How to Mulch Your Garden for Free

The Magic of Mulch

Mulch has so many benefits and is a vital input for every healthy garden. Mulch plays many roles besides framing your plants and making your garden attractive. Mulches inhibit weed growth, minimise erosion and retain precious moisture just to name a few. But how do you mulch your garden for free?

How to Mulch Your Garden for Free

It depends on the mulch you want. There are two types of mulch – organic or inorganic. Let’s take a quick look at them both with their pros and cons.

Organic Mulch

This mulch type is either a dead plant material you apply over the soil surface or a living species you grow to cover and protect it. Organic mulches are biodegradable and decompose over time – some fast; others over a period of years. This depends on the material and your climate. Here in the subtropics, organic mulches break down quite quickly with high moisture and humidity.

These types of organic mulches add value to your soil health and quality. They are a way of layering organic matter on top of the soil to build humus and encourage worms. Organic mulches like leaves, hay, shrub prunings and lawn clippings improve drainage and aeration. They also add nutrients and hold water; create habitat for soil microorganisms; improve fertility and soil structure. However, buying these types of mulches, especially in bulk can be costly. You also need to reapply them over time. This is one of the key reasons to learn how to mulch your garden for free!

Inorganic Mulch

Inorganic mulches are non-living or made from synthetic materials like weed mat. They typically don’t decompose, are low-maintenance and long-lasting but are usually more expensive to purchase. However, they don’t need replacing over time as organic mulches do. Decorative inorganic mulches include pebbles, rocks and gravel. It’s worth considering the environmental impact and one-off cost of these inputs. Pebbles and rocks can help prevent erosion and can be suited to windy gardens. They don’t however, feed the soil in any way.

There is a place for both types of mulches in many gardens. You can go to your landscape yard, nursery or hardware to buy bags of mulch in small quantities or get it delivered in bulk.

However, if you want to save money, why not consider all the potential materials you could use as mulch from your garden or neighbourhood? Here are a few sustainable ways to source your mulch at no cost. Dig in!

Organic free mulch materials - Top Left: Dead leaves | Top Right: Nut shells | Bottom Right: Corn Husks | Bottom Left: Pine cones and needles

These are a few of my favourite organic mulch materials – Top Left: Dead leaves | Top Right: Nut shells | Bottom Right: Corn Husks | Bottom Left: Pine cones and needles


How to Mulch Your Garden for Free

“Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can.” ― Arthur Ashe

We all have access to different resources. You may have to think creatively about what materials you can source from your own garden, family and friends, neighbours or within your local community. Don’t give up! Even starting with one of these free mulch ideas can help save you money. Aim to be as sustainable as you can.

1. Reuse ‘Waste’ Plant Materials

Grasscycling Lawn Clippings.

There are several ways to use nitrogen-rich, fresh green lawn clippings or when they are carbon-rich, brown, dry and aged.

  1. Firstly, if you have a catcher on your lawnmower, dry the grass clippings out in the sun to prevent them from clumping. Sprinkle lightly around pots or garden beds as mulch.
  2. Avoid applying a thick layer of grass clippings all in one spot as they can form a mat. This can prevent moisture from getting through to the soil.
  3. Instead of using a catcher, allow the clippings to self-mulch on the lawn as you mow. This prevents weeds, adds moisture and feeds the soil and thatch with nutrients. Healthier weed-free lawn too.
  4. Lastly, add clippings to your compost when fresh as a nitrogen (green) ingredient. Or dry out and use as a carbon (brown) input in the composting process. Compost can also be used as a feeding mulch under a more durable layer like bark chip.
How to mulch your garden for free: Pile of pruned branches and leaves for mulch from our garden

A pile of pruned branches and leaves I used as mulch for our garden

Prunings from hedges and garden maintenance.

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Sustainable Gardening Tips for April

Welcome to the April newsletter. A sustainable garden aims to provide sustenance and nourishment for minimal time, money and energy.

How can you maintain and support a sustainable garden to meet your needs for a long time? By:

    • Choosing efficient inputs, minimising waste and making as little impact on the earth as possible.
    • Being a good steward of your resources.
    • Using practices that won’t deplete or permanently damage the resources and environment.
    • Working in harmony with nature to create a healthy ecosystem that is self-sustaining.
    • Applying Permaculture principles.

Sustainable Gardening Tips for April | The Micro Gardener

Sustainable Gardening Tips for April

This month I’m sharing tips to garden more sustainably by avoiding food waste.

According to Foodwise.com.au, an estimated 20-40% of fruit and vegetables are rejected even before they reach the shops. This is mostly because they don’t match the consumers’ and supermarkets’ high cosmetic standards for size, colour and shape. Sadly, by expecting all fresh food to look perfect, we contribute to this unsustainable problem.

When food is thrown out, the water, fuel and resources that it took to get it from the paddock to the plate are also wasted. What a huge cost!

So why is so much food wasted? Many people don’t check the fridge or menu plan so end up buying and cooking too much food. Some people don’t know how to use leftovers or throw food out before the use-by or best-before date. Planning and sticking to a shopping list can help this problem.

"Imagine walking out of a grocery store with four bags of groceries, dropping one in the parking lot, and not bothering to pick it up. That's essentially what we're doing in our homes today." Dana Gunders quote on food waste


Permaculture Principles

Permaculture has some practical design guidelines for creating a sustainable garden, particularly when it comes to avoiding waste in its many forms.

‘Produce no waste’ Permaculture Principle:

When it comes to food waste, my goal is to have none. All the food we grow or buy is reused in one form or another to produce a yield. It adds value to our meals or garden in some way. Let’s look at a few ways you can ‘close the loop’ on food waste at home.

  • Grow as many crops as you can so there’s no packaging or wasted fruit and vegetables in your fridge. Pick fresh ingredients as you need them.
  • Eat all edible parts of the crops you grow. e.g. Beetroot, radish, squash, pumpkin, carrot and brassica leaves can be used fresh in salads or added to soups, stir-fries and cooked meals. Spinach and chard stems are just as tasty and nutritious as the leaves. Edible flowers from your herbs and vegetables add nutrition and flavour to your plate. Roasted pumpkin seeds make a delicious high-protein snack.
  • Regrow food from peels, seeds and roots to save money on buying new plants.

In this video, I share a few simple tips on ways to use 100% of your food in the kitchen to save seeds, propagate new plants, cook creatively and compost to close the loop on food ‘waste’. If you need seeds and plants to grow an edible garden, you may be surprised just how easy it is to grow food for free from what you already have in your fridge!

  • Learn to cook creatively with leftover ingredients.
  • The nutrients and moisture in kitchen food scraps such as peelings, cores, stems, roots and eggshells for example, can be recycled back into the garden. Food waste can be:
    • Composted by earthworms and decomposers in the soil food web to create ‘humus’, the finished product. Humus is a natural fertiliser rich in nutrients and helps stabilise your soil, reducing the need for purchasing inputs. No plastic bags! Compost also creates heat during the decomposition process, which can be used to keep neighbouring plant roots warm.
    • Added to a worm farm to produce worm castings (vermicast) as a solid fertiliser and liquid concentrate to feed plants.
    • Fed to animals like chickens. They convert the nutrients in the food scraps into manure, another valuable money-saving input for your garden. Chickens also produce eggs as a food source.
    • Processed into another form to fertilise your garden. e.g. eggshells can be ground into a fine calcium-rich powder. You can add this product to compost systems, worm farms or potting mix; sprinkle it into the soil; and make it into a liquid fertiliser. Banana peels also make a wonderful free fertiliser.

7 Benefits of Adding Food ‘Waste’ to your Garden

Recycling the nutrients in your food scraps:

  1. Improves your soil fertility and structure.
  2. Adds moisture to your soil.
  3. Feeds the microorganism community and enhances biodiversity.
  4. Encourages free self-sown ‘volunteer’ seedlings to germinate from compost, saving time and money.
  5. Provides you with free fertilisers.
  6. Increases your yields.
  7. Avoids landfill with the associated transport and energy required.

Hungry for value from your vegetable garden?

One of the easiest ways to double your harvest from lettuce is to REGROW a second head from the base. Loose-leaf lettuce varieties like this baby Cos (as well as Asian greens, celery and spring onions), will quickly grow new roots and leaves if given the right conditions. In this video, you’ll see how quick and simple it is to encourage new root and leaf growth so you can replant your lettuce and pick a second time! Make every vegetable count and provide you with the maximum harvest possible to save money. When your lettuce finally goes to seed, save them and you’ll never have to buy lettuce ever again! An easy low-cost way to grow good health.

‘Catch and Store Energy’ Permaculture Principle:

Composting captures the energy and nutrients in kitchen and garden waste and converts them into healthy soil. One method is to chop and drop green ‘waste’ as mulch. Layering the nutrients feeds plants and protects the soil from moisture loss and erosion.

Another way to store the energy embodied in our food crops is to preserve it when it’s in season. Sometimes we have a surplus. A lemon tree may have many fruits at once. Preserving them as marmalade or preserved lemons helps reduce potential food waste.

If you have an abundance of fresh herbs, you can dry them for when they are not in season to use in herbal teas, as seasonings and medicine.

I often make a ‘clean out the fridge’ soup with leftovers that are perfectly fine to eat. Download my Free Recipe. You’re welcome to adapt it to whatever ingredients you have on hand.

video
play-sharp-fill

These sustainable practices help minimise food waste and build a healthier garden that feeds you for longer.


Resources to Help you Grow Food

These are a few articles to dig into:

9 Foods You Can Regrow From Kitchen Scraps | The Micro Gardener



Affiliate Links: As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Your support of this site is appreciated!


What to Plant Now in Subtropical SE QLD

April is a time of transitioning from summer to autumn. We expect cooler days and nights, lower humidity (yay!) and fewer pest insects. Hopefully, perfect growing conditions if we get rain. Download your April Gardening Tips PDF

The Vegetables Growing Guide is a reference chart to help you grow 68 of the most popular vegetables in Australia and New Zealand climate zones. Includes information on companion planting, making compost, soil and moon planting. 

What to Plant Now in other Locations

Click here for what to plant and when. Or visit Gardenate.com (USA, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa)


PLANT PROFILE: Spring Onions

(Allium fistulosum) – this vegetable is one of the easiest, most compact and nutritious vegetables to grow. I have them tucked in tight spaces all over my garden. I treat them like chives when young but they can get as thick and tall as leeks as they mature. The flavour is mild and ideal for salads, stir fries, egg dishes and as an onion substitute. Sow regularly for a continuous harvest. Their pretty white pom pom flowers you can see here gift you free seeds.

Spring onions (Allium fistulosum) are a member of the onion family

Spring onions (Allium fistulosum) are a member of the onion family

Spring Onions Like:
  • Well-drained, humus-rich soil. Add compost and mulch.
  • Soil pH 6-7. Add lime if your soil is too acidic or sulphur if too alkaline.
  • Regular watering + a sunny position.
  • Liquid fertiliser 2-3 times while growing. To keep the leaves green, I feed mine diluted seaweed or a weak ‘tea’ made by soaking worm castings, comfrey or compost in water.
Spring Onions Dislike: 
  • Being planted near peas and beans.
  • Drying out and getting stressed.
  • Weed competition.
  • Feeling hungry!

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Imitate Nature for Higher Yields & Less Pests

Get Hundreds of Free Workers AND an Abundant Harvest!

Want less pests in your garden? To help achieve a balance between pests and predators, I’ve found that imitating natural ecosystems can be a useful pest management strategy to use.

 

Imitate Nature for Higher Yields and Less Pests

Facilitating natural predator-pest relationships in your garden is a way to harness hundreds of free workers to help manage insect imbalances. An example is the ‘aphid banquet’ on the menu for this ladybird’s lunch!

How to Work with and Imitate Nature

Whilst ‘having a relationship’ with birds, lizards, frogs and insects may not be on your To Do List, seeking a ‘win-win’ outcome by working with these creatures in your garden can help you:

  1. Achieve a higher crop yield (by encouraging more Pollinators); and
  2. Minimise insect damage to your edibles (by creating an unwritten ‘Workplace Agreement’ of sorts with Pest Predators – one that offers the kind of job perks that are an incentive for them to get to work in your garden)!

I’ve learned the benefits of ’employing’ hundreds of workers in my garden. Even though I don’t know them all by name, they still turn up regularly for work, never ask for a raise, are reliable in undertaking their jobs and save me hours of hard labour. In this article, I’ll share with you what my end of the agreement entails and how you can negotiate a similar arrangement at your place.

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