Last year, the first year I planted the vegetable patch, I loved weeding. And not just the tidy aftermath, I actually loved the process. I must have been crazy. A year later and weeding was enemy number one. I now have 1500 sq ft of space dedicated to growing edibles and weeding was taking up 80% of the time I spent in the garden. I thought about that a lot. 80 per cent. Over 3/4 of my time was spent managing the one thing that didn’t give me anything back. I wanted to spend that time taking care of the plants that were going to give me sustanance, they were the reason I started the garden, after all. My priorities had gotten topsy-turvy. And to make matters worse, I wasn’t giving the edibles the attention they needed and they were starting to suffer.
About a year ago I read about mulching & wood chip gardening and its benefits. The theory is that mulching follows a more natural state of the earth when left alone and not tilled. As leaves, twigs and branches fall they create a ground cover, eventually rotting down and providing more sustenance to the soil. And so the cycle goes on. Some of the biggest advantages of this ground cover are very little weeding and watering, if any. Mulching also prevents the soil from compacting since you never have to walk it directly, and this makes it easier for the vegetables to grow.
One day earlier this year, I noticed some huge trees being chopped down at the back of my neighbours house, so I asked if I could have the chippings. An hour later and my driveway was literally overflowing. I didn’t know what kind of trees the chips came from, and the leaves were all mixed in (I didn’t know if that was good or bad – it’s good) but I’m constantly reminded that gardening is about doing, even if you don’t know what exactly you are doing.
It took 2 weeks of shoveling 10 barrow loads a day to spread it about 4″ deep onto the front beds, and the same depth on 1/3 of the huge back bed. You can also put newspaper or cardboard down first but I forgot, although I did add grass clippings and I’ll continue to do that once in a while on top of the chips. I haven’t watered that area since, even in the blazing TN summer heat, and the earth underneath has remained moist.
And what about weeding? Only one type of grass is poking through. I pull about 5 stalks a day and that’s it!
The garden has become much less stressful and most of the plants seem to love it too. The camomile didn’t do well, but I will try it again next year. The only other issue so far, is occasionally I’ll go outside to a forest of mushrooms! They won’t do the plants harm and die off in a day, or you can rake them out, but I’m still trying to find a solution.
Some gardeners are against mulch. One reason I’ve read is that unless you have a large plot with your own trees to provide it, it is something else you are reliant on to grow your food, when the ideal is to be self sufficient and not to incur unnecessary costs (both monetary and environmental). Also, some mulches are from trees that really shouldn’t have been chopped down in the first place (cypress, for example). I think both these reasons are valid. However, in Nashville we have so many trees growing in our city, and in taking care of those trees by pruning them, we do have access to sustainable chips.
Of course, it’s early days and I’ll be on a huge learning curve with the wood chips for a while. I have no idea how the mulch will effect the bug problem, for example, but already this is making sense to me and I’m seeing huge benefits in my new, no weed, garden.