One thing we found out last year was that in growing on a larger scale we quickly got over run with weeds. It finally reached a point to where we should have been doing more planting, but keeping up with weeds was taking all our time. I do find pulling weeds kind of relaxing and even a little addicting. I don't know how many times I'd say to myself "ok, I'm going to quit after this bunch over here". Well then you see all those over there and 20 minutes later you're still weeding. However, when you are concerned about time management, eradicating weeds isn't exactly time best spent, especially when you need to be at a certain level of production by a certain time.
Now, I'm not a person who cares a whole lot about the looks of a garden. A few weeds here and there don't bother me very much. Some people are fanatics when it comes to weeds and become almost obsessed with eradicating them and then keeping them out. But, the way I see it really keeping them out is next to impossible. We have neighbors, an old couple, who always have nice flower gardens and a small vegetable plot. They attack weeds with an almost religious fervor and even they can't keep them out. No wonder the use of products like Roundup became so widely used. People resorted to chemical warfare in their battle against weeds and bugs. But, we won't go there, as I'm sure you know by now we prefer to use a more natural approach. Yet, when it gets to where you can hardly tell between the crops and the weeds something has to be done.
I've long been an advocate of using mulch for weed control after we discovered how well it works. And I think we started mulching our second or third season of gardening here. I've heard that slugs can be a problem living under mulch but, it doesn't seem to be a problem here. At least not yet anyway.
I personally prefer to use some kind of organic material as mulch. I like the idea that as it breaks down it is adding nutrients to the soil. Kind of multipurpose. The down side is it takes so much volume. The size gardens we had when we were just growing for ourselves was easy to mulch. Now that we are expanding our gardens we need to look at some alternatives.
At the class Kelli attended as mentioned in the past couple posts, the folks teaching the class related how they ran into the exact same obstacle as we did of trying to keep up with the weeds. So in addition to row covers they also use synthetic mulch. Click here for a few examples.
In the past we tried using black plastic as mulch. Since it was not porous, in order to keep the soil moist we watered from underneath with spray hoses. I can't think off hand what they call them. Soaker hose, maybe? It was black hose with a gazillion holes in it and water came out in a mist or little pin hole streams the whole length of it. Anyway, we didn't care for that approach. It wasn't easy telling how well the bed was watered. We had dry spots and drenched spots. I personally, just didn't like it.
One of the farms represented at the class uses biodegradable mulch which is made with cornstarch as a base. I have two issues with that. The first being that you are hooked on that cost every year. With the synthetic mulch it's a one time purchase and it lasts a long time. Secondly, I might just be crazy but, I wonder about the cornstarch. I'm developing a real aversion to commercially grown corn products. With all the freakish things they do to corn these days it just doesn't seem safe. We currently buy corn for all our birds and I don't want to be doing it but, right now we don't have much choice. I'd rather raise all our animal feed right here, so that is something we are aiming for eventually. That way we will know what's in it. But, our soil is another matter. We have great soil here and I don't want to do anything to poison our ground. In other words I'm concerned that if that corn based biodegradable mulch was produced with chemicals and or GMO's, what are the residual effects of that? If any. I don't know but, I don't think I want to take the chance.
On the other hand, are long lasting synthetic mulches any better? Again I don't know, I don't know the answer to that. I do know that organically certified farms are using it. At least with the fabric mulch you can roll it up and take it away. The biodegradable stuff is there forever. So I'd want to do some serious research before I'd consider using that. I did find a product called EcoCover a biodegradable paper mulch. They say that their product does not emit anything that is toxic and that they are organically certified. But, again even on this I'd want to do more research.
Right now, as I'm sure you can tell, I'm leaning towards trying out the synthetic mulch. From Johnny's Selected Seeds it's called "Solar Mulch" and is good for warm loving crops like melons, squash, pumpkins, cucumbers, and eggplants. Johnny's also has a mulch that is white on one side and black on the other. For cool weather crops you turn the white side up. Here's what they say about it: "Apply this mulch with the white side up to keep the soil cool, and the black side down to suppress weeds. Great for cold-loving crops such as brassicas and some flowers. Roll comes with the black side to the outside. "
To the right are a couple examples of heavily mulched beds. Every spring we have a pretty good load of wasted hay from the sheep. It makes really good mulch. Now, I know some folks would be squeamish about using hay of any kind in the garden. "But, what about all those weed seeds" they say. They would use straw but, not hay. To me I say what's the difference, weeds and weed seeds are going to find there way in there no matter what you do. For us, old hay works fine if you make it thick enough. We had very few weeds that came through either of these beds last year. The only thing is, I wish we had 20 dump truck loads of it. That's the down side to using organic material as mulch, you need tons and tons of it.
I forgot to mention that the synthetic mulch I want to try is porous so you don't have to irrigate from underneath. You can water from the top and rain will go through too, unlike the black plastic we tried that one year. That was another reason why I didn't like black plastic as mulch, you had to water whether it rained or not. In my book non-porous plastic as mulch is not feasible. Yuk, I just don't like it!
Well, I guess that's about all I was going to say about mulch. If I think of anything else I'll talk about it later.
Until Next Time