, thanks to the drought! Then Hubby the Un-Gardener put his foot down as he was worried about the smell. I let him think he was the reason for my back down from that option, but in reality, it just got put in the too hard basket.
I did grow wheat from chicken food for mulch, not for the grain – although that would be cool if I had enough spare space. I grow it over winter and then harvest it before the seed heads fill out. Then I dry it in the greenhouse with the intention of using it as a mulch. The problem is last season I didn’t grow enough – not enough to fill a bed and I couldn’t decide where to put it and indecision froze the project and it is still in the greenhouse. It could make a great autumn photo prop at some point… Ohh with some pumpkins…. I digress. The thing is – I can’t grow enough, it is labour intensive to harvest it and prepare the soil for the next crop, which is also a problem, because there is so much to be done in spring, it tends to hold things up.
But what struck me as a genius idea, although time will tell if in fact it will solve all my problems is the result of a stupid chicken. We have no rooster and yet this silly chook insists on trying to raise a family. Last spring, she was in the wheat. Now she is in my nursery bed, which I will need soon because it is where, I like to start my winter crops without them getting too thirsty in the greenhouse. So, for a while I allowed her to indulge in this folly as it did no harm, except we weren’t getting any eggs from her. But is has been well over three weeks now and I needed the bed. The reason she liked this nursery bed for her imaginary family is it was quite overgrown. And a month later it is very overgrown.
Now one of the weeds in the bed was some tree lupin seedlings that when small are easy enough to pull up. However, I didn’t appreciate just how fast they grew. In one season the trunk has managed to get to a whooping 15cm diameter with roots well and truly anchored to the earth. The top is full and lush and the perfect place for a chicken to hide. So, I thought enough was enough and decided to remove the weeds and lupin trees from the half of the bed she isn’t hunkering down in – to send a message. And as I was chopping up the foliage to make it more compostable, I looked at the contents of my bucket and thought … “Hang on a minute…” and the penny dropped. I have loads of mulch all over the place and it will be perfect.
I quickly used some of my precious water to saturate the rhubarb bed as there is no point mulching a dry garden and so it was for the greater good. I also took the opportunity to give it a bit of a feed with some blood and bone and then emptied the contents of my bucket all around and created a satisfying looking mulch. If it works well for the rhubarb which, to be honest, has struggled a little in the heat of the summer, then I will roll it out across the garden.
I do like the tree lupin as it creates a nice backdrop to the garden and in the spring the yellow flowers smell heavenly. Also, those strong roots are supporting the sides of the hill above the garden. So, I don’t want to strip the leaves from these plants, so I may create a lupin plantation that I can harvest from when needed. At least I know it grows well here. Ahhh, you gotta love a creative solution.
Come again soon – summer seems to be slipping away but I’m not ready for it to do so.
Sarah the Gardener : o)