Mulching is a farming or gardening technique that involves covering the ground and planting into that soil cover or “mulch.” In a mulched garden or farm, you will rarely see any bare soil, and weeding and cultivating are kept to a minimum. Mulching serves many purposes. It is especially good at suppressing weeds. Without access to sunlight, a weed may sprout, but it will not grow. It needs light to fuel its photosynthesis processes. Another important advantage of mulching is the reduction of moisture loss due to evaporation at the soil surface. When the soil is covered, it is more difficult for sun and wind to dry it out. This preserves moisture and prevents crust formation. Mulch methods also tend to support a soil environment which is friendly to the biological life in the soil. With no soil disturbance and with constant access to moisture, the soil environment becomes much more friendly toward soil biological life. Soils that are regularly disturbed by weeding and cultivating generally have much less beneficial biology. It is now known that the biological life of the soil contributes substantially to the health and vigor of the plants.
What Materials Can You Use to Mulch?
There are many materials which can be used for mulch. While bags of colored bark chips may be favored in a landscape situation, there are many other possibilities in a farm or garden. These include:
• Plastic sheeting or other manmade mulch
• Straw or hay.
• Deep compost on the soil surface.
• Rolled down standing grass or legume crop. (Desired crops are planted into the crop that has been laid down.)
Potential Mulching Pitfalls
Mulched soil is slower to warm up in the spring. For that reason, some gardeners rake off the mulch to let the soil warm up before planting. Raking the soil bare, at least in planting areas, also allows for better seed-soil contact. Some mulch farmers find it easier to use plant starts, rather than seeds. After plants are well established, the mulch can be moved back.
Mulch provides habitat for small creatures such as slugs and mice. If such pests move into your garden or farm, you may need to trap them or invite their predators in for a treat!
In spite of these challenges, many gardeners swear that mulching allows them to enjoy greater productivity with less effort.
Why You Should Mulch Your Garden or Farm
Utilizing deep mulching with hay and straw and never disturbing the soil over seasons and years is an excellent method to preserve moisture, control weeds, and allow the soil biology under the mulch to regenerate itself. This preserved and renewed soil will support your crops and allow the full genetic potential of the plants to be realized.