Thursday, 10 November 2011

The Magic Of Mulch

We are fast approaching Summer here in New Zealand which means hot days, lots of watering and lots of weeding UNLESS of course you use mulch.  Around our garden we use lucerne mulch on the veggie gardens and bark chip on the paths.  I've figured out over the years that if I don't mulch bare ground nature will cover it in her own version - weeds.  Some people use pea straw but farmers spray their pea crops with herbicide prior to harvesting so the dried foliage still contains herbicide.  I garden organically so I use lucerne.  Its a deep rooted plant which brings nutrients up from the subsoil.  As it rots down it adds nutrients to the soil, thereby feeding the tree at the same time as stopping weeds taking nutrients from the tree.  I use lucerne because I learnt about No-Dig Gardening by Esther Deans several years back and since then have always used it.

This is the orchard area.  I've used about 2 bales around each tree.  I love lucerne because its possible to just peel off a thick wad from the bale and place it down over any weeds, overlapping each successive piece as I go.  Easy, clean and quick.  Overlapping ensures no weeds will grow through the joins.  If you use thin layers expect the weeds to grow through more quickly.  You can put layers of newspaper down first before the lucerne but you don't need too.  (thats Comfrey growing under the tree)  I wont need to mulch this area until Spring next year.  I usually add a bag of horse poo around the base of the tree before I put the lucerne down.

The bark is great at keeping couch grass at bay and the rest of the weeds in the paths to a minimum.

 The other great thing about mulch is the water conservation properties.  Water is locked into the soil for longer which  means less watering.  We are on water restrictions here because of the damage done to water storage facilities during the earthquake, so at our house we are into water collection BIG TIME.  Every bucket we own is outside and we also collect rainwater from the roof in 2 large 1000 litre tanks.

 Because I've run out of lucerne and cheap lucerne mulch can be hard to find, I decided to use coffee sacks.  I lay about 2 per tree, overlapped and wet them until saturated.  You could use more, but make sure the ground underneath the sacks is saturated first otherwise you will lock out the moisture instead of in.  I've put weights on them in case the wind blows them apart.  I try to mulch before the middle/end of Spring while the Winter rain moisture is still in the soil.  I like to mulch in Spring once the soil temperatures have increased and before it gets too dry.  Always make sure the soil is well watered before you put mulch down.

Happy Gardening!

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