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  • Writer's pictureAdelina

Mulch, the unsung hero of the homestead.

Weeds?....mulch it.

Dry garden beds?....mulch it.

Need a garden path?....mulch it.

Starting a garden bed?....mulch it.

Want to make compost?....mulch it.

Spouse won't stop talking about Game of Thrones?....

Well, you get the idea.

Mulch has incredible uses on the homestead. I'm not talking about the colored mulch that you buy from Home Depot in tiny overpriced bags. Wood mulch or wood chips is made of trees, branches and leaves that are chipped into 1-3" pieces. Typically you can get this mulch for free from a local arborist or a tree maintenance company.

I used ChipDrop to start, a service for connecting arborists with people that want their mulch. The arborist does pay a fee to ChipDrop, that you can offset with a donation. Since we live far from the city, I typically have to donate to get priority and entice an arborist to come out here. I now have a local guy on speed dial, he gets a free place to drop mulch and I get free mulch.

Why use mulch?

Think of what happens in a forest when a tree dies. It falls, bugs start eating it, it starts decomposing, and turns into soft, rich, humus from which other things get nutrients and grow. Mulch does the same thing. Because the tree and branches are chipped, the decomposition process happens much faster. We can use mulch to naturally improve the quality of our soil and do so cheaply, quickly and in a regenerative and earth-friendly way.

How can you use wood mulch?

Weed suppression

Weeds love bare ground, it's easy for them to make a home in the dirt and grow their evil weed-babies. 3-4" of mulch is enough to make a barrier that will control weed growth around our garden. Leave no dirt bare. Cover everything with mulch. And if you have an established weed patch, put some cardboard down first and mulch on top.

Water retention

Similar to weed suppression, mulch also helps prevent water from evaporating (somewhere ~30-70% more water retained). This means less watering during the hot, summer months. It also helps prevent weeds. I usually put ~2" of mulch in my garden beds as top dressing. It lasts about a year before it's almost all disintegrated and I add more as needed. The dirt below is black and looks great!

Bed filler

hügelkultur is a natural way to build super fertile soil and mulch is a great way to use that concept, even if you don't have tons of logs or don't want a mound in your yard. All my containers (e.g. raised garden bed, grape barrels, potato totes) use mulch as the first layer. Our raised beds use logs, sticks, and 12" of mulch before adding in 4" of dirt.

Tip: if in doubt about how much to add, add more. It quickly compresses and 12" will become 4" in a few months. I plan for 4" of dirt, and the rest is mulch or logs if I have them and the container is deep.

Three long 1' high garden beds with mulch in bottom.
In ground beds I used 6" of mulch (and wished I used more).

Mud buster

Our first winter our chicken run turned into a mud pit, with the chickens always wanting to dig their way to the Indian Ocean. We add 4-5 carts of mulch each winter as the rainy season gets underway. We don't spread it, the chickens do a good job at that, and it lasts through the rainy season. Over time, I'll have enough degraded mulch to use throughout the garden, and then start the mulching again.

Chicken Coop

If the mulch is dry, we use it in our chicken coop. It lasts longer than pine shavings and it's free. We use a deep litter method and just keep adding mulch every few months. Twice a year I pull out the mulch and add it to the garden beds (in the fall), and fruit trees and berry bushes (in the spring). If I add it to the garden beds, I like to give it time to sit through the winter before I plant again. This helps the poop break down and minimizes the risk of pathogens in the soil.

The only downside of mulch is it's never ending. There's always a new spot to mulch, or a place it's started to decompose or settle. It never ends. But it is a good workout (or a reason to get a tractor). 😅


If this was helpful, or if you have other ways you use mulch, let me know in the comments!

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