Monday, 24 November 2008

Mulching, compost and humus

Cabbages in the process of being mulched.

Although there has been a fair bit of rain recently I have still been able to get out and work in the vegetable garden, and I have been mulching some of the vegetable beds over the last few days.
Artichoke beds mulched on Friday

Mulches are an integral part of our no dig growing systems for the hotel vegetable garden. We usually apply the mulches at the beginning of the crops growing season, and the most common mulch we use is our compost. First we remove the smaller weeds from the vegetable bed and then apply 10 to 15cms of compost carefully spreading it around the plants.

Mulching the larger pepper plants.

The mulch has a wide range of benefits including stabilizing soil, suppressing weeds, retaining moisture, and increasing the organic matter content of the soil.

We avoid mulching very small plants as our compost at times can be quite “coarse”, but having said that, the effects on the crops we mulch with our compost can be quite spectacular. I often admire the plants a few weeks after they have been mulched and ask myself what is it that makes them respond so well?

Courgette plants basking on their compost mulch.

Could it be the humus? This makes up a large portion of the dark material in compost and is very valuable for improving the chemical and physical quality of the soil. Humic substances are a large range of complex molecules, but you can actually buy soluble “humic acids” from the chemical companies, sold as wonder potions for intensive crop production. In my previous career as a crop productionist I used them, but never found them to work.

Our compost; much more than a single component.

To me these soluble humic acids produced by the multinationals are rather like the “wonder health food additives” such as; eggs with Omeg 3, milk with added Calcium, yogurt with Danacol etc. May be the scientists trying to isolate the latest wonder molecule should look at my cabbages mulched with compost!

Mulched cabbages coming to maturity

So often it’s not a single factor which constitutes to the health of a plant or person but it is the result of all the different components of a complex natural system, working together, and this is what we should come to respect and appreciate

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Hotel Posada del Valle is a small hotel in Asturias Northern Spain surrounded by its own organic farm and where we are passionate about organic farming, food, and sustainable livelihoods. In this Blog those of us who live and work at Hotel Posada del Valle open a door to share with all of you who are interested in what we are doing.