Garden Mulching, No Dig Gardening Method and No Dig Vegetable Garden

Soil Cultivation

Garden Mulching and No Dig Gardening

The word ‘mulch’ simply means a layer of material placed over the soil, usually to cover the root area of plants. Garden mulching serves several purposes including the conservation of moisture and the prevention of drying out of the surface soil, especially where there may be only a few young fibrous roots. Some mulches are applied as a means of feeding plants, and with the application of mulches moisture from rain or water cans, infiltrates more readily without the repeated stirring necessary to keep the surface soil broken and receptive to water.

garden mulching

Garden mulching has other useful functions in that it helps to keep down weeds and according to what is used, feeding matter from it is eventually washed down to a good depth. Earthworms flourish in the humus formed by organic garden mulching materials, making a further improvement to the soil.

Crops which are gross feeders will derive most benefit from a mulch of material which supplies plant food as well as preventing loss of moisture from the surface. When growing well, runner beans, late peas, cauliflowers, marrows and cucumbers, and tomatoes under glass, are specially responsive to mulching. Do not apply mulches too early but wait until the soil begins to warm. The middle of May is early enough for cauliflowers, mid July for runner beans and for peas, from June until late July, according to variety. Outdoors, tomatoes on light soil should be mulched by late June. Cucumbers under glass will benefit from several applications since this will prevent the white roots from surfacing.

Make sure the top soil is moist before applying any surface covering. Apart from materials which provide feeding matter and soil improvers, such as compost, leaf mould, peat moss and hop manure, there are many other materials which can be used. These include plastic sheeting which hinders weed growth; sawdust, although this leaches nitrogen which needs to be replaced and may also attract wood lice and ants; bark fibre and grass clippings, which sometimes become messy and harbour flies.

Small stones too, can be used. Anyone who has moved stones in the driest of weather, will have been surprised at the amount of moisture in the soil beneath.

The regular use of the hoe often produces a dust which acts as a mulch to the soil beneath; a practice once greatly relied on by our forefathers, so that while the addition of material with feeding value is much more beneficial and aids water retention, we should not too lightly disregard successful methods that have been relied on for so many years.

No Dig Gardening Method for the No Dig Vegetable Garden

For some years, experiments have been made in growing vegetables and other crops by the no-dig gardening method. This is not because certain gardeners are lazy and do not like the idea of the work involved in actually turning over the soil, but it is an effort to obtain the best results, and there are gardeners who have seriously tried ‘no digging’ and are unlikely to go back to moving the soil in their ‘no dig vegetable garden’.

Instead of using a spade, fork or hoe in the autumn, the non-digger places a layer of compost all over the vacant ground in his garden. Advocates of this system, which in certain cases has much good to be said for it, argue that in nature, plant wastes are not buried but become incorporated with the soil by the effects of the weather and the functions of worms and other soil inhabitants. Bulky material is reduced by natural decomposition without the help of man.

In addition, the no dig vegetable garden will require surface applications of compost provide the right conditions for the fungi which are present in fertile soil. Many weed seeds normally brought to the surface by ordinary digging could lie buried in unturned soil for many years, thus avoiding the necessity of constant weeding.

The success of the organic surface cultivation method really depends on the amount of compost available. Mulching places the raw materials where nature allows the natural workers to process it. Buried very deeply, organic material cannot be properly processed until it becomes near the surface again.

Among other advantages of organic surface cultivation, are that weeds are gradually eliminated and are not dug up again as is frequently the case with ordinary cultivation. Worms are not disturbed and therefore go on with their valuable work of providing soil ventilation, while soil bacteria are kept near enough to the surface to function properly.

Then there is the question of water supplies; the soil capillary working is retained, and moisture is drawn up from below. Plants grown by this method of cultivation show a vigour that is never seen where the gardener depends on continued supplies of artificial fertilisers, which not only cause the soil to become thin and lifeless, but never encourage the production of a bunch of fibrous roots, which plants need if they are to produce good crops.

There is reason to believe that surface mulching gives greater freedom from pests and diseases, while regular applications of composted material placed on the topsoil, results in better flavoured vegetables even though the size of the crop may sometimes be smaller. It would be worthwhile trying a no dig gardening  experiment on a small plot to compare results with the more usual methods of cultivating the soil.

Straw Walls

On very heavy soil, which is likely to pan or become hard and difficult for the fibrous roots to penetrate, results may be erratic and unsatisfactory. When this is so and the root system is insufficient, the foliage becomes sickly and there is little inclination for new growth. A quick way to overcome this drawback is by a method of incorporating straw into the ground. Wheat or oat straw is inserted in the soil in the form of vertical walls. This encourages aeration, helps to increase the beneficial soil bacteria, and allows moisture to reach the roots as required, promoting good growth.

The straw is applied as the site for the plants is being prepared, or it may be inserted by taking out trenches of sufficient depth to allow 5 to 8 cm of straw placed vertically to protrude above soil level. A simpler way is to drive a spade into the soil and to move it backwards and forwards. The straw can then be driven into the soil with the spade.

Straw definitely helps in retaining moisture, an important matter particularly where the site is not on level ground. Straw treatment usually results in nitrogen shortage and it is advisable to work in dried blood, hoof and horn meal or any other nitrogen supplying fertiliser before cropping the soil again.

19. August 2010 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Garden Management, Manures and Fertilisers, Soil Cultivation | Tags: , | Comments Off on Garden Mulching, No Dig Gardening Method and No Dig Vegetable Garden


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