RegenAG Ibiza part 1 - Five Things you could use for mulch
Over the next few weeks, Hayley will be reporting from a Regenerative Agriculture course in Ibiza. Here's what she learned in her first lesson: mulching
There was Bruce and Eliza and Majid. Jess came along and Peachy too, some others dipped in and out over the course of 5 days, some flew, some walked, some hopped on a boat to get there. For a Regenerative Agriculture course taught by Darren J Doherty in Ibiza, the island that hovers between the louts and laddets on the lash in uber-clubs and stunning wilderness, organic slow food farms and ancient Ibicenco culture.
I wasn't sure what to expect. You tell people you are going to Ibiza and for those who haven't been there and some that have, they automatically assume the worst. "You wild child!" - I got that quite a lot. After stepping off the party plane, that first night, my prejudices flew out the window. Its reputation comes from a tiny pocket of the island and the rest of the 40km is pine forest and farmland freckled with UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Driving down a dirt track through pine forest I was struck by the first insanely beautiful view, for miles there was nothing but wilderness between us and the sea, mottled pink by the evening's sunset. Our hosts, Cat and Uri welcomed us with open arms, proud of their pretty little vegetable garden which we admired as we stepped down the steep hill to their house. Darren politely pointed out the first flaw, "The soil is not covered!!! You need mulch." If you leave soil exposed, this kills all of the beneficial mycorrhizal fungi (the tiny cotton thread like structure that you see when you repot plants) that protect the roots of your plants and all the valuable minerals get washed away but in a dry country, it also means that you lose a lot of moisture and therefore you have to use up more of your resources irrigating the place. In England, where it's mostly wet, mulching is more about stopping the weeds in their tracks. It just doesn't make sense not to mulch, so why is this not common knowledge? Needless to say, we were going to be hearing a lot about this over the next few days.
When I mentioned this to some friends upon my return to the UK, they said, "Oh that wont do, we've tried this before and it just creates a breeding ground for slugs." I know that Darren would suggest they had an escargot deficiency.
5 things you could use for mulch
- An old carpet
- Pumpkins, squashes and courgettes, these have huge, useful leaves!
(It's important that you don't use anything like hay that has seeds in it)
Hayley has a blog where she writes homegrown recipes and tasty tales: The Delectable Diary
Darren's website: http://www.permaculture.biz/
RegenAG website: http://regenag.com/web/
I don't think you can make a blanket generalisation about hay. It doesn't have to be "bad", though it does depend hugely on where you are: what plant species tend to grow in with the hay, what local farming practices are with regard to spraying herbicides, etc.
We got some hay by accident. It was mixed in with a load of straw we brought in for our raised beds. What grew from it was, naturally, more of the same grass species as comprised the hay, so we simply pulled the grass every time it sprouted and added it to the mulch. Additional effort, yes, but the trade-off is self-regenerating mulch!
The nicest surprise was the wildflower seeds which washed out of the hay in the beds and we now have with beds surrounded by a sea of chamomile and other wildflowers which are enormously attractive to beneficial insects. And OK, bindweed came too, but it's also attractive to beneficial insects and if cut regularly won't take over. It certainly wouldn't put me off using hay again.
Thanks for this article Hayley, it's beautifully written. Totally agree with you about peoples perception of the place, it's a stunning island and I cant wait to get back there! (a hen do in september, not quite the same haha)
A useful tip for finding things to mulch with - just go down to your local rubbish dump and see what things people are chucking out. We got a rug once and although it was too battered to keep in the house, it did dress up our raised beds rather nicely!
Hey Wendy. Isn't one of the points of mulching to prevent weeds coming through? I'm all for creating beneficial habitats for my insects and having a pretty meadow in my garden but that doesn't mean I'm going to deliberately plant weeds in my vegetable patch. I can do that in another area. Have you seen how long a bindweed roots can get? - I pulled one out that was a meter long the other day! Now that's been sucking up all the nutrients that I would rather my veg was being fed.
Thats right Hayley mulching in the med and anywhere more south is a different ball game, same stuff, different function.
If you are living in a rural mediteranean situation and you have dug a garden you will need a lot of mulch or you simply wont have a garden, at least not for long. Without mulch you may keep the plants going with large amounts of water but as the ground dries between waterings it will get hard as a brick. You can redig it but your soil structure will turn to dust and your garden will be well on the way to becoming a true desert.
If at this point you give up, just remember to cover it with hay so the weeds can once more kick in the long process of natural regeneration. Hay is plentiful and weeds or to be more correct 'pioneer plants' play an important part in the chain of revegetation in the long ago deforested areas of the mediteranean. But if you want a good garden you should seek out some proper mulch.
Check out the local olive press, they usualy have mountains of olive leaves and even if they are progressive enough to be using them for something they will probobaly let you have a truckload.
Another good source are local distilleries which use the wastes from the wine making process which after distilling into a raki like alcohol are a mix of cooked up grapeseeds and stalks, well on the way to breaking down into a wonderful mineral rich humus. Both these are best left a year but can be used imediately.
Alternatively if all you have is hay you you can compost it to kill off the weed seeds and it can be ready to use as a mulch in a couple of weeks as long as you have at least a cubic metre of it and some understanding of the composting process.
A good thick mulch will keep the soil open and aerated and many degrees cooler than in the open sun. Water useage can be reduced to modest levels and when the autumn rains come the ground will be ready to receive the water without damaging erosive effect. Just remember when mulching shrubs and trees to make sure to keep it a little away from the stems as with a wet winter and a good microbial rich mulch they will be vulnerable to crown-rot.
This is a good post thanks for sharing with me.
I think you will find that having uncovered soil will not "kill" mycorrizhal fungi..as these fungi only exist as spores until they are in contact with the root system of the plant they have a symbiotic relationship with. they dont as a rule spend time on the surface of the soil..for the above reasons. you probably mean standard soil fungi.. and yes they can be affected by exposed soil.. i hope this VAM theory wasnt some of the information you garnered from the course..as its really not true
Having relocated to Ibiza from Bristol to assist Peachy in growing a permaculture kitchen garden within her 10 acre site I can vouch for the different approaches required!
There is the most rich red soil in some places and a mass of limestone in others. Water and soil retention creates a greater problem than slugs!
Anyone with any Mediterranean climate growing advise - very gratefully received x