Hello Fellow Farmers and Gardeners,
Today we will be discussing the benefits of using mulch in your garden, how we have utilized mulch in the Bounty Garden, and different types of mulch. Mulch is a surface covering intended to improve soil texture and provide nutrients. A few key components of good organic mulch include (but are not limited to):
- Protecting soil integrity
- Decreasing erosion
- Improving drainage
- Subduing weed growth
- Providing aeration
- Using mulch that does not contain weed seeds or fungal pathogens
As a plant positive practice that gives each plant room to grow, mulch is one of the best resources for an organic farmer to incorporate in their vegetable garden!
Straw v. Hay
It is a common misconception that the words “straw” and “hay” can be used interchangeably, despite the fact that they have distinctly different purposes. To clarify, straw typically derives from cereal grain plants, such as wheat, barley, and oats. Straw is the dry plant matter that remains after the seeds (or grains) have been harvested. Hay, on the other hand, is grown intentionally for animal feed; it is chopped before the plant goes to seed, dried, and stored. Some examples of high protein grasses used for hay include alfalfa, timothy, and sudangrass.
Why We Use Straw For Mulch
In the Bounty Garden, we have utilized straw mulch from grass clippings that we mowed in the field and let dry for a few days. The mulch was carefully placed in a “donut hole” shape around each plant in field 4, which is pictured below.
Straw is a wonderful mulch because it keeps the soil warm and protects the plants from weeds and potential infections. If you want to buy straw for your organic garden, make sure you purchase it from a reputable source, if you do not decide to make your own. This is crucial for ensuring that the straw does not contain any remaining weeds seeds and has not been contaminated with harsh chemicals. Straw not only strengthens the immune system of your garden, but it also makes it look aesthetically pleasing!
Additional Sources of Mulch
Aside from straw, there are many different types of organic matter that may be used to improve the overall quality of your soil. Other types of mulch may include, but are not limited to:
- Pine needles
- Farmyard manure
- Garden compost
- Wood chips
There are few other considerations to take into account when applying mulch. Keep layers of mulch no more than 1 inch thick to allow the diffusion of organic matter in the soil. Restrict contact between damp, decaying mulch and your plants to prevent rot. Give mulched areas a good soaking before cold weather to permit heat transfer from soil to air to avoid air frost. If the mulch source is quite high in carbon, the microorganisms will absorb nitrogen to balance the ration of nutrients, which may cause nitrogen depletion. Fear not! Alternative sources of nitrogen, such as compost tea, worm castings, comfrey tea, and seaweed extract, may serve as excellent top dressings to balance nutrient availability. Mulch is typically first applied in autumn, removed in the spring before sowing seeds, and reapplied when the plants begin to mature.
Well farmers, I know that was a lot of information to take in, but I hope it was helpful! Feel free to experiment with different types of mulch until you find the one that best suits the needs of your garden. Mulching is only one of the many organic practices that I have learned about while interning in the Bounty Garden over the last few months. I look forward to sharing my new-found insights with you, as the garden continues to share its bounties with us throughout the season. Enjoy every precious moment you have to reconnect with the earth! Happy mulching 🙂
Your Bounty Garden Intern, Simi Rodgers