This year, I verified the usefulness of advice received. Keep the soil covered! Shelter the soil with live plants and/or mulch. What a beautiful result you will discover if you follow this recommendation. As I put gardens to bed for winter, I’m leaning on mulch. A moist, dark, lively soil evolves under the decomposing protective layer of MULCH. As the strength and quality of soil life increases, the better it can take advantage of mulch.
I’m not very picky about the kind of mulch I’m using this fall. I feel that the more diverse the selection of material, the better. Here are a couple strategies that I’m using.
My garlic bed was, originally, mulched with a generous layer of comfrey leaves. They deteriorated very quickly and weren’t sufficient for good soil coverage. After planting the garlic, I added a thick blanket of straw. The bamboo is to give a little resistance to the tendency for my straw to walk across the street to my neighbor’s yard. He’s great and always sends it back!
I planted Russian Comfrey just this spring and it, already, has given so much! It grows enthusiastically to provide large supplies of biomass. It is a dynamic accumulator. It, also, produces flowers that the bees love. This cultivar does not self seed.
Let’s see what happens with this mass of cut nasturtiums. No doubt, their nitrogen-laden selves will rot into the earth. Good. And, no doubt, I will have another self-seeded hoppin’ bed of nasturtiums next year. The nasturtiums were so strong this fall that I was able to cover an entire 3′-ish x12′-ish bed with a chop and drop when the frost did them in. I plan to top it off with straw. The bed is along the sidewalk to the house. The straw will keep it looking tidier, will keep the nutrients locked in a little tighter, will balance the nitrogen with carbon, and will give better soil coverage.
Not just any ol’ pile of leaves. These are strawberry leaves! I thinned out the June-bearing strawberries, let them wilt down, and plastered the bed with their leaves. Like comfrey, strawberry plants are dynamic accumulators. They bring minerals and nutrients from deep down in the soil up into their leaves. As the leaves fall and decompose, they fertilize the soil.
Stinging nettles are also dynamic accumulators. I’ll let these wilt, cover the raised beds with the leaves, and put straw on top. Other dynamic accumulators that I’m, happily, composting and using as mulch are yarrow, tansy, dandelion, marigold, thistle, mint, parsley, and borage. There are others, too. Think twice before cursing your weeds!
This hodgepodge is the front garden bed by the porch. The dominant plant is the young “Regent” Juneberry that I put in this fall. Obviously, there is straw. There are, also, prunings from hyssop, creeping thyme, and stonecrop. I don’t see any harm in it.
Just another mess. Not! I had given my neighbor across the street some annual Mexican Sunflower seedlings this year. They enjoyed looking at mine the previous summer and wanted to grow some of their own. They bloomed beautifully all summer long but it was time to cut them down after the first couple of frosts. My neighbor was, diligently, cutting them up into small pieces for the township to pick up. I asked if I could take the material back as mulch. Nutrient cycling in action! He helped me tote the bags of the prunings to the back of our back yard. We spread it on the, nearly, bare ground where I will plant pawpaws next spring. I look forward to seeing this topped with a confection of fallen leaves in the next couple of weeks.
Of course, there are a lot of details, questions, concerns, wonderings, research, and science that I’ve not addressed. But, for now…
Prevent Erosion. Build Soil.