At this time of year, thoughts in the northern hemisphere turn to putting the garden to bed. If you are a winter gardener, it is time to bring out the cloches and the cold frames and help less-hardy crops through the growing cold. It’s also time to mulch.
What is Mulch?
Think of mulch as a blanket for your garden beds. Mulch can be made out of many things. It might be as simple as leaves spread over the garden bed, a piece of old natural carpeting, or as complex as a specific green manure cover crop.
Uses of Fall Mulch
Sometimes people use mulch in the garden to suffocate weeds. This is most common in the spring. In the fall, mulch is often part of a plan to keep the soil and plants in the garden thriving over the winter months. Mulch protects the soil and keeps it intact through rain and wind and snow. Mulch also creates a layer with air inside it, much like a sweater might do in the winter time. This means that the garden bed is a little warmer than it would be otherwise, and this is good for any less-hardy plants or winter vegetables.
Green Manure and Mulch
Green mulches or green manures are also a fall favorite. You can plant cover crops on bare areas of the garden to ensure that the garden beds are covered over the winter. Green mulch includes winter peas, a legume that moves nitrogen from the air into the soil. Fava beans are also an excellent leguminous fall manure. Plant them in August, September or even October in mild climates, and they will grow and move nitrogen into the soil. Come spring, they will continue to grow and will produce fava beans. Dig them into the soil and increase your soil fertility.
Comfrey can be a bit controversial, since it spreads easily through the garden. However, if you cut the leaves off comfrey and place it in a compost or into a garden bed, it also releases important minerals that enrich the soil. Buckwheat and fall rye are also popular green manures. These crops are often killed by the winter cold, but they stand in the garden and keep the soil intact, and you can dig them into the soil in the spring as extra fiber. They add air pockets to the garden soil.
Have you used mulch in the fall? Why do you mulch?
image credit by leighblackall