Mulch, mulch, mulch

by James Alexander-Sinclair

This week a huge pile of manure arrived. Brown, crumbly and pleasantly pungent it sat on my drive, lightly steaming and awaiting transfer to my newly cut down borders.

Bed freshly mulched with manureIn the words of Benny Hill: "I'll never know how a rose can smell so sweet and pure, And hold its head up high when it's standing in manure!".

Old Benny cannot have been much of a gardener (a statement borne out by the fact that he lived all his life in a rented flat in Twickenham) as it is pretty elementary that soil needs nourishment and manure is a good option. This week a huge pile of the stuff arrived. Brown, crumbly and pleasantly pungent it sat on my drive, lightly steaming and awaiting transfer to my newly cut down borders.

I try and leave anything with a decent structure standing for as long as possible to give sustenance to small birds (and probably mice), as well as on the off chance that we might have a frost and everything will sparkle. By February, however, I am bored of these tottering corpses that trail across the gardens like refugees from the Battle of Austerlitz. Most plants have lost their oomph and they are but broken shadows of their former selves.

The time has come to cut everything to the ground and apply a generous mulch to feed the soil. Not being desperate to make extra work for myself (and being of an age when my back can be temperamental - unsurprising if you consider the amount of abuse it had to undergo when I was a contractor) I operate a policy of minimal digging. I will dig out weeds but I will not dig in manure. I prefer to let the worms and time do it for me. Provided the muck is well enough rotted then everything will benefit. I try not to bury anything too deeply - especially plants like this violet that is making the effort to grow already.

As I have said before I make a lot of compost here but there is never enough to mulch the whole garden so, every other year I buy a trailer load of the stuff - hence the presence of the large steaming pile. Luckily I persuaded my elder son, Archie, to rally round and help with the barrowing. By 'persuaded' I mean, of course, bribed. Children, in my experience, don't really see the point of gardening unless there is cash involved (or unless they are feeling extremely guilty about something).

So now everything sleeps under a layer of gorgeous brownness; you can almost see the soil sucking in the goodness. I also scatter a goodly helping of fish, blood and bone around the place before mulching. The next few weeks require patience; days of glorious waiting as, one after another, plants push their way to the surface and the spring slowly arrives.

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Gardeners' World Web User 01/01/2007 at 00:00

We have recently collected seaweed blown up in a storm and left above the usual high tide mark. We have just started growing vegetables this year in deep beds - not grown any before. Any comments as to how we can use the seaweed. We have put some in the bottom of the potato trench.

Gardeners' World Web User 20/02/2008 at 15:47

it wouldn't have been so bad if you took it and mixed it with some water!

Gardeners' World Web User 20/02/2008 at 17:05

Ok, I suppose I'm going to have to stop procrastinating and just do it, aren't I! I've been putting off mulching my beds this year partly because everything already seems to be sprouting and, in places, there's not much actual soil free to put the compost onto. Also, I have one of those plastic compost bins with a little door at the bottom which is great in theory but getting to the good stuff at the back can be difficult without the rest all falling on top of me! Oh well, perhaps the best thing would be to just scoop off the top layers, take the whole bin off the pile and dig - mucky and tiring but I'm sure it'll be well worth it in the end!

Gardeners' World Web User 21/02/2008 at 08:10

I live in Cardiff. Can anybody tell me where I cold get some mushroom compost please. Thanks

Gardeners' World Web User 21/02/2008 at 16:56

Don't you use your chickens' poo, James? I had saved mine from some months ago, mixed with straw, and that has gone on the garden this week; like you, I let the worms get on with it. Got a few feathered visitors too - after the worms I suppose.

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