Like making your bed in the morning, it’s the finishing touch for the garden. If your mulch is thick enough, it suppresses weeds (please refer here for my definition of weeds), it retains moisture, and it helps maintain consistent soil temperature. I know you’re nodding your head because you already know all this, so let’s go deeper. Ever move a rock or tree branch that’s been sitting for a while? The ground below is moist, dark soil, and there’s tons of worms and bugs, right? That rock or branch provided the perfect canopy for the natural, existing biology in the ground to thrive, thereby creating some very healthy soil. Isn’t that what we want for our plants? So let’s review some common, readily-available mulching choices…
Straw– if it’s not organic, then it’s likely they used glyphosate to prevent molding in the drying process. Finding a local source can be extremely difficult, so much so that I know a commercial organic farmer who grows his own oats in his hoop house, just so that he can dry it, and use it as bedding for his strawberries. Tedious.
Regular Bark Mulch– often questionable ingredients, treated with pesticides, and painted different colors. Not really the stuff you want infusing into your soil…
Cedar Bark Mulch– ingredients are a bit more regulated, there’s no paint, and no pesticides as cedar is naturally bug repellant. In the past years this was my go to, but during my studies at TIOSN, my instructor, Nigel, asked me a pointed question, “If you’re using a bug repellant material to blanket your soil, what is that doing to the living biology in that soil?” Crap. I’m killing all of the living matter that I want to nourish my soil with!
“What’s left?” I ponder as I thin out our compost garden, the only garden we have this year. It’s really quite extraordinary, the volunteers that have presented themselves, and I always feel poorly when I have to chop down perfectly healthy plants, just cause there’s too many of them. In order to make myself feel better, I often lay them down at the base of the ones still standing so they can mineralize the soil as they decompose. Hmm.
I stand up and look around. For one of my research projects, I planted kale with an underplanting of purslane. Rich in nutrients, and a persistent ground cover, I thought he would make a wonderful companion to the kale, and he did. As I scan my yard, I see an abundance of broadleaf plantain, violets, catmint that’s gotten out of control, and lambs quarters. All edible, and packed with phytonutrients- plants feeding plants, you see where I’m going with this?
Excited, I grab my shears, and go to town. I’m chopping down everything, now, and laying it all over- in between the pumpkins, around the tomatoes, alongside the beans. My summer savory was getting a little too big for his britches- trimmed him back for the most fragranced mulch on the block. Kale already going to seed? He came down too, his little yellow flowers looking like sprinkles on a cake. I got so caught up in this mineralization process, I asked my husband to hide the clippers so that I didn’t cut anything I’d regret. Then for added measure, I pulled some old limbs and bark from the woods to help secure my beautiful mulch. Our spot gets some crazy wind, I didn’t want to lose my hard work! As it finally became too dark to continue, I put out the sprinkler for the night. Like sweet kisses on a forehead, the drops of water lulled my plants into slumbering growth, immersed in the most perfumed of beds. Sleep well, little ones! xo