It’s winter here and all we can do is daydream about the mouth watering home grown vegetables we will grow. But, before we know it, Spring will be on it’s way. While we are waiting, we have the perfect opportunity to create and prepare natural organic mulch for the vegetable garden.
Mulching is important in helping retain moisture around the vegetable plants. This will cut down on watering chores! Mulch also reduces weed growth. Spending a little time mulching the garden can save hours in weeding! Mulch also cools the soil in the hot summer months and will provide nutrients such as humus to the soil as it decomposes. This improves the air circulation in the soil and helps prevent soil diseases.
There are several things that Mother Nature herself provides. Even though they require a bit of work, if we utilize these nature given gifts, we get big beautiful well nourished plants in exchange! Sounds like a fair deal to me! Let’s take a look at a few of them…
Natural Organic Mulch for the Vegetable Garden
Compost will provide additional nutrients for vegetable plants. It also helps prevent the soil from compacting. This helps the roots of the plants spread easily and use the nutrients available in the soil. To use compost, all you need is about a 3-inch layer on top of the soil. You can purchase ready made compost or you can make your own as we do! Follow along with us on our gardening adventures to find out how to make you own compost heap or pile.
Shredded or chopped leaves make a wonderful compost! This is my favorite! With over 100 trees on our property, you can imagine we have an ample supply of leaves in the fall when they drop. With that abundance of leaves, we can mulch our entire garden and flower beds come spring.
In order to use the leaves as mulch, it is recommended to chop or shred them. Whole leaves can pack down, causing problems with watering and air flow. So how do you get them chopped or shredded? If you have a chipper/shredder machine, you could do it that way. From experience, that takes forever! The easiest way is to mow them with your lawn mower. Just mow in a square, piling them up as you go. Once you have them shredded up, you can either leave the pile (if it is an out of the way place) or you can bag them up to wait on Spring.
Have you ever noticed the rich dirt and decaying matter under a pile of leaves? Usually, you will find earthworms which also provide their own benefits to the soil. Leaf mold and decay is the good stuff! It’s like tapping into a gold mine for the vegetable garden! It provides rich nutrients for the vegetable garden and/or flower beds. I love using the shredded leaves because at the end of the garden season, they can be tilled under and left to do their magic of decomposing during the winter. This only helps to enrich the soil that much more! It is a way of enriching and amending the soil that will pay off and be well worth the work!
Making the leaves work as mulch in the garden sure beats raking, burning or bagging them! And, they can also be used as brown matter in the compost heap, as you will read later on in another post.
Hay or Straw
Hay, or straw, is another form of organic mulch which will provide good nutrients for vegetable gardens. It also decomposes and helps amend the soil. There are a couple of drawbacks to the hay. Some may not have it available and it would have to be purchased. It can also contain seeds that will later sprout and be considered weeds in the garden. However, you can combat this with a little extra thickness applied to the garden. Hay, or straw, looks good and does it’s job in the vegetable garden, but it doesn’t make an attractive mulch for some flower beds.
Yes, you read that right! Who would think your cut grass can actually be used as a mulch?! If you have ever let your yard go a little to long (hahum…that would be me in the corner here), then when you cut the grass and had a few piles, have you noticed how it will kill the grass under it?
There are a couple of notes on using grass clippings you should know however:
- Grass clippings should not have been allowed to seed. You don’t want to be adding grass seeds to your garden.
- Make sure you have not applied a herbicide to your lawn! Herbicides are weed killers. This may in turn kill your vegetable plants!
- Before using grass clippings, allow them to turn brown! If they are green, they contain to much nitrogen and will burn your plants!
- Grass clippings can also be added to the compost heap and then used as compost.
Wood Chips and Bark
Even though personally I don’t like using hardwood mulch in the garden, it is perfect for flower beds. If you are lucky enough to own a chipper/shredder machine, you can chip up sticks and small branches to create your own mulch. Fine shreds and chips are best, as large chunks will take a long time to decompose. The slow decomposition is my reasoning for not using it in my vegetable garden. I don’t want big chunks of wood in the soil come next planting season. The exception would be for perennial plants (plants that come back on their own each year) such as strawberries.
Pine Needles for Flower Beds (not vegetable garden)
While not suited for the vegetable garden, or all flower beds, I wanted to throw this one in here since it is a natural organic mulch. Pine needles are VERY acidic! To use them in your vegetable garden would not be good as they would turn the soil very acidic! Most vegetable plants enjoy a more alkaline soil. However, some flowers such as azaleas and some evergreen shrubs thrive on acidic soil. For any acid loving plant, they would be fine.
Natural organic mulch for the vegetable garden need not be expensive! As you can see, Mother Nature has provided us with several options. It’s there for the taking – FREE! I won’t lie and say it’s easy, but if you are doing a garden, you already know that isn’t exactly easy either What I will say is that we can have an array of natural organic mulch for pretty much free. This will give us an abundance of gorgeous beautiful vegetables by helping amend the soil, provide nutrients and cut down on watering expense and work. We will also have a steady supply of veggies for the summer and enough to can up for the winter months!