18 July 2008

Mulching for garden productivity


At this time of the year our Angora goats like to sleep outside. The kids are big enough now for us not to have to worry about foxes and they sleep at the top of the hill near to the house so we can hear them bleating if there's a problem.

We take this opportunity to clear out the goatshed which is an open airy space with a metre deep litter of straw, hay, goat and chicken droppings and goat's hair. It's a lovely dry clean bed for our Angora goats, it smells sweet and sitting in there on a cold winter's evening feeling the heat on your bottom is very pleasant .

The shed is at the top of the hill where we have our main vegetable garden and we collect all the water which comes off the roof. We have two hoses connected our water containers and the water flows by gravity in the classic permaculture way down almost to the chickens shed which is at the bottom of the garden. The chicken shed roof has it's own water barrels and they're just high enough to water the new part of the vegetable plot at the back of the shed and all the planting around it. We use that water for cleaning and filling the containers for our chickens and the plants around the area love the regular watering and all the compost around the shed. This photo shows the shed, then the slope up to the tent frame which I use as a cage to keep the chickens away from things I really want to protect.


After I've planted the summer vegetables I use some of the goat's bedding as a mulch. I know that normally you shouldn't use animal bedding near plants but it's clean and dry enough not to have problems with the mulch rotting the plants. I know too that people say not to use hay because it's full of seeds, but if you have plenty of material, you can just keep adding more and more mulch and the weeds don't stand a chance. I use sticks to protect the newly planted things from chickens and when I (or the chickens!) spread the mulch, the sticks keep it away from the base of the plants.

We empty the shed with a pitchfork and the chickens start straight away scratching though the bedding and the shed for insects. They spend about two weeks doing a fine job of clearing the inside of the wooden structure which helps it to dry out and last longer and they also scratch and clean around the shed making a superb compost which I use for potting up plants and cuttings. Fortunately, they're too busy up at the shed to spend much time disturbing my newly planted summer vegetables.

I barrow the material down to the garden and mulch around all my plants, tucking in the mulch around the established shrubs and perennials to smother weeds and between the newly planted vegetables to retain the water in the soil and cut down the need for watering.

I couldn't grow what I grow in such a small space if it weren't for mulching. Our garden is on a very poor sandy soil on a south-facing slope. We've terraced it with raised beds to contain the soil and the regular mulches helps stop the soil and it nutrients being washed downwards.

The mulches also stop the soil compacting and promote the development of micro-organisms, encourage earthworms and help keep the soil warmer at the start of the growing season and cooler in the really hot few weeks when the plants need as much water as they can get to swell up and provide us with food.

Plants that are mulched grow a strong network of roots to search for food and water and they rely less on human intervention for their survival. They hold themselves up well and the lower leaves are less likely to be lost through soil-borne diseases and splashing after heavy rains.

The constant temperature and humidity means that the fruits rarely split and we have very few cases of blossom end rot. If long-release mulches such as wood chips are used before winter, then lighter materials are used in the spring, the results can be superb and by adding more and more mulch over a period of years, the resulting earth is dark, crumbly, easy to work with without digging and very productive without the addition of any fertilisers or bought-in compost. When I'm making a new bed from scratch I often incorporate logs of rotten wood , branches, leaves, wool - in fact anything which retains water like a sponge and attracts the numerous insects and worms who help the organic material to decompose. By doing this, then adding a good cover of grass clippings, litter from the goat shed and earth the beds are a wonderful mixture of nutriments. 

The preparation takes time and a bit of lifting and carrying but a well-prepared growing surface will retain its goodness for a very long time and I need to do lees weeding and very little watering thanks to all the water retained in the beds by the logs and branches.

11 comments:

Cheryl said...

Excellent post, thank you.
I am smitten with your lovely shed!

Eco-Gites of Lenault said...

I must collect some sticks to protect my seedlings - the chooks ate the last lot although a few seem to have survivied the attack.

Robbyn said...

I'm learning so much from your posts...I love hearing about how you care for your garden, animals, and home!

ipod battery said...

Your posts always guide me to maintain may garden .Thanks for this lovely post.

Don said...

Beautiful place you have there! You are inspirational. I need to learn more about getting off the grid.

La Ferme de Sourrou said...

Thanks Cheryl, I love the shed and the chickens do too!

Eco-gites, our chickens only eat the lettuce and cabbages. I'd say that it's fine to have truly free-range chickens only when you have really big garden then they can pick and choose other things and leave your seedings alone!

Robbyn & ipod, thanks for your comments ! :-)

Don, getting off the grid isn't difficult - you just have to adjust your consumption of electricity and start small then grow your system when you've learned a bit more and have a bit more cash to invest.

La Ferme de Sourrou said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mousie/Paisible said...

always so nice and interesting to read you dear ! keep you in my thoughts though i don't visit very often...

La Ferme de Sourrou said...

Nice to hear from you Mousie !

Kris said...

What une belle ferme you have! I found my way here from downsizer.net and am so inspired.

I've got a ready source of old hay, so I think I'll try mulching the beds once I've harvested them, to keep the winter weeds down.

Maria said...

Your photographs are unreal. They look like pages from a storybook. Just beautiful.

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