Sunday, May 15, 2016

Much ado about mulch

It was two years ago that we discovered the benefits of buying compost for our yard in bulk from our friends at the Belle Mead Co-Op, the same place that supplied all the gravel and stone dust for our patio project. Since then, we've managed to supply all our compost needs out of our one little bin (which will probably need to be replaced this year, so keep your eyes peeled for that project in a future post).

One thing we haven't been able to supply for ourselves, however, is mulch. Our homemade leaf mulch is adequate for mulching small areas, but this spring we had vast swathes of our yard in need of additional mulch cover, including:
  • the three plum trees in the front yard;
  • the cherry bushes along the south fence;
  • the asparagus patch on the south side of the house;
  • our makeshift herb bed in front of the house; and
  • my new rosebush, which has settled into its new home and is just starting to bloom.
Even at the height of fall leaf season, we wouldn't have enough leaves to mulch all that area, and even if we did, it would take way too long to process it all. So, since we'd had so much success buying compost in bulk from the Co-Op, we decided to try our luck with their mulch.

Since we'd been through the process once before, we were able to plan ahead a little better this time. We took along two big garbage cans, which we figured could hold a good quantity of mulch but not too much to lift, plus several of our five-gallon buckets and a wide assortment of plastic bags—some 40-pound birdseed sacks, some smaller ones that had held cat litter, and some of middling size that had previously held bagged mulch from the store. Ironically, the bags that were actually designed to hold mulch proved the hardest to work with, as they were much thinner and harder to hold open than the others. But having a variety of sizes and shapes to work with enabled us to pack the car pretty efficiently, filling up most of the space in the trunk and rear seat. So we got at least the half-yard of mulch we paid for, and certainly more than we could have bought in bags for the $11 we shelled out.

By the time we got it all home, it was too late in the day to start distributing it right away, and it was starting to rain anyhow. So for the time being, we just got all the various containers stashed in our little temporary greenhouse, which is still up in the back yard, providing our vegetable seedlings with a place to "harden off" before going into the garden. (The only ones left to go are the peppers and eggplants, which get transplanted at the beginning of June, and at that point we'll probably stow the greenhouse away until next spring.)

This afternoon, we got to work spreading all the mulch were it belongs. Our top priority was the cherry bushes, so we pulled out all the visible weeds we could see and started dumping mulch containers into the space, spreading out the contents with our hands and a small rake until we had a good couple of inches distributed over the whole bed. Next we brought some of the smaller bags into the front and reinforced the mulch "doughnuts" around the trees, and we spread some over the asparagus bed, doing our best not to disturb the ferns that were already there. (Next time it would probably be easier to do this part of the job in the fall, after cutting down all the previous year's growth, so we'd have a flat area to work with.)

Then we went to work on the herb bed. This area, which sits to the right of the front door has been a work in progress for some years. When we first started it, we had three big oversized bushes growing in the space, so we merely squeezed a few herb plants into the spaces between them. Then, a year or so ago, we took out two of the bushes, since they were getting in our way every time we had to shovel snow. This gave with more space to work with, but all the plants already in the bed were crammed toward the front in the spots where we'd squeezed them earlier. We managed to transplant our giant sage bush to a more central spot, leaving one little chunk behind that has since grown into a smaller secondary plant, and the mint we put in toward the steps has spread out and filled the whole corner nicely. (The way mint grows, we figure it will eventually take over all the empty space in the bed, which is fine by us.) The big thyme plant we had, which was spilling over the edge of the bed onto the sidewalk, took care of itself by dying over the winter, so we just bought a smaller English thyme plant this spring and planted it farther back in the bed, where it will have plenty of room to spread. That just leaves one large oregano plant snuggled in next to the one remaining large bush, spreading out of its shade and onto the sidewalk. Brian is hoping that when we get around to removing that last bush, the oregano will respond to the increased sunlight by redirecting its growth toward the middle of the bed—but if not, we'll have a go at transplanting it.

So right now, what we've got in this area is one big sage plant, one tiny thyme plant, one vast spreading mass of oregano that's awkwardly positioned along one edge, a big patch of mint, and a lot of empty space. We have plans to fill in some of that with rosemary (for which we have seedlings started), chives, and marshmallow, which is supposed to be useful as a cough remedy and also looks nice. In the meantime, covering this empty space with mulch should keep it from getting overgrown with weeds too quickly, while also making the bed as a whole look more pulled-together.

After this was all done, Brian applied a coating of mulch over the new rosebush. Before mulching, however, he took the opportunity to pull apart its brick enclosure, which had come out a bit uneven when he first laid it and had only grown more uneven as it settled over the past two weeks. So he removed the first couple of layers of bricks and re-laid them, taking more care to get them properly aligned. This, plus a nice layer of mulch, makes the whole area look a lot neater and more attractive.

Even all these chores didn't quite use up the entire half-yard of mulch, so we still have a little bit left for future jobs. It may end up going on the secondary asparagus bed in the back yard, or the new kiwi vines, or perhaps the raspberry canes—or we'll just keep it on hand to top up the existing mulched areas whenever they get low. No matter what becomes of the extra, I'd say we've certainly gotten our money's worth out of it already.
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