If you’ve had rain just about every other day as we’ve this year and you’re new to TMG and/or have not yet read my book Organic Gardening, Cutting Through the Hype to the 3 Keys to Successful Gardening – you might be thinking that mulching (covering the soil) isn’t necessary in rainy conditions.
But covering your soil is one of the 3 keys to successful gardening in any conditions. The benefits of mulching go far beyond holding moisture and keeping the soil from drying out.
Keeps Organic Matter in the Soil from Oxidizing
It prevents the organic matter in your soil from oxidizing (disappearing). In the process of decay it also adds more organic matter to the soil. And soil life loves that organic matter because it enables them to have a place to live, thrive, and help you to garden. They do that by supplying your plants with what they need to be healthy and produce bountifully.
Best Time to Mulch
If you’ve gardened any length of time you know that getting mulch on your flower borders and garden beds in the fall is THE best time to do it and will give you the best results the following spring. Not to mention the time it saves you in the spring by cutting down on those little spring weeds that pop up everywhere, especially in a flower border.
We all have difficulties from time to time that prevent us from doing what needs to be done in a timely matter. With Bill being sick, that was and is the case with me this season.
In spite of the fact that I never finished getting straw on the flower borders and over the leaves that I had spread on the garden beds, I’ve managed to keep the soil covered.
Weeds, Annuals, and Crop Residue to the Rescue
Using Weeds to My Advantage
#1 – I had sown some alfalfa along the edges of the beds on each side of of the entrance path to my garden to keep them from washing. It poured down rain after that and I haven’t since the alfalfa since. I didn’t need to worry. A little shamrock like weed came up all along the edges of the two beds and the soil hasn’t washed at all.
Where the shamrock came up in other beds, I just let it grow until I needed the space. When I did pull it, I left it on the bed to serve as part of the soil covering.
#2 -Clumps of grass came up in various places – especially the paths. I figured their roots would be a great place for soil life so I left them until they got too big or got in the way. Once I pulled them up, I knocked the soil off and turned them upside down on the bed or in the path.
#3 – Nuisance weeds that get quickly out of hand (like morning glories and poke weed) and have no immediate value to me, I pull up and leave where they fall. That’s more covering for my soil, as well as good organic material not wasted.
Various annuals are allowed to reseed in my garden. When they come up in the spring I let them grow for while. Then I thin out the weak and leave the strongest ones to remain in places where they’ll be of benefit.
Opal basil and summer poinsettia make good biomass that I can cut and use as mulch. Sometimes I grow them as a free cover crop in a bed not being used.
Magentaspreen is another plant that reseeds in my garden. It can take up a lot of room if left to mature, so I usually keep only one per season. The others I pull when they’re about a foot tall. Their biomass makes more organic material to use as mulch in beds or paths. (By the way, Magentaspreen is a good back up for greens in the summer when nothing else is available.)
Even the autumn clematis (a perennial) the vine of which grows like crazy until it blooms in the fall, I continually cut back and toss the cuttings in a path or on a bed. It too eventually protects (covers) and feeds the soil like all the other organic material I cut and drop.
Using Crop Residue
Last fall/winter Crop of Mache
I had a bumper crop of mache (one of the most delicious salad greens you’ll ever grow) in my garden this winter. I tried to allow almost every plant to reseed, so hopefully I’ll have another bumper crop of mache to get me through the coming winter. (I have much better luck at allowing mache to reseed than when I sow seed purposefully in the fall or spring.)
It reseeded, growing enough during the process to cover the soil of one of the beds I used this winter and have still not covered with straw. Although the plants themselves have long since seeded and died, they left just enough biomass on the soil to keep soil life active and prevent oxidizing of the soil’s organic matter.
When peas and other cool weather crops finish up, I usually cut them off at ground level and leave the biomass on the soil. When I have time, I cover it with straw. If I’m really short on time, like this year, I don’t even cut the pea vines. I just cover them with straw and let the soil life do the rest.
When I go out to pick an onion, radish, and/or beet for dinner, I cut the roots off and the top and leave it where it drops or toss it in a path. The soil reclaims it quickly.
(And by the way, I’ve always read that you’re not suppose to return any onion residue to the garden because of various disease concerns. But my garden is healthy and I’ve been doing that for almost 40 years. If your garden is not healthy, then don’t leave the onion residue in the garden.)
Plants that Are Finished
The best of the lettuce plants from last fall are going to seed. The ones I don’t want for seed, I just cut off at ground level and leave the plant in the path. (As I mentioned previously, nature reclaims it very quickly. But if you prefer not to have it not show for a few days, just cover it with straw.)
Keep the principle of covering the soil in mind, because it’s an important key to your success. But feel free to think outside the box, remembering that there is always more than one way to accomplish a goal.
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