When we first moved out to "The Woods of Dorr", as I like to call it, we knew we were going to cultivate the land as much as we could and create our own little homestead. I had dreams of chickens, pigs, goats, a huge garden, and orchard and more!
The problem: I didn't have a whole lot of experience with gardening. So, some good friends of ours mentored us through a process they had been learning about and using called "Deep Mulch Gardening", which derived from "The Ruth Stout No Work Garden Book". If you take some time to google her name, there is an adorable YouTube video of her in her garden, haphazardly sprinkling seed potatoes in her mulched garden. It's quite entertaining.
We liked the sound of it, mainly because it offered a no till, and LOW weed option- and with 4 kids, weeding is not high on the agenda.
So, we prepared our garden space. When we first moved in, there was an "upper garden" space next to the house. It was filled with about 10 inches of red wood chips and 2 bushes.
Here's a view of that upper garden from our upstairs window. See that trailer full of mulch? That was one of around 6 trailer fulls that I pulled out of that garden. By myself. All. By. My. Self. Sure the kids were "helping", which meant that I had to pick up all the mulch that they DIDN'T get into the trailer. ANYWAY.....
And here is the lower garden that we added (had to till up the sod first and then created our rows as you can see).
How Do You Start With Deep Mulch?
1. We started in the late spring/beginning of summer because that's when we moved in. We had to till our soil because it was compacted so hard. Note: this is the only time you will have to till, the "no till method" does not apply to your first soil preparation, but once you start layering your deep mulch, you never till again.
2. Next we created our rows. We made our rows 4 feet wide the first year so that we could plant on each side of the row. We discovered, however, that it was difficult to reach to the middle of the row, and it is not recommended to step on the mounds, so this made things difficult. This year, our rows are 3 feet wide and we still plan on planting on both sides of the row. Make your rows as long as your garden space allows and have at least 2 feet spacing between each row.
3. Mulch away! There are many schools of thought out there about what mulch is best. To each his own. We use mostly hay because farmers sell it cheap when they need to get rid of their older, sometimes moldy bales. Perfect! Now, it is recommended that you layer the mulch at LEAST 8 inches deep, if not more. This layer is what keeps the weeds down and the moisture in. It is very important that it's thick enough. How much hay you will need, depends on your garden space.
We have also used grass clippings, leaves, and even cherry pit ashes from our pellet stove, as mulch in our garden. Pile it on, good and thick.
4. Next: Plant away! Pull the mulch back a little where you plan to put your seeds and seedlings. Leave it pulled back until the seeds sprout and then pull the mulch around it as it grows. Once the seedling is higher than the mulch, your only job is to occasionally water the garden. Because you have such a thick layer of mulch, this holds the moisture in very well and allows for less watering. It also keeps the weeds down, which is my favorite part of all. If one pops up here or there, just pull it out throw it on the mound and cover it with mulch- it will now become more mulch (insert evil laugh here).
5. At the end of the season, we pull up all the remains of the plants and put a fresh cover of hay over the mounds. We also end up layering fall leaves on top and cherry pit ashes as mentioned previously. You do NOT till in the hay at the end of the season, you just add more on top. It will decompose over the winter and be ready to plant in the spring. If in the spring you feel like it decomposed quite a bit, you can always add more mulch. Keep a bale or 2 of hay handy so that you can add more mulch to weedy areas as needed.
In the picture above, you can see the lower garden right after I harvested our carrots. See how the upper garden has all that grass and weeds? That's because we did not follow the 8" rule for deep mulch. It's very important to be sure to layer your mulch thick enough so that it does the job of keeping the weeds down.
The fruits of our labor! Our garden grew very well using the Deep Mulch Method of gardening. We found that we were watering less, weeding less, and enjoying our garden more!
Can't wait to get started on this year's garden! Here's a sneak peek at what we will be growing in our backyard this year:
If you implement this type of gardening yourself, I would love it if you would leave a picture of your garden in the comments. Thank you!