Recognized experts in natural agriculture show serene gardening under a reliable cover of various Garden Mulch materials, where imagination paints a picture of peaceful rest in the countryside, while the garden “serves itself”. But, as often happens in practice, things turn out quite differently.
In this article, I want to inform the reader about the difficulties and pitfalls we encounter when using different types of Garden Mulch in berries, flower beds, and gardens. do Garden Mulch materials cope with their main tasks and how to apply the principles of Garden Mulch most effectively?
Even before buying our own land, we had already decided to use natural agricultural methods to grow vegetables. And in the first season, as soon as we had a vegetable garden, all the previously studied theories began to find a practical test.
As you know, one of the main principles of organic farming is the principle of not having bare soil on the plot. In our opinion, this practice is absolutely justified because, in theory, the use of Garden Mulch on the seedbed eliminates the need for loosening the soil, prevents weed growth, reduces the frequency of watering, and enriches the soil with nutrients.
We were counting on the straw mulching method, so the first year we bought the plot, we were concerned about purchasing straw. There are many farms near our home, and near each of them, you can see a large number of cylindrical straw bales.
Although the farmers were not at all opposed to the sale, all of them were united in one condition – self-delivery. However, without a trailer, it was impossible to deliver the 400 kg bales by car. Only after a relentless search did we manage to find a local resident who agreed to bring two rolls of straw in his tractor.
A new challenge arose when we started laying Garden Mulch on the seedbed. The bales of straw were so compact that we had a hard time pulling them apart by hand. Due to the amount of dust and soil particles in the straw, we looked like miners when we finished the job.
The only consolation in this difficult job is that we hope to have a carefree summer ahead as the garden is completely free of weeds. The beds are covered with a layer of straw about 12inch (30cm) thick, and we are confident that no weeds will easily penetrate such a barrier.
But in the new season, the treacherous straw brought us another unpleasant surprise: in early summer, our Garden Mulch turned green! This made us uncomfortable. And it wasn’t a local weed that we stubbornly fought off, but a new weed seed that was present in abundance in the straw bales.
If in this case the bare ground could be easily tilled with a hoe, the shoots on the straw would have to be removed entirely by hand, another area of failure for us.
Results of using straw mulch
Soil microbes treated a thick layer of Garden Mulch in just 2 years and left no trace. The soil that replaced the straw became looser, more fertile, and filled with finger-sized earthworms, but it still had very little nitrogen as the pumpkin crop showed signs of nitrogen starvation.
Another unexpected benefit of straw Garden Mulch is its ability to absorb water well, actually providing clean feet for gardeners. When our vegetable patch traditionally floods in the spring, our neighbors’ gardens become impassable swamps where people can’t set foot, while we can easily access the seedbeds without boots and have the opportunity to start planting early.
Therefore, despite the series of failures mentioned above, I do not want to discourage gardeners from using straw Garden Mulch, but given our experience, do not make this mistake, namely
- Remember that at the time when Garden Mulch is needed (spring and fall), the field is usually busy with specialized equipment, and the removal of straw will have to be organized by yourself.
- If you do not want a “lawn” of weeds in your vegetable garden, you should not use a fresh straw, but let it sit outside for at least a year, preferably soaking the straw bales regularly so that the seeds in them can germinate.
- Consider the difficulty of unraveling the straw bale and consider beforehand the method of cutting the straw “roll”. For example, some enterprising gardeners use chainsaws for this purpose. If you still decide to untangle the straw by hand, use a respirator and gloves.
- If possible, initially purchase small rectangular bales of straw so that they are easier to transport and cut.
- To compensate for the inevitable nitrogen uptake during the decomposition of any plant Garden Mulch, it is best to add manure or dung to the straw.
- Considering that straw is a bulky material, if you lay down a layer of 12inch (30cm) of straw, it will be quickly compressed and reduced by about 2 times, that is, you will in fact get a layer of 6inch (15cm) of straw.
MULCHING WITH WOOD CHIPS
Initially, we purposely did not want to use sawdust in the garden because we heard that they strongly acidify the soil and successfully used this type of Garden Mulch only for mulching beds planted with blueberries. But once we received more than 10 bags of small pieces of fresh sawdust, which led us to study the details of mulching with this material.
It turns out that fresh sawdust can indeed have a negative impact on the soil, but at the same time there are ways to minimize this impact. In particular, sawdust is thought to draw nitrogen from the soil.
This is also true, but it should be clarified here that the nitrogen is not consumed by the sawdust itself, but by the bacteria in the soil that break down wood waste. Therefore, it is essential to feed the voracious microorganisms with sawdust.
Gardeners who disdain the use of mineral fertilizers liberally sprinkle a solution of urea on the shavings for this purpose. Proponents of strictly organic farming, on the other hand, recommend mixing sawdust with horse or cow manure, or chicken manure.
Another difficulty associated with the use of wood waste in the rows – changing the balance of the soil in the direction of increased acidity. And this feature is also caused by the life activity of the bacteria mentioned above. But this undesirable effect is quite easy to eliminate by adding neutralized acidic lime (100-150 g per bucket of sawdust), dolomite powder, or ash.
Remember also that sawdust conifers that are not fully digested acidify the soil much more strongly than hardwoods due to their specific composition. But once the wood waste is turned into compost, there is no difference in acidity between sawdust of coniferous and deciduous trees.
Following these recommendations, we mixed sawdust with wood ash and cow manure to obtain not only a harmless mulch material but also an excellent fertilizer.
The natural decomposition of woodworking waste usually takes 2 to 4 years, but in order to speed up the process of decomposition of Garden Mulch and enrich the soil with nutrients, we added special bacterial preparations to Garden Mulch to increase the rate of organic matter decomposition.
Results of using sawdust as Garden Mulch
Because of its small fraction, sawdust Garden Mulch has high shading properties, so it is more effective than straw or grass clippings in preventing the emergence of weeds. In our seedbeds, only single shoots of the most aggressive weeds, which in the city were able to overcome even the asphalt, managed to escape from deep in the soil through a thick layer of sawdust 4inch (10 cm)).
In mid-summer, some weed seeds also begin to germinate on the surface of Garden Mulch, but they are weeded quickly and easily. There were no signs of nitrogen starvation on plants mulched with a mixture of sawdust, ash, and manure.
Using biologicals, Garden Mulch decomposes in one season, and without the use of additional microorganisms, sawdust Garden Mulch is sufficient for 2 years (but we renewed the top layer slightly at the beginning of summer).
Advantages of using Sawdust Garden Mulch
- improves soil structure (especially on heavy loamy soils)
- complicates the movement of pests (especially slugs and snails) in the beds
- sawdust Garden Mulch does not create favorable conditions for the reproduction of woodlice and ants
- It reduces the number of weeds.
- It prevents soil from overheating and crusting.
- Cheap and available material.
BUCKWHEAT BARK MULCHING
Such an unusual way to weed that I looked up at my brother’s Dasha. Although he was not too keen on this Garden Mulch for vegetable plots, I liked the visual effect, so I decided to try buckwheat in the flower beds.
In our town, an organic farming supply store sells buckwheat hulls in 50-liter bottles. (But I think it is possible to buy the waste directly from the production sector). The price of this mulching material is not high and its cost can be nominal compared to the same wood bark.
It was decided to use “buckwheat” Garden Mulch in the flower beds in early May when the perennials were already quite visible and 8inch (20cm) high above the ground.
It was very windy that day, but contrary to my fears, this did not prevent the hulls from spreading an even layer of 2-3inch (5-8cm) over the surface of the flower bed. To prevent the wind from blowing, I used a sprayer with a fine nozzle to sprinkle the fresh Garden Mulch well.
Results of covering with buckwheat hulls
Under the influence of moisture, the buckwheat hull pieces have flaked off into a fairly dense, yet breathable crust that prevents weed growth. Some seeds, such as the ubiquitous sage, germinated on Garden Mulch; however, their numbers were disproportionately smaller than before on bare soil.
Garden Mulch worked well throughout the season, partially through the winter, but still required replanting halfway through. I presume that using buckwheat hulls in the bed could also be successful. As for my brother’s aforementioned gripe about buckwheat hulls, it is that they cannot cope with wheatgrass, but I think that claim is greatly exaggerated.
Among other things, I was concerned that fragrant buckwheat hulls would attract rodents into the garden. Fortunately, however, these assumptions were not confirmed, and the number of rodents in the year of mulching was not higher than usual, nor were the overwintering bulbs in the beds affected.
Advantages of buckwheat hull mulch
- Despite the low cost, the flower beds under buckwheat hulls look good and stylish.
- Easy to use – mulching soil with Garden Mulch made of weightless hulls is not time-consuming and labor-intensive.
- Buckwheat hulls are an alternative to peat or hummus for covering newly planted crops to prevent crusting.
- The fine texture improves the soil structure and makes the soil light and breathable.
NON-WOVEN FABRIC COVER
Usually, this fabric is sold under trade names such as ” Polyester Nonwoven Craft”, but in reality, it is the same material made by special technology.
Most often sold as black or white cloth, for mulching we recommend using a black non-woven material with a density of not less than 60 grams per square meter. The higher the density, the longer the life of the synthetic Garden Mulch and the less light for weeds.
Plants are planted in cross slots and it is very important to secure the material to the bed before planting seedlings. Non-woven material can be used for a wide range of crop covers, but I am interested in it as a soil Garden Mulch for garden strawberry beds.
Some gardeners grow this berry under black film, but black film Garden Mulch – definitely not a breathable material, which contributes to overheating of the soil, breeding bed bugs, slugs, and ants under the black film, increasing fungal diseases and other problems.
The “new multifunctional material Garden Mulch” does not have these disadvantages, because there are a large number of small holes that allow the ground to breathe, absorb and evaporate water. At the same time, such Garden Mulch does not allow the strawberry beard to root, and the berries – to come into contact with the ground.
The result of covering with non-woven material
No matter what they say, but the black non-woven material still attracts heat, which causes the soil to overheat, so instead of experimenting, I bought an improved version of the “new multifunctional material Garden Mulch” – a double-sided non-woven material.
This fabric has a high density (90 grams per square meter) and its main feature is that this non-woven material is black and white.
It is placed on the bed with the black side facing down to prevent weed growth, while the white (or “gray”) front side prevents the soil from overheating.
While the average lifespan of a standard black synthetic “nonwoven” as Garden Mulch is 2-3 years, the increased density of the black and white nonwoven material has successfully served its purpose in our berry garden for about 5 years. During this time, not a single weed managed to break through its surface and the strawberry bush felt great.
Positive aspects of using nonwoven material for mulching
- Under the black nonwoven material, the beds warm up faster in spring.
- The non-woven material does not let in light and prevents the growth of weeds.
- Fruits stay clean and are less likely to rot.
- The nonwoven retains moisture and maintains the microclimate of the soil.
Dear readers, what type of Garden Mulch do you use on your plots? Share your own Garden Mulch mulching experience in the comments of the article.