Soil Building

killing grass and mulchingIt’s been warm in the Pacific NW and everyone wants to run out to their gardens and plant, I know.  Instead of shoving pea seeds in the ground though, take this time to do something crucial in your garden – soil building. When you ‘build’ your soil, the end goal is to create a healthy and productive soil that is healthy and nurtures plant growth. Healthy soil is made up of a complex ‘web’ of bacteria, microorganisms and more.  Healthy soil teams with worms, bugs, insects and microscopic matter that we can’t see.  Worms channel down and create air pockets – important for the flow of oxygen to plant roots and to facilitate water flow and absorption.  Plant roots do this, as well. Compacted soil halts both of these necessary processes. (A great reason to NOT walk on your veg beds, btw.)

So, how to set out soil building?  In a word, MULCH.  Mulch is officially a protective cover for your soil. Mulch can be one of many materials – compost, paper, hay, cover crop, black plastic and more.  It is meant to reduce evaporation and insulate the soil as well as aid in erosion prevention and weed suppression. All that from one little step.  Dude…….mulch is important, trust me.

If you do not currently have a cover crop in your vegetable beds, no need to fret but plan on planting some next fall.  For now, you can mulch your garden with grass clippings and compost.  Grass clippings work well, as they will start to decay rapidly.  This decaying process invites decomposers and microorganisms to your soil.  We want this to happen.  Pending the lack of grass clippings this year, add a 1-inch layer of compost.  If you have homemade compost, GREAT – if not, buy a few bags from the local nursery or have a yard delivered for big areas.  (It’s smart to share a yard of compost with neighbors and share in the cost – cheaper that way!) Once you have the compost evenly distributed, cover this with a layer of brown leaves.  This layer will invite decomposition (though browns decompose much slower than a green, like grass clippings) and help build your soil.

Here is a great step-by-step to sheet mulching , a process started by Jon Rowley at the Interbay P-Patch.  While it’s best to start late fall, it’s a great read to help understand the process.