mulch-layerNature’s soil management program starts with mulching.

Old leaves and other discarded plant parts are simply deposited on the soil surface, where they provide food and habitat for the soil dwellers.

What we call decay is actually the feeding activity of countless animals and microbes, most of which are too small to see without the most powerful microscope.

The greatest biodiversity on land is in the top few inches of the soil, where organic matter is constantly recycled and reduced to a size and form useful to the carbon fixing plants and the nitrogen fixing bacteria.

Allowing the garden to recycle its own waste in place creates optimal biodiversity - and with that optimal soil fertility and water holding capacity. Organic gardening is neither time consuming nor expensive.

We often mulch for a single purpose, such as to suppress weeds, prevent water evaporation from the soil, or for aesthetic reasons, and then look for a product that will do the job most effectively.

But by focusing on a single objective we miss out on all the other benefits provided by Nature’s interwoven web of life.

Covering the soil with plastic or landscape fabric may prevent some weed seeds from germinating, but it also interrupts the movement of water and air, and deprives the soil organisms of their source of carbohydrates the recycling organic matter.

By “solving” a single problem we have reduced soil biodiversity, soil fertility, soil water holding capacity, and ultimately plant health.

However, when we think of mulching as “feeding the soil dwelling organisms” it all becomes very simple. Our job now is to ensure that these organisms receive the best nutrition possible.

The best food for the lawn ecosystem is grass clippings. The best food for a tree or shrub ecosystem is its own discarded leaves and branches. Even in the forest the soil is not smothered in bark!

The rest we leave to Nature, which elegantly solves multiple problems with a single solution - providing the ideal food to the soil also protects the soil from compaction, prevents water evaporation, suppresses weed germination, increases soil fertility, increases the soil water holding capacity, increases the soil air supply, and increases plant and ecosystem health.

The earth will be on its way to recovery when the quality of the mulch becomes a status symbol among gardeners.

We go much deeper into this topic in our online course, which you can discover here:

Growing Food 1 - Fundamentals Online