Use what you have.

There is one thing I haven’t managed to sort out in the garden, and it has been bothering me all season.  Actually, there are many things I haven’t sorted out in the garden, but this one is especially important and that is find a good mulch solution.

Pepper plants
Maybe the peppers would have recovered quicker from their various thrashings from the storms if they were tucked up with a nice cosy mulch. The soil looks so dry….

In this harsh environment and in this particularly dry summer where large swaths of the country are in drought and compounded by the fact, we had that huge water leak right before Christmas, watering the garden is something I have been deeply concerned about.  I love that the irrigation system only waters each bed once a week for 9 minutes and it is enough for the soil to retain the moisture locked in deep within the wonderful swamp soil I brought with me when we moved here.

Tree lupin weed
As you can see this is the perfect hiding place for a broody chicken.

But mulch is important, it helps to retain that precious moisture and it keeps weeds down by excluding light and blocking the way to the surface – however there will always be that weed that can get through even the slightest opportunity. You know the ones – you’ve seen them growing through the cracks in concrete!

Wheat as straw for mulch
I really must do something with this wheat mulch, maybe I’ll put it down around some of the winter plantings…

The problem is my garden is very large and so to buy anything in is very expensive, if I am to do a good job at mulching.  My favourite mulch is a fermented Lucerne, but one bag only does one bed!  You can use compost, but I don’t trust it in the weed reduction area, as weeds seem to love its rich organic goodness.  I never really understood its regular recommendation as a mulch, although I expect it would lock in moisture.    So essentially any thing store bought is out of the question – unless is a couple of bucks a bag.

Tree lupin flowers
I love it when the hill is filled with these sweet scented flowers.

I did toy with the idea of getting a bale of balage.  It should be along the lines of the fermented Lucerne, right?!  Then I looked into it and found it was quite acidic and in order for it to be of value in the garden I would have to experiment with the addition of lime or some other agent to bring the pH into the realms of something acceptable to plants that wouldn’t hinder the uptake of nutrients.  It all got a bit complicated and then the price shot up from $80 a bale, which would have easily done the whole garden a couple of times, to something no longer in my price range, thanks to the drought!  Then Hubby the Un-Gardener put his foot down as he was worried about the smell.  I let him think he was the reason for my back down from that option, but in reality, it just got put in the too hard basket.

Tree lupin trunk...
Yikes! Tree lupins grow very fast!

I did grow wheat from chicken food for mulch, not for the grain – although that would be cool if I had enough spare space.  I grow it over winter and then harvest it before the seed heads fill out.  Then I dry it in the greenhouse with the intention of using it as a mulch.  The problem is last season I didn’t grow enough – not enough to fill a bed and I couldn’t decide where to put it and indecision froze the project and it is still in the greenhouse.  It could make a great autumn photo prop at some point…  Ohh with some pumpkins….  I digress.  The thing is – I can’t grow enough, it is labour intensive to harvest it and prepare the soil for the next crop, which is also a problem, because there is so much to be done in spring, it tends to hold things up.

Lupin mulched rhubarb
The rhubarb doesn’t look so great now, but I will watch closely for signs of improvement with its new lupin mulch.

But what struck me as a genius idea, although time will tell if in fact it will solve all my problems is the result of a stupid chicken.  We have no rooster and yet this silly chook insists on trying to raise a family.  Last spring, she was in the wheat.  Now she is in my nursery bed, which I will need soon because it is where, I like to start my winter crops without them getting too thirsty in the greenhouse.  So, for a while I allowed her to indulge in this folly as it did no harm, except we weren’t getting any eggs from her.   But is has been well over three weeks now and I needed the bed.  The reason she liked this nursery bed for her imaginary family is it was quite overgrown.  And a month later it is very overgrown.

Disappointed chicken
Poor wee chicken – not only did I chop into one end of her haven, but nature decided enough was enough and her carefully nurtured eggs blew up! She seems a little startled… poor wee thing.

Now one of the weeds in the bed was some tree lupin seedlings that when small are easy enough to pull up.  However, I didn’t appreciate just how fast they grew.  In one season the trunk has managed to get to a whooping 15cm diameter with roots well and truly anchored to the earth.   The top is full and lush and the perfect place for a chicken to hide.    So, I thought enough was enough and decided to remove the weeds and lupin trees from the half of the bed she isn’t hunkering down in – to send a message.  And as I was chopping up the foliage to make it more compostable, I looked at the contents of my bucket and thought …  “Hang on a minute…” and the penny dropped.  I have loads of mulch all over the place and it will be perfect.

Tree lupin seeds
I certainly won’t be short of tree lupin seeds for my mulch plantation!

I quickly used some of my precious water to saturate the rhubarb bed as there is no point mulching a dry garden and so it was for the greater good.  I also took the opportunity to give it a bit of a feed with some blood and bone and then emptied the contents of my bucket all around and created a satisfying looking mulch.  If it works well for the rhubarb which, to be honest, has struggled a little in the heat of the summer, then I will roll it out across the garden.

I do like the tree lupin as it creates a nice backdrop to the garden and in the spring the yellow flowers smell heavenly.  Also, those strong roots are supporting the sides of the hill above the garden.  So, I don’t want to strip the leaves from these plants, so I may create a lupin plantation that I can harvest from when needed.  At least I know it grows well here.   Ahhh, you gotta love a creative solution.

Come again soon – summer seems to be slipping away but I’m not ready for it to do so.

Sarah the Gardener  : o)

9 thoughts on “Use what you have.

  1. I’m interested in the idea of fermented lucern – what’s the benefit of it over dry lucern or other mulch?

  2. Sarah, what a summer it’s been. I’m happy that you’ve found an available and affordable mulch solution, literally in your own back yard. I hope your chook recovers and rights herself again. That does look like a cool and cozy spot to hide one’s eggs.

    1. Hi Alys. It has certainly been a tough summer. Normally I want to cling to this season for as long as possible but this year I just want to put it behind me – after I have learnt valuable lessons from what it has taught me. I am looking forward to the autumn and some rain – it has been about 40 days since we have seen any and so this just adds to the woes… The chicken has made her way back to the coop and seems happy enough there. : o)

      1. Oh, Sarah. You sound positively worn out. You’ve had a lot thrown out you this past year, most of it out of your control. I’m not very good at letting go, but as I sit on the couch recoverying from major foot surgery, I’m reminded once again that we are dealt a hand and it is up to us to sort it out. It’s a hard lesson in life. We too are experieincing one of our driest Febraury’s on record. It’s typically one of our wettest months. We are currently at 27% of normal for this time of year. I see it in the garden. Sweet peas aren’t sprouting up, and only the most die-hard weeds are doing well, something else I can do nothing about it. Bring on the autumn weather (for you) and fingers crossed for some spring rain here. I’m glad your chicken has found her way back home.

        1. Oh wow, that sounds terrible – you expect not to have much rain in summer, but spring is supposed to be quite wet! I hope you get decent rain soon – but not too much that it floods! Sometimes it is what it is and you just have to do your best. And all the best with your recovery. : o) x

  3. Just an idea that Ive been working with Mulch wise, guinea pigs!! We have only two. They require newspaper, hay bale hay and contribute wee& droppings. They are cleaned out twice weekly, all of a 5min job each time. The used hutch contents is added to any part of a garden/ or vacant garden bed , or added to its own composting pile. Our raspberries seem to be very happy with this form of mulching, and garden beds that had contents initially dug-in now seem to have a richer soil quality.

    1. Hi Jordan. That sounds like a great idea and it is fabulous that your garden is loving it. From what I understand guinea pigs and rabbits manure is not considered ‘hot’ so it can be added directly to the soil and be of benefit instantly. But I think I would probably need way more than two to keep this place in mulch! Thanks for the suggestion. : o)

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