Editor’s note: THIS is the continuation of a series of articles on low-cost gardening. See planning tip #1; Tip #2 on the floor; Tip #3 on compost; Tip #4 Tools; Tip #5 Containers; Tip #6 Seeds; Tip #7 Pollinators; Tip #8 Other modifications.
Humans are resourceful and known as innovators. Gardening is an activity that offers the opportunity to use a variety of tools, to choose from options, to deal with changing situations and to engage our creative minds. Gardening is fun!
If you’re not careful, gardening can use up your pocket money very quickly. If you have the budget, you can afford the time-saving products and devices within your means. If you don’t have the budget, don’t give up! There are many ways to garden with very little to no expense.
Much of what I share here is information I gleaned from obsessively watching YouTube videos, reading numerous articles and studies on plants, and my own successes and failures. I am not an expert gardener, far from it! I’m just sharing what I learned.
Hope these tips help you.
Tip #9 — Mulch
Many websites recommend using mulch. Mulch is organic material that has not yet decomposed. It is used on the surface of the soil, not worked in it. Mulch works to protect the soil from sun damage. It also helps retain moisture in the soil. It prevents dirt from splashing onto the leaves and introducing disease. Mulch also helps protect against soil erosion.
Video: JoegardenerTV Channel: “7 Big Benefits of Using Mulch” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=298N5mloMr8
You can buy mulch at the garden center.
Cheap and easy. You can make your own mulch. I have two basic sources in my yard for mulch that I use frequently. One is the dead part of banana trees. Not the flower, which goes into compost or fertilizer, if not otherwise used for cooking. But I use the leaves and stems, especially after cutting ripe bananas.
Another source in my yard is the leaves of the Pink Tacoma tree. I have a few trees and they are losing their leaves at an amazing rate! They are full of leaves all the time, but there are always leaves on the ground.
You can also use grass clippings or branches from trees, bushes and plants for mulch.
Mulch processing has two parts. The first is to make sure your mulch is in relatively small pieces. In my situation, my leaves are small; but if you have larger leaves, you can crush them with a lawn mower or crush them in some other way. For the banana tree mulch, I use my trusty scissors and cut the leaves and stems of the plants into small pieces. If you’re shredding tree branches, you need a wood chipper, which you can rent or buy.
The second part of treating the mulch is making sure it doesn’t contain anything bad like harmful fungi, harmful bacteria, weed seeds, or plant pests. I guess you can trust your plants and do nothing more. Or you can take extra precautions. I’ve read different things about what is needed for this step, but the overall position is that a combination of heat and time is needed to kill and sanitize the mulch. As a general rule, yard debris (leaves, grass clippings, banana stems, etc.) should reach an internal temperature of at least 165°F at all times, or be exposed to sustained temperatures for several weeks of at least 135°F to make sure all the nasty stuff is dead.
Personally, I use foil roasting pans and bake my mulch of leaves or banana leaves! My lowest oven setting is 200°F so I bake it at that level or even 250°F for at least half an hour. If the sheets have moisture when they go into the oven, I bake them for an hour. They come out dry and when cool I store them in a lawn and leaf bag. And I use them as mulch!
I decided to try the second method with lawn clippings, to see if it would work for mulch as well. I have bags of grass clippings outside now, but of course it’s raining. I left them in the sun for three months! In our tropical climate, I expected this to work. Instead, with all the rain and a few random boonie animals ripping through the plastic, I ended up with something more akin to leaf mold or compost, with lots of worms. Nothing ventured, nothing gained! Because they’ve lost their mulch texture, I’m just going to use them in the compost bin.
But you can try this in the dry season, and you’ll probably end up with mulch!
If you want more ideas for using your grass clippings, there is no shortage of ideas. Just don’t use grass clippings that have had chemicals applied to them.
- Video: Huw Richards Channel, GRASS – The most valuable FREE resource for growing food.
Other Resources: Some communities have free mulch available through municipal projects and local businesses. We have an active and growing gardening community in CNMI, and we may have something like that too.
- Video: Epic Gardening Channel, 7 Cheap (or Free) Mulch Sources and How to Use Them in Your Garden
When spreading the mulch, you want to make sure to make thick layers, above the ground. You can use mulch on your walkways between raised beds, as well as on the beds themselves, to help reduce weeds. I plan to use more mulch to control erosion on the sloping slope.
Note that some people like to use mulch for decorative purposes. You may see mulch in stores which is bark of various colors (dyed!), or stones or even rubber. These aesthetic mulches are not the same as the mulches used to protect your soil. They may have some benefits, but before using them in your garden, understand what you’re working with. Do your homework. Always check your schedule, tip #1!
Good luck and happy gardening.