The day you embrace the idea of continually adding mulch to your soil is the day you become an expert gardener. You will create rich soil that drains well and crawls with life.

The basics of mulch

Mulch is material that is spread over the soil surface as a protective layer. Many different types of mulch will work great in your vegetable garden. However, you want to use natural, organic materials that will break down and feed the soil. The best part about natural mulch is that it is inexpensive. In addition, you can mostly find the material you need in your yard, or even get it from your neighbours.

Here are a few examples of material that you can use as mulch:

  • Hay or straw.
  • Dry grass clippings.
  • Dry leaves.
  • Compost.

I do not recommend material such as wood chips for mulch. Wood chips are too heavy and take longer to decompose. They also tend to attract slugs and snails. Furthermore, if you already have a termite problem in your yard, adding wood chip mulch to your garden will make it worse. Remember, these insects feed on wood.

The benefits of using mulch

Mulch prevents evaporation by shielding the soil from the sun. This helps retain moisture and keeps the roots cooler in the summer heat and warm when temperatures drop.

Mulch also reduces soil erosion and soil compaction, keeps weeds at bay, acts as a slow-release feeder for the soil, increases earthworms, and produces the most beautiful and healthy soil. Healthy soil is less prone to pests and disease.

All these benefits add up to a healthier, more attractive vegetable garden and less maintenance for you.

How to use mulch

Spread a layer of approximately 3 to 5cm of dry grass cuttings, dry leaves or straw evenly on your soil. Take care not to over-mulch. This can bury and bake your plants with excess heat in summer, suffocating them and making it difficult for water and oxygen to reach the roots.

Naledi farm mulch
An example of mulch.

You should not pile mulch up against the stems of your flowers, trees and vegetables as this can cause them to rot and may invite leeches, snails and mice to nest there – no more ‘volcano’ mulching around stems.

When to mulch

You can mulch all year round. As a rule of thumb, you should never be looking at bare soil. If a plant does not cover soil, it should be covered by mulch. We apply a thin layer of mulch throughout the growing season (summer) and a thicker layer in autumn and winter when our beds are resting. Remember to replace old mulch as it decomposes or becomes incorporated into the soil, so that the soil is constantly fed and gradually built up.

Plant of the month: Kale

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Kale is a member of the mustard, or Brassicaceae, family, together with cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower and brussels sprouts. It is a hardy, sun-loving vegetable that can be grown throughout the year. Yet it is best grown in the cooler months. In fact, as with other members of the same family, it tastes better after frost.

Kale.

Grow kale directly in garden beds, in raised beds or in containers in good, healthy soil that drains well. It is crucial to keep kale well-watered and fed. Kale is a powerhouse of nutrients and is rich in fibre, antioxidants, vitamin C and K, and iron. You can eat it raw in salads and sandwiches, lightly sautéed, or add it to soups and casseroles. – Manti Mafaidi, Naledi Farm

Try this recipe for kale chips:

Toss kale leaves in olive oil and sprinkle it with sea salt, black pepper, roasted red pepper flakes and crushed garlic. Bake at 185°C for 15 minutes to the desired crispness.

For more information on Naledi Farm or for advice on growing vegetables at home, contact Manti on 082 800 2327 or email bookings@naledifarm.co.za.