Gardening on a budget 101 – Mulching
Step away from the screen
Go for a walk in the woods
Green living one step at a time
The expense of gardening
Gardening can be frustrating at times, especially when you’re just starting out and haven’t got time to improve your soil enough for your first year of growing, or you need something to protect your plants from extreme weather, but can’t afford to spend out on a ton of top soil, bags of organic compost or premium mulch.
It’s easy to make your own compost heap of course but it takes time, and when our experimental raised bed needed some padding we had to find an alternative quick.
Nature Provides for it's own
My raised bed had been drying out far too quickly to support the young purple sprouting broccoli, and the solution was to mulch the ground around the stems.
Mulching is natures own recycling bin and restaurant, leaves, fruit, nuts and branches fall to the ground and decay, adding nutrients to the soils and helping it to retain moisture. Which in turn reduces the amount of watering required. It’s a great way to suppress weeds, you know, those wild meadow plants that grow in the wrong place. Mulching also provides a good layer to protect plant roots in the winter months or from extreme heat. Exactly what my organic ‘No-Dig’ veg garden needed. But where to find all this lovely free mulch?
Where to find Free Mulch
First I thought about Landscapers. They tend to have industrial shredders on site, which produces loads of lovely wood chippings. I know that’s a good mulch because it’s sold at the garden centres. Although if I asked for a cheeky free bag or two (as I’m sure it’s probably collected to sell on), I’d need to know what kind of wood we’re dealing with. Some trees such as conifers produce quite acidic sticky sap which wouldn’t be great on a veg plot. I concluded that it’s probably best not to use fresh chippings of any kind, but wait until they’re properly dried out and beginning to rot down.
Foraging in the woods
Then I considered using some of the leaf mulch happily composting in the woods. Bags and bags of the stuff just laying around. My companion Coco the labradoodle was more than happy to search for suitable sticks and dig a few exploratory holes to test the quality of the leafy compost. Although when I got back I noticed that we had also transported a few insects with the leaf mulch. I wanted organic mulch to help the plants not an invasion of hungry bugs. Time not wasted though, apart from a lovely walk in the woods, the leaves were used in building the ‘Bug Hotel’. Somewhere more suited to my new garden inhabitants.
There had to be something. Some organic material I could trust to be free from pesticides, woodland bugs and particularly sticky acidic sap.
A moment of realisation
The days were getting hotter, and I had overlooked the grass getting longer, far too long for a lawn. As much as I’d love a wild meadow in my back garden I would also like a space to chill out in the sun with my family and friends. So out came the lawn mower.
Normally I wouldn’t hesitate in throwing the clippings on the compost heap, but today was different. My water-butt was empty and the ground was turning into dust, something needed to be done. It dawned on me that perhaps I could use the grass clippings as a mulch covering. After all, when I mow the lawn I don’t rake it through, I collect the bulk of the clippings and let the rest sink back in to the turf, it’s organic and rots down to feed soil beneath.
Social Media Gardening
Gardening can be something of a solitary pursuit, but I’ve found that social media groups are great for general advice on gardening tips and ‘How To’ stuff, as well as a place to share your own experience and help others. It’s a community of friends who share proud photos of their toil and are happy to encourage each others, providing a thumbs up and a virtual pat on the back for all your efforts in the garden or on the allotment.
So it’s here I turned to ask if I could use grass clippings as a mulch. Well, not everyone was convinced, some thought it could be magnet for slugs if kept damp, but the reassuring majority consensus was that if the clippings were dried and used thinly, about a quarter of an inch deep, it was good to go and full of nutrients to boot.
Free Organic Mulch Discoverd
Result. So here we are, free organic mulch and a ready supply, well, during the warmer months at least. I gathered the grass clippings, spread them out to dry and applied my free organic mulch to the purple sprouting broccoli. A note on mulching, it’s best not to pack the mulch against the base of the plant stems, it tends to soften and weaken them.
So with the help of a little research, an adventure or two, social media and a lawn mower, my plants have been given a little relief from the heatwave and a good feed, and my no-dig bed has a new layer helping to build it up for the next crop. I’ll have to let you know how it turns out with an update, fingers crossed there’ll be no slugs setting up camp.
For those balcony growers without a garden lawn to mow, there’s always the local park where I’m sure you’ll find a tuft of clippings or two.
Feel free to share your gardening tips and leave comments or advice on organic gardening in general in the comments box below. It would be great to hear from you.