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Mulch

Mulching is considered one of the principles of permaculture and can simplify the maintenance of your kitchen garden quite much. If you have access to a garden plot, you can use garden waste such as lawn cuttings or leaves. Otherwise, other materials can also be used. Find out in this article what you need to consider when mulching and what materials you can use.

What exactly is mulch?

Nature does not know bare soil, in nature the soil is always covered. This is exactly what you can imitate in your kitchen garden and benefit from the many advantages of mulching. Organic material is best to use since it releases additional nutrients for your plants when decomposing.

What are the advantages of mulching?

Weed dies or does not germinate because it does not get sunlight and thus, photosynthesis is prevented.

Microorganisms produce nutrients and humus during the decomposition of organic material.

Water evaporates more slowly, resulting in less crusting of the soil surface and less need for loosening.

Fruits are not splashed with soil.

Mulch retains heat and moisture and leads to a beneficial microclimate.

Soil is protected from erosion, silting, wind and extreme temperatures.

What do I need to consider when mulching?

In general, mulch can be applied under all plants. For seedlings and young plants you should do it without at the beginning, because the young plants can suffocate on the mulch and react sensitively to wetness. The finer the mulch material, the thinner the layer should be, in order that the aeration fits. Accordingly, lawn cuttings should be laid no more than 5 cm high, while a mulch layer of coarse material can be 10 cm high. In addition, the smaller the organic components, the faster the decomposition. The C/N ratio also plays a role in the conversion time. The C/N ratio of each mulch material is listed below. If you are using carbon-heavy materials, add nitrogenous fertilizer (e.g., a handful of horn shavings) for compensation.

„C/N Ratio“: Parameter for the degradability of organic substances. The C/N ratio indicates how much carbon is contained in the organic substance in relation to nitrogen. The higher the C/N ratio, i.e. the more carbon, the longer the conversion takes. In addition, since microorganisms require nitrogen for conversion, nitrogen deficits occur in carbon-heavy material.

What mulch materials are available and what are the C/N ratios?

In principle, all waste from the garden is suitable as organic mulch materials.

Lawn cuttings or hay

C/N ratio: 10-15:1

You should mow lawn for lawn mulch in time before it forms seeds. The cuttings have to also dry first. Do not lay the mulch higher than 5 cm, otherwise it will start to rot and mold. Attention, lawn mulch is a paradise for slugs!

Leaves

C/N ratio: 50:1

Shred the leaves to 5-10 cm length and dry them. The leaves should be free of weed seeds and contagious plant diseases. Not all leaves are suitable as mulch material. Nettle and comfrey leaves are optimal because they contain additional nitrogen, potassium and trace elements. Leaves from oak, chestnut and walnut trees, on the other hand, contain many tannins that inhibit growth and should therefore not be used.

Straw

C/N ratio: 50-100:1

Straw has the advantage over grass cuttings/hay that air exchange is ensured even with a thick mulch layer. With a wide C/N ratio, you should additionally fertilize with nitrogen. It is advisable to buy the material from organic farming so that no pollutants get into the soil.

Wood chips

C/N ratio: over 100:1

Wood materials have a very wide C/N ratio. To avoid a nitrogen deficit during decomposition, be sure to add nitrogen to the soil. Sharp-edged wood chips are a good barrier against slugs!

Bark mulch

C/N ratio: over 100:1

Bark mulch is carbon-heavy and has a low pH. The mulch from coniferous bark also contains growth-inhibiting tannins and can sometimes have high cadmium values. It is generally not suitable for vegetables!

Mulch films

C/N ratio: not decomposable!

Mulch films are used extensively in agriculture. A mulch film often has a black side and a white side. The black side warms the soil, while the white side reflects sunlight and ensures that the soil does not overheat and dry out. The films do not decompose and therefore can be used multiple times. However, they are not really environmentally friendly and easy to dispose of.

After mulching, water the mulch layer with a 1:200 diluted EM-A solution. This promotes a healthy soil flora.

„EM“: Effective Microorganisms (EM) are a concentrated mixture of beneficial microorganisms, bacteria, and fungi that activate soil life, promote root development and strengthen the plant. EM-A(ctive) is an activated and ready-to-use solution made from water, Effective Microorganisms primal solution and sugar cane molasses, among others.

Want specific information, step-by-step instructions, and mulch mixing ratios?

Hi, I’m Lisa from Permapot. I’ve been growing my own vegetables in my small urban garden and on my terrace for 4 years now. With Permapot I would like to make it easier for you to get started with urban gardening!

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