There are many ways to have a vegetable garden as well as many gardening styles. If you have raised beds for example, you could use the square foot method, a potager style garden, a keyhole garden, just to name a few.
I love browsing Pinterest and looking at pristine, organised raised beds, but when it comes down to it my no-dig gardening style is the complete opposite.
For my tiny section, I have three main objectives: a high yield, good use of space and no weeding. To accomplish these goals I use a deep mulching method.
This method is based on Ruth Stout’s ‘No Work’ gardening technique. The idea is simple: Keep a constant, thick layer of mulch around your vegetables all year round.
This simple but effective technique means there is no need for weeding, tilling, digging or even composting (Though I do still compost, sorry Ruth!) It retains moisture in summer, keeps plants warm in winter and improves your soil fertility over time.
When your plants are finished, don’t pull them out. Simply chop them down and cover with mulch. Weeds poking out? Cover with mulch. You start with an initial 20cm layer of mulch, which will quickly settle down to about 5cm after rain, and just keep on adding mulch as needed.
My own gardening area is pretty small so I like to use all the space. This method lets me use the whole ground as one big garden bed with no set borders. Perfect for my hectic gardening style.
What Mulch to use?
You can use any vegetable matter as mulch. Chop down plants that are finished and use as mulch. I use a mixture of barley straw, pea straw, and hay as my thick starting layer. Now I pile on grass clippings and leaves too. This thick layer will stop weeds as they won’t be able to reach the light.
When I’m planting seeds or sowing seedlings, I use my compost as the mulch and plant/sow right into that.
Compost itself makes a great mulch too. If you have access to it in bulk then it’s brilliant to use for the whole vegetable garden. It also won’t harbour slugs like straw and hay do.
Unfortunately I can’t carry wheelbarrows worth of compost up the stairs to my garden as easily as bales of straw or hay.
But hay has grass seed!
Yes, yes it does. The key point here is to keep the layer of mulch thick enough. If you only have a light covering then the grass seeds can touch the soil and establish in there. If your mulch cover is super thick, the grass seed will germinate but it won’t be growing in anything. Then you can simply cover with more mulch or stick in a pitchfork and flip the mulch over. Or, use straw. It has considerably less seed but it is more expensive.
Once you start this method, you have to keep going. It’s all about the continuous cycle of mulch upon mulch. For me, mulching all year round still beats constant weeding. Garden clean up each season is also considerably easier as instead of raking up dead and decaying plants, you just chuck another mulch layer on top.
If you’re using compost you won’t need to apply it as often as easily degrading mulch like straw or hay. Compost can be applied thickly twice a year as a mulch only topped up if it’s getting too thin it weeds are coming through.
And under that mulch…
Is a glorious world or microorganism and worm activity. Over the years your ground will get more and more rich and fertile as these layers continue to break down.
But don’t just dump mulch onto your weed-covered garden…
You don’t want to start deep mulching straight onto grass or weed-covered ground. Give your mulching methods a good head start by doing an initial clear of weeds or even better start a ‘No-Dig Garden bed‘ on top the soil first.
This is a great starting point as it also requires no digging or disturbing of the soil structure and microorganisms underneath.
This won’t be everyone’s cup of tea I’m sure, but it’s effective and time savvy. The mulching cuts down weeding, saves A LOT of water in summer, keeps plants warm in winter and improves soil fertility, tenfold.
What do you think, what’s your gardening style?