I received quite a bit of criticism since I have been re-thinking mulch gardening. I suppose it’s understandable. After all, the Back to Eden garden does look amazing, the gardener has years of experience with wood chip mulching, and all I’ve done is read a book.
After reading the book, authored by gardeners with a life of experience though (and comparing it with other resources written by experienced gardeners and orchardists), I simply can’t bring myself to continue with an experiment that might destroy my soil food web simply so that I can speak from my own experience.
I’m certainly not saying which method is best for you and your garden. Wood chip vs. hay mulch (or no mulch) is a decision only you can make and live with the ramifications of your choice. I’m just journaling what we are doing on our homestead, right or wrong, my observations, and the lessons I learn along the way. Ultimately, I just want to encourage everyone to *think* before getting carried away with the hype like I did.
To journal my personal experience with wood chip mulch gardening is certainly challenging- I only laid the chips down 7-8 months ago. It has been winter and there hasn’t been much in the way of decomposition going on as a result. However, after I finished weeding this afternoon (pesky thistle… no amount of mulching stops them!), I decided to take a sampling of the visible life of the soil food web under the mulch in my garden, taking that first step to gaining first-hand experience and knowledge.
It just so happens that I never did get around to finishing laying the wood chips down as mulch over the entire garden and there are two areas with no wood chips. To put the garden to bed last winter, I layered year-old cow manure, hay, fallen leaves, and then in most areas wood chips. Since we aren’t going to be planting a garden this year I’m hoping this “lasagna” of material will work to build soil fertility and the soil food web.
I dug up one shovelful of soil from under the wood chips and one from under the hay mulch and then just started picking through to see what I could see, comparing the two and taking an earthworm count since, after all, they are the superstars of the garden. I recorded our observations in a video and I hope you’ll find the results of the search as interesting as we did.
So there you have it folks. My un-scientific results.
In my garden, the earthworm ratio in wood chip vs. hay mulch is 6:21. Six to twenty-one!!!!!! No to mention all the other life found under the hay- including arthropods, nematodes, larvae, eggs, and more! In fact, a chicken joined us while we were picking through and I bet you can guess which mulch she was scratching through…
I’m contemplating peeking under there again in a month and seeing what another four weeks will do.
We added wood chips to our garden exactly one year ago. It was mainly pine chips with lots of needles. We added grass, shredded leaves, wood ash, newspaper, green grass and aged manure.
Our chips have broken down beautifully. The soil beneath our additives is a sandy loam. This spring, i have moved the chips away from several areas to see what was going on down below and there is so much life going on that it looks like the soil itself is alive and shifting. In each scratch i can easily count around two dozen worms, at all life stages, in a matter of seconds.
The broken down chips have become a deep rich humus. It’s just beautiful. We’re so happy with it that we’ve doubled the size of our garden this year and are starting the process of adding to the new area.