1.) Do you add chocolate or peanut butter chips to the batter prior to baking?
2.) When done baking, should you frost them?
In the gardening world, the compost are the chips and the mulch is the frosting.
It's the compost that "sweetens" the garden soil. It needs to be infused and mixed into the soil, just like the chips need to be mixed in the batter. And like those chips, a little goes a long way. You don't need a ton of it to make your plants thrive. Compost is the gardeners "black gold". The nutrients are constantly being leached into the soil. When rain washes through the compost, tons of Nitrogen and Carbon are washed downward improving the soil quality.
But the mulch? It's the icing on the cake. Like a thicker frosting, mulch is bulkier than compost and tends to stay in place more than compost would. It spreads easily, covers and protects your soil and plant roots from extreme temperatures, helps retain moisture and suppresses weeds and disease. Beyond all this, it does look good....for a time.
What I don't like about mulch...
2.) The dyes that are sometimes added to it that leach into the soil
3.) Certain varieties are particularly icky like the shredded tire mulch that is sometimes colored, sometimes not. Ugly either way!
4.) It takes forever to break down, okay when you're blocking weeds in the "round the house" landscaping, but not ideal in the garden beds.
My Modest Proposal?
- Skip the mulch entirely. I know! If you want to suppress weeds, your best bet is too smother them with cardboard and newspaper. Dump some compost on top of your soil, work in, lay down your combo of cardboard and newspaper and drop some more compost on top.
- Honestly - I think compost looks better than the mulch anyhow! It's dark, rich and retains that dark color throughout the summer. Jammed packed with disease fighting organisms and essential nutrients, it's always feeding your soil. Compost also stabilizes pH levels.
- Compost is cheap to buy and free to make! We (okay fine Tom) got a whole trailer full of compost for $30. But of course we also make our own. Remember: Compost is only organic matter. You can't use it as fill dirt because eventually compost will break down and go away, leaving a hole.
- Some wonderful items to compost are leaves, garden plants, newspaper, grass clippings, manure, straw, and kitchen scraps. The compost pile is the ideal place for all those vegetable and fruit peelings, eggshells, dryer lint, coffee grinds and tea leaves. Once these items decompose, you'll get a mixture resembling humus with that wonderful dark and crumbly texture.
- Like mulch, a thick layer is better than a thinner one to help keep sunlight from emerging weeds.
- Add 2 to 4 inches of compost to your gardening/vegetable beds and work into the soil either by hand tilling or a rototiller if you have one.
- Add your newspaper and/or cardboard to suppress weeds. Dump another 2 to 4 inches of compost on top.
- If possible (and if you have the time) it's nice to add additional layers of compost every month or so during the summer and fall.
How to use Compost
It doesn't matter what your current soil conditions are...compost is going to enrich it. Whether it's excessively heavy and compact or too loose and sandy, compost will help. It breaks up heavy clay soil like mine and helps it drain better. In sandy soil, compost helps retain the water so it doesn't drain nearly so fast, giving those plant roots a chance to absorb moisture.
In fact, when compared to wood mulch, compost has a lower carbon to nitrogen ratio meaning...it's a better quality fertilizer than wood mulch as it decomposes! Yay.
Have you mulched yet? Would you consider using compost as a substitute for mulch?