Monday, June 22, 2015

BUILDING A GARDEN BED: HOW MULCH DOES IT TAKE?

After the trials and errors of last years growing season I knew I had to make a change. I spent far too much time weeding and not nearly enough harvesting. I needed to find a natural way to combat weeds and the intense drought we experience at times. I wanted less maintenance! In order to spend my time better, not weeding all day, playing with my kiddo or planting those continuing crops. 

My whole world changed when I finally   listened to someone about mulching. That someone, a Mrs. Jill Winger changed my mind about pristine clean beds forever. When I read an ebook of hers expressing the secrets to winning my war with weeds... Btw y'all should ALL read that little book. 

If y'all are anything like me, there are a million and one things you would much rather be doing than weeding... 

Granted weeding is therapeutic in my mind.... 

What relieves more stress than taking the lives of overgrown and sometimes pointless plants...? Hey, sometimes destruction can be fun.. And lately thanks to those weeds many of my farm animals are eating all natural fresh greens daily. 

Due to the many resources available to help us beginner high desert gardeners I have decided that this year is dedicated to MULCH! Oh yeah baby my beds are covered in last years dead organic matter and all sorts of hay and straw... anything I can find to protect the ground. That is what its about after all... protecting the ground in order to grow amazing soil and harvest bountiful food. 

To find success in homestead gardening I have learned the hard way that the key is in the soil. Start whatever heirloom organic (yada yada) seeds that you want.. If you haven't invested in your soil, you are in for one disappointing harvest..

Trust me from my mistakes!

Unless you come from some voodoo magical place with perfect dirt, hours of work will need to be done to prepare your top soil. This is especially apparent where I live. Bend is....

Dry... Harsh... Fickle.... Central Oregon....

 A common rule of thumb for my region.... If you don't like the weather wait 15 minutes. In other words the whether can turn on a dime... at times with a vengeance!

I have completely changed my idea of gardening. I'm mulching my beds (avoiding my normal OCD clean garden needs), allowing useful weeds to invade (only in areas I allow), and I'm even debating letting my ducks in the garden (once the plants are established and properly netted/secured for their safety)...an extended post on this to come!

Bottom line, mulching is the bees knees of gardening and its so simple.. And such a natural way to combat weeds and bugs!!!

How mulch does it take you ask? Hardly anything! 


I simply pulled up weeds and whatever left over garden greens that had hardened off and left them to die and dry over the top of the beds all winter. Do not clean your beds completely! You don't want to leave your beds open to the elements, this will dry out and deplete the nutrients and integrity of your soil, especially if you've brought in special soil. Instead plant a cover crop, cover with compost/straw, or as I said pull all your weeds and use this as your mulch. 

Adding compost and manure to your beds through out winter is a very good idea. Although adding these in the spring is also fine. You can simply remove your top layer of mulch, add compost or manure, then replace the mulch. When it comes time for planting all you need to do is pull back the straw and plant your seeds directly into the soil. Once established and a couple inches tall you can bring the mulch back in lightly around the base even up to the plants stalk. 

Take this broccoli for example. 



Mulching will help to regulate soil temperature and moisture. In our dry and windy climate these two things are dire to almost any vegetable or fruiting plants. Wanna try another all natural mulching idea? 

Enter the Three Sisters Garden (3SG). Using plants to help other plants, what can be better? This Native American idea takes companion planting to a whole new level..

Corn. Beans. Squash.

Corn eats nitrogen, beans replace nitrogen.

Corn provides a trellis for the beans which help to further stronghold the corn. 

Squash needs minimal shade, the beans and corn provide this.

The squash acts as a natural mulch, covering the roots and bases of the corn and beans to retain moisture. 

These three plants accompany and assist each other in their grow cycle. Simply plant corn after danger of frost. Once they are about 3-5 inches tall plant the beans. 



If you live in a high desert climate like myself I strongly suggest not wasting your time starting corn indoors unless you have a fan on them 24 hours a day. If corn isn't planted outside and taught to withstand our elements, namely the high winds and temp drops of the HD, then you can forget about it....

Once the beans are sprouted and established, about two weeks, you can then plant the squash. There is pattern after pattern on the internet depicting how best to plant these gardens. We chose to plant our corn in a circle, spaced accordingly. The beans are then planted 1:1 in a larger circle outside the corn circle, spaced a few inches from each corn stalk. Then two squashes will be planted in the center. 

There you have it. I'm a little behind schedule bit the beans should be sorouting anyway now! 

Have fun mulching! And harvesting not weeding...

Cheers folks. 

Q