20141110_091933

Kitchen Garden beds awaiting heavy mulch treatment – note beginnings of in-bed composting in front

Winter is really coming now.  So they say. Tonight they predict a hard freeze for Maryland, so the last potted plants have all come in from the patio and I need to think about heavy mulch if I want to hang onto the lettuce and spinach bed, support the broccoli and cabbage, and keep the carrots…

I can never think of the carrots without digressing into daydreams for the deep bed I plan to build for next year’s carrots.  People can joke about “dancing carrots” (Google it for yourself) but the fact is, if you plant a carrot seed you want to get as much carrot out of it as you can.  Twisted carrots are hard to clean, even if they are cute.  I’m a practical girl – so I’m building a smaller box to set on top of my raised bed to make a deeeep carrot bed.  Or two.  I plan to fill it with sand, leaf pro, our compost and then add some garden soil, hoping that those carrots will grow long, fat, and straight!  (My Maryland soil is prone to be clay – full of nutrition, if the poor little roots can ever break their way through it. We lighten it with compost and sand and lately “leaf pro” which is just composted leaves from the local nursery.  We don’t use peat moss anymore, we go local.)

But back to mulch – I mentioned a few posts back that I was reading Ruth Strout’s old book about mulch.  (How to Have a Green Thumb without an Aching Back, 1965?)  Her philosophy has had a real impact on my thinking.  I am going to try heavy use of mulch, and putting the vegetable waste right into the garden beds with the manure from the chickens and leaf pro under heavy straw.  Ruth writes about using “hay” and I have no idea why.  Hay has a lot of seeds – and straw is readily available.  Since her whole point is to make gardening easy, I will be using straw and leaves and leaf pro. Anyway, she built an incredible soil out of her rocky New England landscape by mulching and mulching in this way, and never removing it – against all garden wisdom to the contrary.

We have always mulched and then removed old straw after a growing season to the compost pile, thinking this was necessary to break cycle of fungus growing there.  Strout says, why do all that work?  Just add more on and let Mother Nature break it all down into lighter and lighter soil. Compost right where you are growing and save the work of turning it and hauling it back.  Keep mulching heavily though, because the nicer your soil is, the more the weeds will love it too.

Sounds really good.  As I age I need to find ways to make gardening easier on my back. But the real selling point was when she wrote about her results with heavy mulching, after her previous decade of very hard work and indifferent yields, that got me.  She describes carrots big enough to feed five people…mmm…I am fired up to try it.