“I think of marriage as a garden. You have to tend to it. Respect it, take care of it, feed it. Make sure everyone is getting the right amount of, um, sunlight.” ~ Mark Ruffalo
At every garden show, almost every article and TV segment I have seen, all extol the miracle of mulch.
Spread it around!
About 10cm thick!
Do it! Do it! Do it!
So, I did.
Pea hay, shredded sugarcane, sheep poo and layers of newspaper have all been dutifully laid on my water-repellent sandy soil in a desperate attempt to keep water evaporating away from my precious plants. It did a great job of keeping any weeds away too.
But, after a few seasons of this heavy mulching, I realised that something weird was happening.
The mulch appeared to be making my soil even more water repellent. It wasn’t keeping the water in.
It was keeping the water out.
This was evident to me after a thunderstorm last summer. As the rain pelted down from the sky, steam rose up from the pavement. My gutters overflowed, my water runoff buckets filled within minutes with dust-stained, but very welcome water.
My raised beds looked like they had had a great big thirsty drink.
But, a little closer inspection revealed the truth.
The drenching had not even made it through the mulch to the soil. Under my layer of thickly applied mulch, it was as dry as a bone.
Also, laying that much mulch was like sending an engraved invitation to every slater bug in my suburb to come on down. They demolished everything that was photosynthesising. I even contemplated a chemical solution, but since it was so toxic it couldn’t be used on edibles, I put that out of my mind very quickly.
So what to do?
This season, I have had a very light hand with the mulch, literally only using a thin sprinkling. I am also companion planting much more than before. Any bare spots are filled as quickly as I can with an assortment of calendula, cornflower, nasturtiums and herbs, anything that will cover the ground, provide pest protection and/or help the veggies along.
Each bed now has at least 3 plant varieties to help shield and shelter. This approach is working an absolute treat. I have fewer slaters (or appear to) because they really have nowhere to hide.
So now, when it rains, the soil actually manages to get wet.
Yes, I have more weeds to pull out, but not as many as you may think. Plus, my weeds are all gobbled up by grateful chickens. The soil is slowly recovering. Incorporating more clay into my sandy soil appears to have done much more to improve the water holding quality of my sandy soil than mulching.
Since doing a bit of research, I have found a fantastic piece by a local horticulturalist John Colwill otherwise known by his alias, “Plantsman”. Apparently, when it comes to mulch it’s the (cough) size that counts. The best performing mulch for the veggie patch in our climate needs to to have big particles and be somewhat waterproof. I was doing it all wrong. The entire report on his fantastically comprehensive experiment is cleverly titled “Mulch ado about Something.”
You can find more of Plantsman’s excellent Perth-local advice at www.plantsman.com.au
So now I have overcome my mulching addiction, now all I need is more rain.
Please? Just a little more rain?
But what do you think? To mulch or not to mulch? What’s your experience? Please leave me a comment below.