Gardening: Soil Cultivation – Mulching
Soil Cultivation- Improving Soil by Mulching
It would seem that the main aim of gardening is for the cultivation of crops, however it is just as essential to cultivate theas the crops that grow in it. Improve the quality of your soil, and you will definitely improve your enthusiasm for gardening.
Soil cultivation touches on both the mechanical condition and the chemical constituents and to this end mulching can help enormously. A mulch was, at one time, always composed of loose organic material spread over the soil, mainly over the root area of the plant or crops grown, to conserve soil moisture. It was composed of partially-rotted or rotted organic material, manure or compost and any plant food elements washed out by rain into the soil were a bonus.
Incidentally there is very little soluble material in peat but provided it is coarse and open, this is an excellent mulching material. Organic material will, ultimately, decay and be assimilated into the soil. Before this happens it can be chewed by small animals, such as woodlice, and portions can be carried down by larger animals, such as earthworms, so much so that in the course of a season a 2 to 3 inch layer can be dragged down. I don’t know whether we copy the earthworm by incorporating organic matter into the soil or whether they copy us, but the net result is that the soil benefits both chemically and mechanically.
Great claims are made about the value of the various types of earthworm with their burrowing, their swallowing and voiding waste products and much of this cannot be denied. They can also be a confounded nuisance to the gardener by spoiling the surfaces of lawns or upsetting the soil in pots. Nevertheless, for at least 75% of the time, earthworms perform an extremely valuable and free service and should be encouraged. Fortunately, their needs are more or less the same as those of plants.
Personally, when exploring the possibilities of a soil I like to find a wholesome crop of worms when digging up a few spadefuls, as I know they wouldn’t be in the soil unless adequate supplies of organic matter were present. Earlier I stated that mulches were formerly organic. However, nowadays many manmade substances can be used including granulated plastic foam materials or sheet plastic. But these, in my opinion, are merely substitutes for the genuine article if only on the score that they have no residual value and can be a nuisance if blown about by the wind.
There are certain rules for mulching and because the primary object of the mulch is to conserve the moisture in the soil it is no good applying one to dry ground. Similarly a mulch can also act as insulating material so it is a mistake to mulch the soil surface whilst the ground is cold. It prevents the sun from warming up the soil, or at least delays it, so wait until the plants indicate the time is right.
The calendar is of no help here. It is no good saying that mulches should be applied during the first week in April because so much depends on the season, climatic conditions and latitude. As soon as the tree, shrub or plant is growing a mulch should be applied. This is indicated by elongation of stem or by the production of new growth and bursting buds.
By improving soil quality with the use of mulch, you will see massive improvements in the quality of your plants and crops, their growth, their fruits and their blooms.