Mulches To Use for No-Till Gardening
Lasagna Gardening, No-Till Gardening, Back to Eden Gardening, Layer Gardening... Whatever you want to call it is still a new concept for most gardeners. At least it is where I live! I have mentioned a few times that we are adopting a form of no-till gardening this year, which means that we will not be tilling our garden any longer for the rest of this year and hopefully the next. Of course, we did till in April to get everything started. This is something that you don't have to do at all (crazy, right?!) but it's something that you'd have to plan for ahead of time. If this is your first gardening season ever, and you still don't have a plot cut out, then you'll most likely have to till this spring. But that's it! It's a really fascinating concept, compared to "mimicking the forest floor" and you can read more about our system in my blog post about soil amendments.
To summarize, no-till gardening is simple because you do absolutely no tilling at all. You layer mulches all season long to create a soft and fertile soil underneath. It is like feeding constant nourishment to your garden bed, which is amazing because that means less fertilizer, additives, chemicals, and water to your plants! Like I said above, you can begin a no-till garden without ever tilling at all or even without sod cutting! But it's something that you'd have to plan ahead for, preferably in the autumn or at least a month before planting. I want to talk a little about some different mulches you can use over time for your layers as season the goes on if you are also practicing this type of gardening!
Straw. This is the best, in my opinion anyway! Straw is a wonderful source of carbon ("brown" material if you are familiar with composting) and makes a great layering mulch during the growing season. If you want to place a light layer of mulch around the base of your plants like kale, tomatoes, eggplants, onions, etc then straw makes a great choice. Less weeds, water retention, and can even help tricking lettuce to think the weather is cooler - that means sweeter leaves!
Grass Clippings. Green grass clippings make an excellent source of nitrogen! If you decide to save these for your garden and want the nitrogen effect, make sure to spread them while still green (once turned brown, they become instant carbon) and before they begin to seed - or else you will have a garden full of grass!
Compost. Who doesn't love compost? Worm castings would fit into this category as well, but of course, are a much more concentrated material. Make sure that before you add any food scraps or compost that it is "finished." A lot of lasagna gardening articles and books just layer spent food scraps in the garden... I don't find that wise or useful. It actually just attracts bugs and makes the garden smell terrible. This is only a good idea to do in the fall because you have all winter for it to break down, if you were even going to do this! Compost should be used at the beginning of the season or at the end due to its high content of organic matter and nitrogen, which plants do not need while fruiting.
Hay. Similar to straw, it makes a great layering mulch during the growing season. The downside to hay is that it usually contains a lot of seeds - weed seeds! Straw should be chosen over hay for this reason, but if you don't mind picking out weeds here and there then it shouldn't be an issue!
Wood Shavings. Wood shavings is a normal go-to mulch for most landscape design. While nice and thick, it's actually quite acidic and can be tough on plants that need a more balanced pH. I like to use wood mulch for walking paths in the garden, though I have yet to do this! I think it makes a nice contrast and keeps the paths drier after a heavy rain, easier to maintain during the hot summer when weeds are abundant.
Leaves. Fallen leaves make excellent mulch! In fact, we used dried leaves that we sent through a fine mulching machine in the clay part of garden, and it helped balance the soil so much more than I expected! Leaves, the fallen kind, are basically all carbon. You'll want to use dried leaves in thin layers, or mulched finely, as they tend to mat and prevent water from getting to the soil.
Pine Needles. Like wood shavings, pine needles can be acidic, but make a good mulch in a pinch! Great to use in the autumn.
Newspaper. Be careful with what you use here - try not to use any glossy or heavily colored paper. Apply the same rule here as you would with compost. Newspaper I feel is a last resort because it can be expensive to obtain, especially if you have as large of a garden as we do. This would be a good thing to use if you have absolutely nothing else or have a lot of newspaper that you would be recycling anyway! It's one of those "yes, you can use that" mulches for me!
Seaweed. Excellent, excellent source of trace minerals, nitrogen, and can deter slugs. Yay! The only problem is that it has to be watered constantly because it dries out so quickly in the sun. Also, where I live, seaweed makes a bad choice because it would be so difficult and expensive to obtain. If you live somewhere that seaweed is abundant, then use it, friend! If I lived near an ocean, I'd be combing the place for stranded seaweed.
When layering your mulch, try to think of it like a compost pile. I know, I've said it so many times already, but it's true! If you are spreading a layer heavily made up of carbon (this typically is dry materials, dead ones) then you'll want the next layer of mulch you spread to be high in nitrogen, or green, like grass clippings or finished compost. If you constantly layer up straw without ever supplementing something green, you won't be feeding your plants the nitrogen they need and vice versa. Don't forget that when plants are fruiting they do NOT need added nitrogen. You probably won't be layering anything new by that point anyway! Are you practicing no-till this year? Any great tips you'd like to share? I always love learning more!