Scroll down to explore your options to source free mulch sources for your vegetable garden in your neighbourhood. Your soil microorganisms (and your plants) in your garden are already overjoyed. These will be handy if you start a permaculture garden too.
What is mulch?
Mulch is dead organic matter that can be gathered to use to cover the soil in your garden to mimic a forest floor. Mulch is useful to increase moisture in the soil, soak run-of water into your soil, protect the soil from wind erosion, and feed the beneficial microorganisms in your soil.
Organic matter is very important to increase your soil’s water holding capacity, and a very good way to add it to your soil is by layering dead organic matter on top of your soil. The microorganisms in the soil will do all the heavy lifting to get the organic matter mixed into the soil.
If you walk through an old forest, you will notice that the soil is soft and damp. That is not because the forest fairies are tilling and watering the soil secretly every night! It is the trees that through old leaves and branches every season can cover and feed the soil which makes it so soft and damp
Where can I find mulch?
Finding mulch in your area is very easy, as most people will feel that you are doing them the favour by picking it up and taking it away.
Leaves are plenty in autumn, but there will always be some leaves that fall on the ground from time to time. Take a stroll through your neighbourhood and check if you see any deciduous trees. Common trees that shed their leaves are oak, maple, birch, ash, willow, poplar, aspen and beech.
Gather it up from the street or ask the owner of the tree if you are allowed to rake it up and use the leaves. Driving out to the countryside is also a good option – you will probably find lots of leaves there as well.
Another option is to ask the municipal services if they can rather drop the bags with leaves of at your place, rather than taking them to the landfill.
It is best to crunch up the leaves before adding them to your garden o help speed up decomposition. Adding to thick a layer f leaves may also lock out moisture and prevent air from reaching the soil.
Pro tip: Put a flyer up at your local supermarket that you are looking for mulch for your garden with your phone number
Using leaves in your garden
You can add the leaves directly onto your soil, allowing for breathing room around the stems of your plants.
Gather from your own lawn, from next to highways or from your neighbours’ lawns. You can also ask garden services to drop their grass clipping off on their way home.
Grass clippings are a great source of nitrogen. But, they do sometimes clog and rot if you use too much. The best practice is to first let the grass clippings dry in the sun before you add them to your soil. Have a big water bucket nearby where you can dunk the glass clippings in the water before adding them to your soil. This will help to speed up the composting process and prevent the wind from blowing everything away. Always leave room around your plant stems to ensure air can circulate around their stems.
These are an excellent source of fungi in your soil. Scout at tree-felling sites and alien plant removal areas. You can go and search at farms where they are busy clearing out old orchards or other trees. When you are using wood chips, add a small layer of animal manure to the soil first, then water, and then add your thick layer of wood chips. You can use wood chips in swales, vegetable gardens, garden paths, around fruit trees and in potted plants. They are one of my favourite types of mulches.
Take caution to not mix the wood chips into the soil, as it might make your soil slightly anaerobic. Better to only use topically.
Wood shavings are an excellent alternative to wood chips, although they also might clog and rot instead of decomposing. You can also add a layer of animal manure or compost underneath your shavings layer to speed up decomposition. You can ask your local sawmill or carpenter if you may have some of their shavings. Excellent in using for animal bedding, smaller vegetables and even swales. My favourite way of using wood shavings is by first using them as animal bedding and then adding it to my garden as a mixture of animal manure and wood shavings. You can recycle in nature too!
Pine needles are very common and easy to find. Almost every place you can think of has a pine tree somewhere. There is a common myth that pine needles acidify the soil, which is not true. Even though pine needles are indeed acidic, the microorganisms neutralize the pine needles as soon as they decompose.
Pine needles are stable, so they are ideal if you are looking for a mulch you can use on a steeper area.
Straw is a good and often easily accessible mulch. Look out for farmers that grow wheat, they will sometimes sell straw bales for very cheap. If you are looking for a free option, farmers and horse owners will often give away water-damaged bales.
You can add straw underneath melons and pumpkins to keep them off the soil.
Do not use hay, as hay will still contain plenty of seeds, which will be so glad to have a space in your lovely vegetable soil to grow
Weed your garden first and then add a layer of manure or compost underneath your layer of straw mulch. Straw is not very good a suppressing older, bigger weeds. Also, add a thicker layer as you would think, as straw compresses very quickly.
Supercharging your garden
- Use wet cardboard boxes underneath your thick layer of mulch to suppress pesky weeds easier.
- Wet the mulch as you are adding it and wet the soil before you start adding the mulch.
- Add a layer of manure or compost between the soil and your mulch of choice to ensure your plants receive the nutrients they need while the mulch is still busy decomposing
- Pour worm tea over your mulch to increase nitrogen
- Through eggshells in the fire and use that ash underneath your mulch to nourish your plants and soil
- Weed your garden before adding your mulch. If not, use the cardboard method
- Chop your mulch into smaller pieces to increase their mulching metabolism.
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And that’s it, free sources of mulch for your vegetable garden. Let me know in the comments below of any mulch or mulch sources I’ve missed!
Do you still need compost for your vegetable garden? Try the hot process method for speedy compost.