Traditional farming techniques have been used for centuries. These techniques began with primitive hoeing and moved on to the horse and plow. In modern times, the tractor and combine took over tilling the soil. But through research, we have begun to learn that this approach is not the best and in fact destroys the natural soil balance.
In the 1970’s, soil preparation began to move toward no-till techniques but while this was a movement forward it still did not improve the natural balance of the soil. The best outcome to this new approach was that it reduced soil erosion compared to the traditional tilling method.
Today, we know more about soil formation and how important it is to keep the soil structure intact. Soil, by nature, is a living, breathing organism that is made up of organic and inorganic materials. If this is hard to believe just take a look at the soil in a forest. This type of soil is full or worms, bugs, fungi, plant material in different stages of decomposition and different types of stones. The diversity and intactness of the soil is what makes it extremely fertile. While forest soils are nature made, the principles behind their construction are easily mimicked in the home garden.
To aid in the planting process, the mulch garden will need to be constructed in the fall and allowed to sit until the spring. The first step to this process is to gather the materials needed for this project. This includes a lawn mower, cardboard or newspaper, compost and/or manure and mulch. The mulch is very open-ended. It can consist of hay, straw, leaves, grass clippings, sawdust, woodchips or a combination of ingredients.
Once the materials have been gathered the process can begin. The first step is to mow the area down where you want the mulch garden. There is no reason to bag the material. These clippings will provide organic matter to the garden. The next step is to cover the area with cardboard or newspaper. If using cardboard, try to get the corrugated type. This type of cardboard is thick and is held together with a hide-based glue that beneficial soil bacteria love. If using newspaper, avoid the paper with a shiny finish and use five layers in place of cardboard.
After the cardboard has been laid, top it off with a thick layer of compost and/or manure. The final layer for the mulch garden is the trickiest. It consists of your choice of mulch. If you use only one type of mulch, you are setting up your mulch garden to be unbalanced in carbon and nitrogen. To prevent this unbalance from occurring, simply make it a rule to mix brown mulch with green mulch. An example of how this works begins with the use of brown leaves in the fall. These leaves are high in carbon and will need to be mixed with something green such as grass clippings. Once all the layers have been laid, the mulch garden should now be about 12-inches in height.
At this point, let your garden set all winter long. Some individuals with chickens allow their birds to peck around the newly formed mulch garden. These animals will eat any weed seeds, deposit manure, and mix the mulch. If you do not have chickens or do not have neighbors with a chicken tractor, you can still mulch garden successfully.
In the spring, the mulch garden will be ready to plant. While the garden can be planted into right after its construction, it is easier to get through the cardboard after it has sat through the moisture of the fall and winter months.
To plant into the mulch garden, simply move the mulch layer to the side and cut through the cardboard. If planting seeds, just cut a trench down through the cardboard and plant directly into the trench. Do not immediately place the mulch on top of the trench. The wall of mulch around the trench helps keep the area warm and speeds up the germination process. Cover the seeded area with the mulch, once the seeds have germinated.
If planting plants, the process is the same but instead of cutting a trench treat the cardboard like landscape cloth. This means that you simply cut an “X” in the cardboard and plant in the “X.” If mature plants are used, move the mulch back over the area. If seedlings are used, allow them to grow some before moving the mulch back to the area.
Once the mulch garden is planted, there is no need to water or apply a supplemental fertilizer. The created soil structure will keep the soil moist and productive.
After the gardening season is over, the only maintance that needs to be done is to add one and a half to three inches of new mulch. This process will need to be done every year as long as the mulch garden is used.
So this year, consider selling your tiller in exchange for a healthier soil and lifestyle. The planet and its resources will thank you.