Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Mulching and living compost

Broad bean plants in the process of being mulched

The weather has still been surprisingly mild and sunny for mid November and I’ve been out working in the vegetable garden (with the help of Mari Carmen) mulching some of the vegetable beds.

Peppers mulched in the summer

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.

Mulched cabbages coming to maturity

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

Broad beans mulched last Saturday

We avoid mulching very small plants with our compost particularly if it is a bit“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?

Different types of healthy brassica enjoying their 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.

Wheel barrow load of beautiful compost full of life.

So often it’s not a single factor which constitutes to the health of a plant but it is the result of the many different components of a natural system working together. It’s not just the chemical components of a compost which are important to a plant but also all the different living organisms which it contains and their interaction with the soil and the plant. Mulching with “living compost” helps towards a healthy soil and thus healthy plants which in turn gives healthy food for us to eat.


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.