Monday, February 1, 2010

Mulch on the Brain

For much of the year, Jamey has mulch on the brain.

We mulch our gardens pretty heavily, pulling the mulch aside to plant and then bringing it around the base of the plants once they are established. This technique helps keep moisture in during the dry days and weeks of summer and helps keep weeds down, especially if we mulch thickly enough. The weeds that do their darnedest to get up through the mulch are relatively easy to pull out since the ground is kept moist because of the mulch. The mulch also provides clean paths on which to walk so our feet don't get stuck in the mud after a few rainy days.

All that said, mulching is not free from it's problems. Depending what the mulch is or where it comes from, it may carry seeds that can sprout into unwanted plants and weeds. And then there is the task of getting all that mulch. You'd be surprised how much mulch breaks down and becomes mixed into the soil (the chickens help with this during the winter) in just one year. In the past two seasons, we have used seven large round hay bales. So, finding mulch is something we're always thinking about.

Ok, ok. It's something Jamey is always thinking about. I know that he's thinking about it, so that frees me up to not think about it. Kind of like how I spend a lot of time thinking about what's for dinner and how and when to prepare it. Thanks to me and because of this, Jamey is free to just sit down and eat.

Hmm. Meal preparation every day...finding mulching sources several times a year.... I'll stop there. Only because he's in school. Full time. Studying things so foreign to me that I don't even ask him about his classes anymore, just his day. Is that wrong?

Mulch. Yes, mulch. We usually mulch our gardens with hay or straw that can no longer be sold or fed to animals because it is old or has gotten wet. It is always cheap and sometimes even free if we're able to find someone who has some to get rid of. Those seven large round bales? We got them for $5 a bale instead of $30 a bale for hay of good quality. We have a minivan and a trailer, so Jamey has to transport the bales on the trailer, often having to make repeated trips. We also use leaves and grass clippings. The neighbors donate their mulched leaves and clippings and we add in ours, but none of us have tons of leaves thanks to the hefty breezes that sweep over our hill in the fall.

This year, we are trying something new. You know how most cities provide leaf curb side pick-up in the fall? Well, Jamey discovered that in town you can load up a trailer full of these smelly, albeit fabulous, decomposing leaves and haul them away. For FREE- if you pitchfork them yourself. For $4 they'll load them for you. Jamey chose the pitchfork method. Last week, he got our first load.

Look at that lovely stuff. The last benefit to mulching your garden that I will mention is that all this decomposing organic matter does wonders for your soil. We can attest to this. Our main garden was half the size it is now at one time. That original side, which has been mulched heavily for four years, yields us much better produce (both quantity and quality). We tend to have high concentrations of clay in our ground and the organic matter has helped to build more workable soil.

So, there you have it. A solution to our (Ok, Jamey's) yearly mulch question? We will see. Pin It


  1. I BEG my husband to get me leaves and he won't. We used to get them when we lived in town, but he says it's not worth it, now that we're this far out and it cuts into his work day. So we have a mulch-less garden and marital strife.

  2. Oh, and I like your picture---you're getting brave!!!

  3. I LOVE using leaves...but even better is that new picture of you! Holy Stinkin Cow you are brave!

  4. My family are veterans to the leaf mulch thing. How exciting to have all the leaves from the town of Mount Joy at our disposal. After a year of sitting in big long piles on the family farm and being partially decomposed, it's pure brown gold. Or so we thought. After years of mulching the garden with leaves, my sister is reconsidering. This is a garden that has been well tended and built up over years of careful gardening. It is now not producing some things nearly as well as it used to. Particularly peas. Where they used to get bushels, they now get such a puny amount it's hardly worth planting. That's the most blatant example. There are other signs of negative results. The question is whether it is the high concentration of leaves themselves or could it possibly be herbicides/insecticides/street pollution etc. that come along with the leaves.

    Aunt V.

  5. I don't feel brave- I'm shaking in my boots!:-)

    Aunt V, Very interesting. One concern Jamey has about using ALL leaves is that it's going to take so much more leaves than hay/straw which are slower at breaking down. I have a feeling we will be doing a combo. We'll take your sister's experience into consideration, though. Thank you:-).

  6. We have a HUMONGOUS pecan tree in our backyard. Way too big to be in our little yard...but it stays because...well, we can't afford to have it cut down! But talk about leaves?! Oh my... And I wanted to turn them into leaf mold, but instead, my husband just raked them all into the garden area, on top of the soil, and there they sit. He forgot to listen to the part about needing to BREAK DOWN. Ah well...we'll work around them. :)

    ps..cute picture!!

  7. We have never full embraced the Ruth Stout method like you are doing but would like to try it one of these years. I just can't seem to come up with quite enough stuff, perhaps I should buy some round bales as well. I love, love, love using leaves in the garden as they are by far my favorite form of compost...the worms love them too. This year we are going heavy with the chicken compost and straw as well, so we shall see how that works out for us.

  8. Mr. H,
    It was Ruth Stout's No-Work Garden Book that inspired Jamey, but the title is a bit misleading. It's a lot of work to acquire the hay/straw initially. Another reason I think Jamey was drawn to the hay for mulch method is because he has dreams of building a straw bale house one day- there are so many wonderful uses for it:-).

    Your combo plans of leaves, straw and chicken donations sound perfect. You are going to have some happy worms and plants.

  9. Depending on the type of leaves you have, you may need to run them through a shredder first. Our California Oak leaves can remain very leathery and break down VERY SLOWLY even after a wet winter. And just like a person who needs different things to eat, so does the dirt. But, since I know you have chickens, and table scraps, and probably other stuff, making a mix shouldn't be an issue. You're so knowledgeable on gardening, you probably have it down to a science, but I would advise people going to their local dump to be very careful as to what they bring into their garden. It might not be cheap in the long run!

    Rodale's composting books is on my 2010 reading list. I really should get to it!

  10. Amy, In most cities, the leaves are picked/swept up by machines that mulch the leaves right away as they are collected. The leaves Jamey picked up were shredded nice and fine.

    It also depends on the purpose for your mulch. If you are wanting compost for your garden, it is important for the leaves/organic matter to already be broken down so it can incorporate quickly. If you're looking for mulch to hold in moisture and weeds, it's okay for it to hang around awhile:-).

    Good point, too, about diversifying when it comes to mulch. Ours always ends up being a mish-mash of hay/straw, grass clipping, leaves, shredded paper and chicken manure.


Just a friendly reminder, if you know me personally please try to refrain from using my name. There are those who may try to locate me, break into my pantry and steal my pickled beets. Thanks:-).

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