Our family gardens have been in a deep mulch garden system for decades, patterned after Ruth Stout’s “No Work Garden” method. There's a thick layer of mulch between the rows; the mulch covers the soil in a 4-6 inch thick mat. This mulch system has lots of advantages for soil quality.
This is a perfect environment for feeding soil microbes and earthworms, leaving them to do their soil building work undisturbed. Mulch also dramatically increases the amount of rainwater absorbed by the soil, reducing runoff and erosion. And it prevents that moisture from evaporating away in the event of drought, like the one we're currently experiencing! To top it off-- mulch systems offer the user-friendly benefit of helping to control weeds!
A "No-Till" Approach
The advantage of a deep mulch garden system is the reduced need for tillage to control weeds, prepare the seedbed, or incorporate organic matter and soil amendments. Tillage encourages the sprouting of weeds and works oxygen into the soil. That results in the breakdown of organic matter and the release of nutrients, reducing soil fertility. Tillage also dries out the soil, can result in compaction, and breaks up the soil aggregates, encouraging erosion. The only tillage needed in a deep mulch garden system is a hoe to loosen the soil in the row to be planted.
I am often asked what we do to “put the garden to bed in the fall”. My answer is, “We close the garden gate and walk away!”
Winter’s snow blanket has been thrown back and spring is waking up! The ground is warming up and we are ready for a little spring cleaning.
One of the cardinal rules of our deep mulch system is we never removed any of the old growth. It just adds more mulch. If you have a healthy system with healthy soil microbes, and a good ecological balance, there is no need to remove anything.
Our main task in preparing for a new growing season is to mow whatever is left standing after the winter snows did their worst. For this task we use a DR Field and Brush mower, which takes care of corn stalks and all! We mow both gardens, the flower beds, and the asparagus patch.
After that is done, the garden is ready! A day or two before a new row is to be planted, we move the mulch aside to ‘open’ the row to the sun’s warmth. Then when we are ready to plant, the only ‘tillage’ we employ is a hoe to work the ground to plant.
That’s it! The mulch is there to control weeds, keep the sun’s rays from baking the soil, conserve the moisture, and feed the earthworms and soil microbes, as they wake up to help us begin the cycle anew!