Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Mmmmm, Sandwich Mulch....

Maybe they still make this stuff; I have never looked.  When I was little, my mom bought grocery-deli containers of something we just called Sandwich Mulch.  Thus, I am not sure what it really was, but if I had to guess I'd say maybe ham salad?  We viewed it as a special-occasion food, as I recall, although the special occasion was pretty much... lunch.  

This blog is not about that.

This blog is about my neighbor's garden.  Here, I took a picture:
Yes, I took a picture of my neighbor's garden.  And put it on my blog.  
 Q: Why is my neighbor's garden a desiccated wasteland of spindly peppers, blighted tomatoes, and crabgrass?

A: No Mulch.  (Ham Salad or otherwise)

Garden mulch is basically ANYTHING you put down over the bare dirt in your garden.  There are different advantages to different materials, but they ALL have advantages over bare-dirt gardening.

Benefits of Mulch
-MUCH less watering
-MUCH less weeding
-Usually looks nicer
-Adds nutrients back to the soil (if mulching with organic matter)
-Regulates soil temperature
-Prevents some plant diseases (which can result when bare dirt splashes onto plants in the rain.  Yes, this is a thing.)
-Better root systems

There are also many many kinds of mulch, in three categories:
1-Organic Matter: Straw, leaves, newspaper, wood chips, compost...
2-Non-Organic Matter: Landscaping fabric or plastic
3-Living Mulch: more about this below

Organic Matter Mulch:
So here is the herbs area of my garden.  This is my second year mulching with straw, and I like it a lot.  And actually newspaper was originally part of this concept too.  Here was my plan:  Last year before planting, I covered the garden areas in a thick (6+ sheets thick) layer of newspaper.  I wetted it down so it wouldn't blow away immediately.  Then I covered it all in a THICK layer of fresh straw.  (NOT hay.  Hay has hayseeds in it, which is bad, unless you want to grow hay.)  When it was time to transplant seedlings, I pushed aside some straw and tore a hole in the mushy newspaper and planted.  It was DREAMY.  Virtually weed-free, no-watering gardening.  By this year the newspaper had vanished; there is no evidence of it.  But the straw is still there, I just reused it.  And the weeds I think were so discouraged last year that they have not tried again.

Non-Organic Mulch:
You are not going to believe this.  This is my other neighbor's garden:

I am not a judgmental garden snob and neighborhood snoop, I just play one on my blog.  :-S

This approach has it all over the bare-dirt plan, but there are some drawbacks.  I actually used landscaping fabric to mulch my garden two summers ago, which was my first garden.  If you are going to do this you must use the water-permeable kind, obviously, as opposed to the black plastic liner they use for landscaping where nothing is intended to grow (like if it's going to be covered with rocks or something.).  

One advantage of the fabric is it will heat up your soil in early spring, and your tomatoes and peppers will grow like crazy right away! 

One drawback is that it is, conservatively speaking, very ugly.  

When I used it I covered it with wood chips.  So it looked nice, but at the end of the season I had two problems: acres of landscaping fabric and wood chips.  On the plus side, I never had to water that garden, not even a single time.  Not really weed it either.  

Living Mulch:
This is a new idea for me, which I am trying for the first time in the form of a Three Sisters garden.  If you like your gardens trendy, then this is a sweet example of PERMACULTURE design.  If you like 'em traditional, then this is an ancient NATIVE AMERICAN concept.  Simply, it is an interplanting of corn, beans and squash.  The corn provides a natural pole for the beans to climb.  The beans fix nitrogen in the soil.  And the sprawling, big-leafed squash vines provide a LIVING MULCH, shading out weeds, conserving moisture, and all the rest.
The three sisters are adorable and toddler-sized for now....
 Since this is my first year with living mulch, and I'm still working it out, I reserve judgement for now.   Stay tuned.

A mulchy garden is a happy garden.  This one is actually my garden.

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