Hard to believe it in this super-warm September, but autumn is upon us, and among other things that means it’s Mulching Time. The ‘other things’ for me this autumn include a lot of time spent filling and painting rotten woodwork on my conservatory, and more pleasantly, eating my home grown melons (brag brag) from the polytunnel. It took them until mid-Sept to ripen but I didn’t plant the seeds until April, which was a tad late. The amazing thing about them is that they taste just like melons! The seeds were Arava, an F1-hybrid Galia type melon, sweet and fragrant with that cracked/crazed skin. Next year I think I’ll try growing a variety more suited to seed-saving, as I’m becoming much more of a seed-saver than I used to be (more of that in a later post I expect).
Now, back to mulching. Having cleared the Marmande tomato bed in the polytunnel, I’ve been adding a roughly 2 inch layer of compost to the surface before planting out young salad plants (and sowing more as seed direct in the bed). Having only moved to this house a year ago, and being a slow compost maker, I don’t have any home-made compost available yet, apart from wormery compost which already went on the bed mid-season. So I’ve been over to Bisley Community Composting to try some of theirs, something I’d been meaning to do ever since Stroud wormery-and-compost-expert Fred Miller recommended it to me a few months ago.
You can see the green Bisley Community Compost bags in the picture above – who better to advertise than an inspiring local community composting scheme? Although only the residents of Bisley can drop their green garden waste off at the scheme, anyone can buy the compost (open every Saturday morning, easy to find on the left just before you reach Bisley when travelling from Stroud). Four bags for £10, or cheaper for bulk quantities. I tried 4 bags to start with, 3 of which went onto my polytunnel bed which is approximately 15 feet long by 2 feet wide. They sell their compost as a ‘soil improver’ rather than as a potting compost, and it looks like lovely stuff, adding lots of nutrients and organic matter to my polytunnel soil which is rather dry and dusty and ‘unimproved’ as yet. I’m looking forward to tasting the salads grown with the help of the community compost mulch, which will hopefully keep me well-vitamined all winter.
There are of course many ways to mulch. The general aim is to improve the soil with organic matter, add nutrients, suppress weeds, and shelter the soil from winter weather. Some other things you can mulch with are cardboard (preferably topped with) kitchen and garden waste (a sort of horizontal compost heap), fresh cut comfrey and leafy weeds, and/or just about anything which will rot down into the soil… woollen jumpers, paper, spent hops, hay or straw, partly composted woodchip… the list is probably endless. It’s a very good idea to mulch your beds in autumn, unless you’re sowing green manures in them.
If you don’t have compost or kitchen/garden waste to mulch with, and you don’t sow a green manure, then covering your beds with landscaping fabric also protects them from winter weather, suppresses weeds, and warms the soil in spring… but doesn’t add any nutrients or organic matter, so mulching is preferable if possible. Last year I mulched a big allotment bed just with the stalks of sweetcorn plants and masses of old pumpkin plants – making a ‘winter quilt’ several inches thick: by spring it had all rotted down beautifully.
PS. Some years ago I helped produce a website about community composting for the Open University – www.valuingcommunitycomposting.org.uk. It’s a great resource for anyone delving deeper into community composting, and has some lovely inspiring videos (I didn’t make the videos – wish I had!).