Mulching in the kitchen garden allows life to flourish.

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Mulch or not mulch? That’s the question.

Many gardeners mulch to protect the plants – drought in summer, cold in winter. However, the interest of mulch goes well beyond! In this article, we will try to show you that mulching has many advantages , provided you understand it and adapt to the processes that are linked to it.

The techniques of mulching are inspired by processes observed in the undergrowth litter.

The overall idea behind the use of mulch is to protect soil life – small critters! – who will work instead of the gardener. Microorganisms and insects will decompose what falls on the soil, turn it into nutrients for the plants, while the earthworms loosen it by fetching food near the surface.

The forest floor regenerates itself, thanks to a spontaneous mulching by the leaves of the trees. It can be seen how much the formed substrate provides a draining structure, as well as the rate at which the leaves decompose.

At each situation his mulching.

There is not one, but mulches. The question of the choice between them is important.

The principle of choosing one’s mulching is to be clear about the desired objective. You have the choice between:

– ”  To protect my plants from winter cold “. In this case, a cover that retains air will be the most suitable, we will favor straw or something similar.

– ”  To protect the earth from the beat of rain and desiccation “. All organic mulches respond to this constraint, and mineral mulch is a little less effective.

– ”  To keep my plant warm and dry “. In this case, use a mineral mulch , gravel.

– ”  To improve the texture of my soil by reconstituting the clay-humic complex “. Here, the choice is smaller, we will look for mulches that contain humus , so primarily based on leaves, crushed wood – type BRF – or compost. The presence of humus will attract earthworms as a bonus.

– ”  To enrich my soil “. If you want to enrich your soil evenly, the solutions proposed above are perfect. On the other hand, for a significant enrichment, only compost mulching will be suitable.

– ”  To prevent sowing of other plants “. It is good to know that mulching with dead leaves – no needles of conifers – causes during its decomposition an anti-germinative effect that will greatly hinder the emergence of seeds. Conversely, avoid this mulching in the garden, in the spring, if you plan to sow in the ground.

– ”  To acidify my soil “. Do not wait for miracles in this case, you will not turn your garden into a bog with mulching. On the other hand, hard – to – break – up mulches, such as those based on conifer needles,slightly acidify the soil surface.

Conversely, a soil left bare scares life, worms, microorganisms, which do not transform anything … What a pity! So, finish this craze to leave a soil bare, and worse! No more returning the land every season: let the worms work for you!

General considerations on the nature of mulching.

From a general point of view, to mulch your feet with trees and your flower beds with perennials, the best is crushed wood , but it takes a lot of work to make it. The leaves decompose more quickly, but help well in soil improvement, so they are an interesting alternative.

In the garden, it will take a lot to alternate your types of mulching, and much to anticipate: mulching of leaves away periods of sowing, compost, even mowing grass in very thin layer, borage, comfrey, green manure extended. The best is to experiment with what works best for your vegetables and your land.

Regarding mulches that merchants offer in bags or rolls, based on pine bark, pebbles, flakes of linen, burlap, they will protect your soil, certainly, but being of distant origin, do not will not bring him any elements which he will be able to appropriate easily. It is first of the cosmetic garden.

If you collect straw from a farmer, pay attention to the pesticides used and especially to the dyes . Indeed, in chemical agriculture, to prevent the wheat from lying down under the influence of the wind, they are often sprayed with dwarfing hormones to limit the lengthening of the stems. These products  do not decompose , they stay in the straws, so if you put in the garden, your plants will stay small and cute … It’s a style.

“Much ado about mulching”, or “much ado about nothing”? “Or the hideous croquemitaines of mulching.

(* many difficulties with mulching, or a lot of noise for nothing? *)

– To listen to some experienced gardeners, it sometimes seems that mulching, it would replay Macbeth in the garden, chaos, and the invasion of your lettuce by armies of pests. Relativisons:

– ”  Mulching serves as a nest for rodents  ” This happens sometimes. If you put a mulch so thick that a field mouse can install its nest, it will benefit. This is especially true with straw. So, in the kitchen garden, if you regularly have rodents, it is better to regularly renew mulching in layers of less than 40 mm. The sewage of Elderberry and spurge moles are your allies.

– ”  The mulch is a slug shelter  “: the slugs also hide very well in the cracks of the soil, if we do not straw … The question is not so much that of the shelters, as of the quantity of food available for your slugs, and the possibility for their predators to settle nearby.

– ”  Mulching prevents the soil from warming up in the spring.  Before sowing in the spring, it is necessary to spread the mulch a few weeks in advance. Nothing wizard.

Take out the wheelbarrows.

We hope to have made you understand that the use of mulching in the garden does not end in Shakespearian tragedy. On the contrary, it is a very natural step , which saves a lot of effort. Help nature in your garden, give it time, and it will take over gradually to avoid you the painful and destructive tasks of plowing, weeding, watering, and fighting diseases. It requires a little more experience and knowledge than reading the instructions for a weed killer or a rose fertilizer, but the result is incomparably more satisfying .

Hep! Are you talking about permaculture, késako?

The notion of culture under permanent mulching stems from a fine observation of nature, where the soil is never discovered for long. The Permaculture  is a design method of farming systems guided by observation, closely linked to ecological gardening, because you can not copy the natural processes and add poorly controlled external elements such as fertilizers, which disrupt.

In principle, it proposes to vary as much as possible mulch inputs in relation to the seasons, to provide diversified nutrients. In response, the soil will improve enormously, in all respects, because the microfauna and fungi fed regularly will get back to doing their work of decomposition more effectively.

This mushroom breaks down the lignin of humus .. and works for you! 

Dr. Kimberly Seltzer

Postdoctoral Scholar, UC Berkeley Research Assistant, MIT

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