Keep the soil covered, always

Written by
Date published
August 9, 2023

If you’ve ever walked in a forest, you’ll have noticed how there is no uncovered soil.

Bare soil is quickly covered by a variety of plants, preventing erosion and improving soil fertility. This process can be replicated in our small farms by using mulch and practicing "no-dig" gardening. By covering the soil with organic mulch, such as compost, leaves, or straw, we can mimic the forest floor, providing a habitat for beneficial soil organisms and preventing weed growth.

No-dig tomatoes in my garden
No-dig tomatoes in my garden
The forest floor
The forest floor

Whether growing in a pot or a garden, covering the soil (aka mulching) helps to save water, suppress weeds, improve soil quality, and protect plant roots in winter. And it looks way better, too.

Some organic mulch options for small farmers:

  1. Homemade compost: Rich in nutrients and can be made from kitchen and garden waste.
  2. Leaf mould: made from leaves that have been left to decompose for a year or more.
  3. Straw and seedless hay: Thick layers are needed to prevent them from blowing away.
  4. Mature chicken manure: Should be composted or aged prior to use. Raw chicken manure is high in nitrogen and can burn and damage plants.
  5. Grass clippings: Nutrient-rich and easy to apply, grass clippings can be used as mulch in vegetable gardens and flower beds
  6. Cardboard and newspaper: Biodegradable and easy to apply, cardboard and newspaper can be used as mulch in flower beds and vegetable gardens2.
  7. Living mulch: Composed of low-growing plants or grasses, living mulch provides a natural and sustainable alternative to traditional mulch1.
Tomato in grow bag without mulch
Tomato in grow bag without mulch
Tomato in grow bag with mulch
Tomato in grow bag with mulch

When & how often do I need to mulch?

The best time of year to mulch is spring and autumn, with April being the ideal time to mulch with organic compost as the soil is moist and accessible, and plants are just starting into growth. It's recommended to lay a 5-7.5cm (2-3in) thick layer of mulch over the soil, taking care not to smother low-growing plants.

In general, organic mulch, such as compost, leaf mould, or well-rotted horse manure, can be applied once a year to compensate for decomposition and maintain the desired thickness