The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Summer mulch experiment

My winter leaf mulches were a wonderful success.  They kept the weeds down admirably, and seem to have improved the soil quality in the process.  While transplanting broccoli last week, I was stunned by the moist, crumby structure of the soil in the loamy upper garden, and by the ubiquity of worms and other good soil critters.

Unfortunately, I can't just keep the leaves in place for the summer.  Some of the mulch has blown away or rotted into the ground, while the big leaves left behind are prone to move onto small seedlings and drown them out.  I raked a few dozen beds bare in March to plant peas and greens, and now weeds are already starting to crowd my vegetables.  Time to experiment with some summer mulches:

  • Grass clipping mulchGrass clippings.  Last year, I learned that grass/clover clippings make a great summer mulch since they are high in nitrogen and feed the soil while drowning out weeds.  We did make a mistake and mulched two beds with clippings that had already gone to seed, with predictable results, but all of the other beds mulched with grass clippings are happy and healthy.  The downside of grass clippings is that they decompose very quickly and need to be refreshed within a month.  Since we get about 32 beds worth of clippings per month, I figure we have nearly 200 other garden beds that will soon be in need of mulch.
  • Newspaper mulchNewspapers.  My father has had good luck with wetting down newspaper and using it as a weed barrier around his plants once they're large seedlings.  We don't subscribe to the newspaper, but we do get some catalogs made of newsprint.  I soaked the catalogs and ripped them into segments about ten pages thick.
  • Cardboard mulchCardboard and junk mail.  Last year, I put a lot of cardboard and junk mail in our summer worm bin, but the worms just didn't have the gumption to eat it once the paper and cardboard matted down into damp layers.  I teased the layers apart and am using the wet cardboard as a mulch. 
  • Tree leaves.  I figure that tree leaves will work as a mulch around more established plants, like our peas that are already several inches high.

I'm trying all four mulches around our peas in the back garden, and will report back in a month or so once I can tell how they're doing.  I'm a bit concerned that the newspaper and cardboard will dry up and blow around since I didn't put anything on top of it, but it's worth a shot!  Anything that reduces our garden's weed pressure makes me a happy camper.

Looking for other ways to simplify your homestead life?  Try an automatic chicken waterer --- copious, clean water with no work.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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