Nature abhors bare earth. That’s it in a nutshell.
People have been digging dirt and exposing soil since we started cultivating food in rows and organizing beauty to bloom. This process is not how nature intended plants to be grown, so it creates some issues. The main problems it presents are soil erosion, moisture loss and weed seed exposure. The tilling process also attracts pests and disease at a higher rate.
There are huge complexities involved with natural ecosystems that are very powerful. We all need to observe, be respectful and learn more about the interrelationships between plants and microorganism in the soil. When we interrupt the natural process by digging, tilling or using a hoe to chunk at the surface, we not only disturb the soil infrastructure, we also expose countless seeds that will sprout. This unnatural procedure is stressful for both the earth, and a gardener who despises weeding.
In any natural setting there will be many different species of plants growing together as well as layers of organic matter blanketing the soil. Bare ground will be covered if the natural process is allowed to proceed. The force is strong with Mother Nature. She will use all of her power to heal exposed wounds and luckily for us, she won’t give up.
Typically in Canada, nature mulches in October or November. Each leaf that drops to the ground, carries a season full of sunshine, air, water and minerals. The leaf litter will not only protect the soil surface but also feed the worms, bacteria, and fungi who will, in turn, create nutrient-rich composted soil.
Undesirable plants can take over our gardens, if we allow them to get a strong hold. The weeds rob the plants that we do want to grow, from nutrients, water and sunlight. The solution to repelling weeds in our vegetable gardens is to mirror nature’s example by either growing something desirable, or mulching the surface. Every inch of our gardens need to be covered to build a healthy and productive environment.
There are 3 kinds of mulch. A living mulch, organic mulch and inorganic mulch. A Living mulch is commonly called a ground cover. These are generally low growing plants that spread horizontally, covering the soil to protect it from erosion and water evaporation. A lawn is one type of living mulch. Organic mulches are formerly living materials such as grass clippings, leaves, straw, manure, wood chips, compost, pine needles and shredded bark. This is my mulch of choice because not only do they repel weeds and prevent evaporation, but they also feed the soil as they decompose. Inorganic mulches include gravel, rocks, plastic, black plastic and geotexile landscape fabrics. Personally, I also include cardboard and newspaper in the inorganic category. I know that originally the trees were alive which created the paper products but after all the processing, glues, inks and dyes, I deem them inorganic.
One of the top arguments for using inorganic black plastic & black landscape fabric as a mulch, is that they heat up the soil by absorbing the suns warmth in addition to smothering weeds. Heating up the soil can be very beneficial for crops such as Tomatoes, Basil and Peppers but I don’t feel this plastic practice warrants the risk. Plastics & landscape cloths leach toxins to the air and soil (both during manufacturing and while lying in your garden) and unfortunately, they will probably end up in the landfill after a couple of seasons. An alternative idea for heating up the soil around nightshade crops, is to surround them with large, dark-colored stones which will also collect warmth from the sun then radiate heat at night.
My favorite organic mulches are grass clippings, composted leaves and straw. I find all are easy to obtain, usually for free, and are easy to apply around my vegetables. I add different types of mulch all throughout the year, making sure that any (if any) weeds are removed before placing on the new layer. Mulches keep the soil surface moist to protect organisms and shallow roots but most importantly for me, they almost eliminate the need to weed.
I highly recommend adding organic mulches to all of your garden spaces for weed prevention and many other benefits. Let me know which ones work best in your neck of the woods. Until then ….
✿ Be fruitful and mulch apply ✿