They kids were all out yesterday trying to get a new layer of mulch down in the garden. We have been using a modified deep mulch system now for three years and would never go back.
Since our soil on the entire property is very clay-like, we’ve had trouble producing a decent garden. Then a neighbor pointed out one area of the pasture where the grass was much longer and thicker than anywhere else. He told us that the old barn yard had been there and cattle had wintered in that spot for 40 years. Talk about fertilizer!
We decided to move the garden to that location and were pleased with the results. We still had trouble with weeds, though, (they grew so tall and thick that the children made a fort in them in the fall and were totally hidden from view!) Since the soil still had more clay than we’d like, we knew we had to find a system that kept down the weeds and also added organic matter.
My brother-in-law was the first to mention deep mulch gardening to us. It sounded a little crazy at first, but the thought of spending hours in the hot sun pulling weeds out of the clay soil that had dried up as hard as a rock, made us look twice.
The first year we plowed, tilled, planted, then when the plants had come up, mulched deeply around them. It saved hours of weeding, but by late summer, weeds were still popping up. Frustrating.
The second year we plowed, mulched the entire garden with about 18 inches of mulch, then tried to make rows and get the seeds in. Very frustrating to plant, but we had very few weeds all summer.
That fall we got a few pigs and decided the best place for them to run was in the garden. They did a great job rooting everything up for us, fertilizing the soil, and mixing in the remaining mulch.
Last spring we tilled, mulched and planted. We didn’t do a very good job keeping the weeds out of the rows however, but anywhere the mulch was at least 18 inches thick, we had no weeds.
This year we just added more mulch on top of the left-overs, pushed it aside and planted. This is the closest to the true deep mulch system that we have used. We’ll have to wait and see if it works well.
I do know that using mulch has greatly reduced our hours weeding. My goal of a weed-free garden is still a dream, but at least we have small fraction of the weeds we used to have!