Deep Mulching and Compost

It’s that time! I’m already thinking about next spring and all the things I have to get done and prepared for our garden next year.

The idea of preparing a garden large enough for my family to live off the land for an entire year is beyond a little daunting. But over the last 3 years, my husband and I have been learning, and experimenting, and building our skill sets so that when the time came for us to have our own self-sustaining garden, we would be ready.

There has been a resurgence in the last 5 years or so of the “Back to Eden” style of gardening, and lasagna gardening. The general idea is to amend the soil without disturbing it (I.e. tilling, artificial chemical fertilizers, etc.) We experimented with a small 3×6 plot for our tomatoes at our old rental house. 

Our first step was compost collection and creation. Good compost is rich in nitrogen, one of the most vital parts of good garden soil. Nitrogen deficiency results in yellowed leaves, stunted growth, and wimpy produce.Too much nitrogen, however, can cause your plants to burn up. It’s important to get the right ratio of nitrogen in your compost. The magic ratio I discovered was about 3 parts carbon (leaves, wood ash, newspaper) to 5 parts nitrogen (fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, grass clippings, manure)

I dug a compost pit and started dumping all my compost materials in. I stirred the compost to aerate it about once every couple months.

While the compost was maturing, I also collected what we affectionately refer to as “Maggie stuff” made up of all miss Maggie’s used paper bedding, hay, and poop. This stuff is magical. I actually have garbage bags of it in storage until I can haul it out to the new house.

The idea behind Back to Eden gardening is ground cover/deep mulch. Using what resources are naturally available like hay, leaves, grasses, wood chips, mulch, etc., you lay down a cover over your desired garden location. The layer (between 3-6″ thick) protects the topsoil, and adds nutrients to the earth as it gradually decomposes.

First, I layed down a layer of newspaper, about 3 sheets thick, to kill the grass and weeds and prevent future weeds. Because I was short on time, I layed down 4 bags of garden soil, and then added 2 13-gallon garbage bags of Maggie stuff on top and I watered the layers as I layed it down. Water initiates the composting/decomposing process.

Then, I let it sit (uncovered) for 3 months. Ideally, it’s best to lay your cover in the fall so it can break down all winter and be ready for planting in the spring. After just 3 months though, I went from compacted clay soil to rich loose soil, just by covering what was there. My total added layering was 4″, but after 3 months, I had a full 6+” of usable soil. Then I was able to transplant my tomato seedlings successfully, and pushed the cover back around them. I only watered the plot about 4-5 times, in spite of this summer being one of the driest in several years.

Overall, in my experience, deep mulching was super low maintenance, didn’t require fertilization (aside from the compost I sprinkled around the base of the plants when I transplanted them, no intricate irrigation, and my plants were so large, they required almost daily thinning of leaves.

It’s that knowledge I will take back to our new homestead.

Now, I just have to figure out exactly how big we are going to grow and get the cover down to start maturing over the fall and winter for spring planting.

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