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8 forms of capital active hope agroecology agroforestry alder buckthorn Amazon anxiety apples arthritis back yard beans Bec Hellouin beech tree bees beneficial berries biochar biodigester biodiversity blackberries blackthorn book review brain brassica cage budget build building campesino capital card deck Celtic festivals change changes chemical-free chickens christmas circular clay pot cleansers cleansing milks climate change climate emergency climate grief climate solutions climbers climbing cob comfrey community compost compost teas connection consciousness conservation container cooking coppice coppicing cordial cosmology courgettes crafts crisis crop protection Cross Quarter Festival cultural emergence culture cut flowers cycles degraded design diary diversity DIY do it yourself dryland earth care Earth's energy ecoculture economics ecopoetry ecosystem ecosystem restoration camps ecosystems edges edible edible flowers education efficiency elder elderflowers elements elixir energy equinox ethics face mask fair shares Fairtrade farming feedback feminine ferns figs film firewood floristry flower essence flower garden flowers food food forest food garden footbath forage foraging forest garden forest gardening forests fruit fruit leather fruit trees fungi future future care gardening garlic gift economy gin Give Nature a voice Glennie Kindred global poverty glut grapes greenhouse grief groundcover grow grow food grow your own growing guilds habitat habits handcream harvest harvests hawthorn hazel hazelnut healing shrubs healing trees health healthy soil heart health hedgerow hedging herbal herbal remedies herbal teas herbalist herbs holistic holistic planned grazing home homeless homemade wine homestead hope Hugelkultur humanure hummus hungry gap IBC tanks Imbolc incense increase yields Indigenous inexpensive influence inspiration International Womens Day jam keyline kitchen garden lacto-fermentation Lammas land landscape landscapes life lifestyle limeflowers livelihood livestock living labs logs Looby Macnamara lotion low cost low-impact Lush Spring Prize macerations Manda Scott Mangwende Orphan Care Trust market garden market gardening marmalade marshmallow mass heater meadowsweet medicinal microbes microfarm Midwest Permaculture mimic mindset mitigation money Morag Gamble moringa Mother Earth mulch multifunctional mushrooms native plants natural natural building natural fertiliser natural skincare natural swimming pool nature nature connection nitrogen no dig no waste no-dig novel November nutrition nuts observe oca October off-grid oil cleansing orchard orchards organic organic flowers organic gardening outdoor shower oven oxymel oyster pallets pasture-fed patterns people people care peoplecare perennials permaculture permaculture design permaculture magazine award permaculutre permayouth pesto pests philippines pine tree pips pizza oven plant profile plants pollinators pollution polyculture polycultures preserving principles propagating protection pruning prunings psycho-spiritual awareness psychospiritual transformation rainforest rainwater raspberries recipe recipes reduce reed beds regeneration regenerative regenerative agriculture relative location relative matter remedy renewable renewable energy resources restoration reuse revolution rhythms rootstock rootstocks roundhouse roundwood runner beans sage salad salads salve Samhain schools Scotland scotts pine seasonal seasons seeds selfcare Sepp Holzer september septic tanks sewage treatment shade shamanism sheet mulching shrubs skincare sloes slugs small solutions small-scale smallholding social justice soil health solar solutions sowing spiritual spring squash stacking functions stock-free straw straw bale summer sustainable Sweet Bay syntropic systems temperate terraces thistles thrutopia timber timber framing tincture tonic toolkit tools transformation trees upcycle urban urban gardening veg garden vegan veganic vermicomposting vinegar walnuts waste water water cleansing watering weeds wellbeing wetland wild edges wild food wild garlic wildflower wildlife wine recipes wings winter winter greens winter salads wood stove woodburner woodland woodland management woodlands worms yarrow year round year-round food yield young people youth zai pits zone 00 zoning

Topics

8 forms of capital active hope agroecology agroforestry alder buckthorn Amazon anxiety apples arthritis back yard beans Bec Hellouin beech tree bees beneficial berries biochar biodigester biodiversity blackberries blackthorn book review brain brassica cage budget build building campesino capital card deck Celtic festivals change changes chemical-free chickens christmas circular clay pot cleansers cleansing milks climate change climate emergency climate grief climate solutions climbers climbing cob comfrey community compost compost teas connection consciousness conservation container cooking coppice coppicing cordial cosmology courgettes crafts crisis crop protection Cross Quarter Festival cultural emergence culture cut flowers cycles degraded design diary diversity DIY do it yourself dryland earth care Earth's energy ecoculture economics ecopoetry ecosystem ecosystem restoration camps ecosystems edges edible edible flowers education efficiency elder elderflowers elements elixir energy equinox ethics face mask fair shares Fairtrade farming feedback feminine ferns figs film firewood floristry flower essence flower garden flowers food food forest food garden footbath forage foraging forest garden forest gardening forests fruit fruit leather fruit trees fungi future future care gardening garlic gift economy gin Give Nature a voice Glennie Kindred global poverty glut grapes greenhouse grief groundcover grow grow food grow your own growing guilds habitat habits handcream harvest harvests hawthorn hazel hazelnut healing shrubs healing trees health healthy soil heart health hedgerow hedging herbal herbal remedies herbal teas herbalist herbs holistic holistic planned grazing home homeless homemade wine homestead hope Hugelkultur humanure hummus hungry gap IBC tanks Imbolc incense increase yields Indigenous inexpensive influence inspiration International Womens Day jam keyline kitchen garden lacto-fermentation Lammas land landscape landscapes life lifestyle limeflowers livelihood livestock living labs logs Looby Macnamara lotion low cost low-impact Lush Spring Prize macerations Manda Scott Mangwende Orphan Care Trust market garden market gardening marmalade marshmallow mass heater meadowsweet medicinal microbes microfarm Midwest Permaculture mimic mindset mitigation money Morag Gamble moringa Mother Earth mulch multifunctional mushrooms native plants natural natural building natural fertiliser natural skincare natural swimming pool nature nature connection nitrogen no dig no waste no-dig novel November nutrition nuts observe oca October off-grid oil cleansing orchard orchards organic organic flowers organic gardening outdoor shower oven oxymel oyster pallets pasture-fed patterns people people care peoplecare perennials permaculture permaculture design permaculture magazine award permaculutre permayouth pesto pests philippines pine tree pips pizza oven plant profile plants pollinators pollution polyculture polycultures preserving principles propagating protection pruning prunings psycho-spiritual awareness psychospiritual transformation rainforest rainwater raspberries recipe recipes reduce reed beds regeneration regenerative regenerative agriculture relative location relative matter remedy renewable renewable energy resources restoration reuse revolution rhythms rootstock rootstocks roundhouse roundwood runner beans sage salad salads salve Samhain schools Scotland scotts pine seasonal seasons seeds selfcare Sepp Holzer september septic tanks sewage treatment shade shamanism sheet mulching shrubs skincare sloes slugs small solutions small-scale smallholding social justice soil health solar solutions sowing spiritual spring squash stacking functions stock-free straw straw bale summer sustainable Sweet Bay syntropic systems temperate terraces thistles thrutopia timber timber framing tincture tonic toolkit tools transformation trees upcycle urban urban gardening veg garden vegan veganic vermicomposting vinegar walnuts waste water water cleansing watering weeds wellbeing wetland wild edges wild food wild garlic wildflower wildlife wine recipes wings winter winter greens winter salads wood stove woodburner woodland woodland management woodlands worms yarrow year round year-round food yield young people youth zai pits zone 00 zoning

How to Grow Your Own Mulch

Paul Alfrey from the Balkan Ecology Project shares how he grows and uses his own mulches to keep down weeds and feed the soil.

Growing my own mulch has long been a goal of mine. We use a lot of mulch in the nursery and garden and at the moment I have no problem sourcing straw but if/when the day comes that the farmers start using their own straw to improve their soil (which is becoming a more common practice), I’ll be needing to step up my mulch growing efforts. Currently, I grow enough mulch to sustain my perennial beds and around 10% of my annual beds but rely on imported straw for mulching the other 90% of annual vegetable and nursery beds.

What makes a good mulch plant?

My ideal mulch plant grows fast, is drought tolerant, competes minimally with crop plants, does not contain seed that easily spreads, is easy to handle and cut, i.e. not thorny/prickly or tough and fibrous, and can biodegrade relatively quickly (thereby returning the nutrients back to soil).

I’ve broadly categorized the main sources of mulch we produce in our 1500m2 garden.

Aquatic plants
I grow emergent wetland species such us cattails (Typha spp), sedges (Carex spp.) and rushes (Juncus spp.) on the banks of a small pond (6m x 3m), and within a grey water reed bed (1m x 6m). The pond also provides suitable habitat for hornworts (Ceratophyllum spp). a submerged rootless perennial that gathers on the surface en masse. This plant makes an excellent mulch being rich in nitrogen, growing very fast and is easy to position around the base of plants. The emergent species provide a good thick carbon rich mulch that helps to reduce evaporation on the terrestrial beds and I cut these back in the spring in case they are used for overwintering invertebrates. Aquatic plants are an excellent source of mulch as there are no issues with seed germinating amongst your land based crops.

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Tap rooted perennial / biennials
Deep rooted perennial plants tend to produce a good amount of biomass, are generally drought tolerant and do not compete strongly with our crop plants. I have found native biennial weeds such as greater burdock (Arctium lappa), a very useful mulch plant with the gigantic leaves growing back very fast after a cut. Lesser burdock (Arctium minus), is also useful albeit to lesser extent. Although biennial, if you cut back these plants before flowering you can prolong their life, harvesting good quantities of seed free biomass. I do eventually allow some of the plants to flower and they are much loved by bees among other insects.

Comfrey (Symphytum x uplandicum), ‘bocking 14’, is a classic example of a deep rooted mulch plant. We have the plant scattered throughout the garden and planted in dedicated patches. The plants do require irrigation however and will only provide good leaf yields if grown on fertile soil. Peeing on the plants is recommended.

Jerusalem artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus), provide a great source of biomass. For a good tuber harvest it’s best to wait until the end of the season before harvesting the mulch. We can never consume as much as we produce of these tubers in the kitchen. I have found them to be much appreciated by our pigs and an excellent source of fresh winter food for our rabbits.

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Leaves of greater burdock (Arctium lappa)

Nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs 
These plants take a while to establish but make an excellent contribution. I’ve had good results from coppicing empress tree (Paulownia tomentosa), when they are 3-years-old and chop and dropping the soft new growth three or four times a year. I am expecting to also see good results from grey alder (Alnus incana) and Italian alder (Alnus cordata). I avoid using thorny nitrogen fixing trees and shrubs for this purpose. Annual trimming of shrubs such as autumn olive – Elaeagnus umbellata and broom – Cytisus scoparius also provides good quantities of mulch.

Click here for more info on nitrogen fixing plants.

Lawn and ground cover
One of my favourite sources of mulch is lawn trimmings. They are great for mulching potted plants or applying a mulch into tight spots. Mixed species lawns will contain a more diverse mix of mineral nutrients. Lawns including a legume such as white clover (Trifolim repens), can provide a nitrogen rich mulch. It’s a good idea to leave some of the trimmings behind to keep the lawn healthy.

Autumn leaf fall and herbaceous stem residue
The annual shedding of leaves from trees and shrubs in our garden make a great contribution to our mulch capital. Leaves can be cleared from paths, lawns and wildflower beds (as they will disrupt the growth in these areas) and concentrated where they are of benefit such as the base of high demanding fruiting shrubs such as blackcurrants or blackberries.

Herbaceous perennials such as lemon balm (Mellisa officinalis) and mints (Mentha spp). will provide dead stems annually. It’s always a good idea to leave hollow stems of some herbaceous perennials to remain for the winter as they are utilized by invertebrates for egg laying and hibernating. If the plant does not have a hollow stem it can be cut back and used for mulch. Fennel (Foeniculm vulgare), provides large quantities of biomass and as far as I can tell the stems are not utilised by any organism over the winter. In the vegetable garden all the remnants of my crops after harvesting go straight back to the surface for recycling.

Foeniculum%20vulgare.jpg

Foeniculum vulgare and other herbaceous perennials

Tree prunings
Woody prunings from shrubs, trees and vines cut into small pieces (5-10cm) make good mulch in the mature areas of the forest garden with well established fungal soils specializing in breaking down the lignified woody material.

Living mulches 
In the more mature areas of the garden where the trees have established (5yrs and older) I have dispensed with mulch all together in favour of ground cover plants that can be considered living mulches. Some the most successful perennial living mulches I have found that form good dense cover in the shade include bugle (Ajuga reptans), spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum), Caucasian stonecrop (Sedem spurium), perwinkle (Vinca major) and betony (Stachys officinalis).

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Lamium maculatum spreading well under a mullbery (Morus alba)

Scaling up mulch production
In order to grow enough mulch to provide a water retaining, weed excluding barrier for my annual and nursery beds I would certainly need more space. A larger wetland area would be ideal, with aquatic species growing very fast and the seed bearing parts of the plants being non problematic to use on terrestrial beds. If you don’t have a reliable aquatic habitat, the next best option for growing quantities of mulch without irrigation and fertilization is probably grass.

During my next post I’ll be sharing a plan where using the lessons garnered from small scale systems, we’ll be growing mulch to support approx 670 fruit trees and 1360 soft fruit shrubs on a 5ha Agroforestry Project (design layout below).

Originally appeared at http://balkanecologyproject.blogspot.com/2015/03/growing-mulch.html

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Further Resources

Books

A Food Forest in your Garden
by Alan Carter

Articles

Sheet Mulching in 9 Easy Steps

Growing Mulch For a Farm

About the Author

Paul runs the Balkan Ecology Project in Bulgaria with his wife Sophie Roberts and their two boys Dylan and Archie.