I’ve never used mulch before. In my mind it’s useful to a) keep out weeds and b) keep in water. That’s it. Since I’m okay with weeding, that wiped out half the motivation. The water retention angle is noteworthy, especially when it’s over 30 and sunny out there, but it came up against my unwavering personality trait of laziness. To me the downside of mulch is that when I want to replant (or re-seed) I have to get the mulch up first. Big hassle. So I’ve never mulched.
Imagine the lightbulb going off in my head when Better Homes and Gardens ran a segment on saving money with a backyard garden. As was expected, vegetable seedlings featured on the show as did compost, watering, using seeds, all the usual suspects (not a mention of the lunar calendar though). And mulch. Benefits of mulch included those aforementioned PLUS it stops seedlings from collapsing which (duh) is not good for them.
The bane of my garden (besides birds, aphids, tash, caterpillars, heat, drought, seeds that never sprout.. – okay, one of the banes of my garden) is that seedlings have the annoying tendency of falling down just when I think they might actually produce food. I even went so far as to try mounding some of them (rocket and radishes) to no avail. Mulch had never crossed my mind as a solution.
Enlightened, today I went out and spread dry leaves around several plants. Pictured are the cos lettuce, perpetual spinach and rocket (plus spring onions, yes, those are my spring onions in the back right of the photo). In other beds I mulched more rocket, the sole surviving dill and eggplant (in various stages of non-productivity). If this works, I will dance a jig as I eat my much anticipated tardy food. If not, I guess I have an irritating cleanup on my hands.
I also ripped out all the radishes (seriously, I “harvested” 3 tough looking little specimens from the scores of seeds I planted) and turned over the upper veggie bed to let it rest before I tackle whatever I have the courage to try next. I still would love to get some root vegetables going (I have plenty of spring onion and radish seeds left) but until I figure out why all attempts have failed, that’s a complete waste of time. I’m going to have to check the pH in my soil to see if that’s a factor. And who knows, this mulch experiment might reap some rewards that give me the courage to try again.
Update 14 April 2011: The leaf mulch made a huge difference. I am converted. So much so that I bought a huge bag of shredded sugar cane to use as mulch on everything. I’m calling this test complete with the results clear.