Mulching on the mountain

My grandpa was a gardener. He lived with us from when I was about 10 yrs old, in an old Victorian house with quite a bit of land. I wont say it was “immaculate”, because we owned a dog who would interfere with things looking their best – but it was a pretty impressive garden consisting of large vegetable plots as well as stunning flowers around the front.

So of course – I grew up thinking I could garden.

I would work alongside him, weeding, planting, thinning, pruning – you name it I tried my hand at it. Under his watchful eye everything flourished! Now looking back I sometimes wonder if he had more than a watchful eye on things – and while I was at school I wonder how much was “redone”, “repaired” or “replanted”!

Fast forward 20 yrs and I own a garden – with a large vegetable plot! YES! I think, this is my time. I had big plans to provide all kinds of home grown nutritional items for the table, surprising my family with my skill and dedication. But after a few years of harvest, it is obvious I don’t have the green fingers I perhaps thought I did. Oh – I can grow things! There are the years I manage to provide 24 cabbages and 18 lettuces which all need to be eaten THIS WEEK. Or then there are the years I can grow 12 green beans – and 2 cherry tomatoes, ripe for the table – but for a family of five…

To make it worse, my next door neighbour has a vegetable patch right beside mine – and hers is impressive! I mean REALLY. I should sneak out there right now and take a photo for you all – because honestly, everything is in lines, it grows at the same time – to the same height! She harvests impressive quantities of food for her family (she has 4 kids) and she preserves and freezes things too for later in the season. She’s really lovely, she gives me advice, we are often out there together and we laugh over the weeds in my garden (totally my fault) and the rocks in hers (totally NOT her fault). She acts as though I’m doing a great job – while I bravely work on against all odds. It seems to come easy to her, and I struggle!

My husband is an agriculturalist! I KNOW! He helps subsistence farmers in Africa increase their yields in order to earn enough to improve their lives and those of their communities. At this point I just need to be totally honest with you all – because it is almost laughable and if I don’t laugh I might just get back into bed!

One of the programs he follows and uses as he works is called Farming Gods Way. It is a whole system of planting and growing, which looks after your soil and increases productivity.

So this isn’t Africa, and I’m not quite living on the breadline – but he persuades me that I could give it a go.

IMG_6521First of all it’s a NO-DIG system. So no turning over the soil and heavy digging before you start (Well, that’s a plus)! This prevents the breakdown of soil structure, which causes erosion. You spread a layer of compost on top of the bed and then cover it with mulch. This year for mulch I used a layer of straw.

Planting – requires you to pull back the mulch for each plantlet that you put into the ground, which is quickly done using a small trowel. Digging a small hole through the compost layer and dropping in the seed or small plant. When I did carrots and spinach, I used a rake to pull back a thin line. Each plant then looks all snug in its little “nest”.

Next it’s a LOW WEED operation – because of the layer of mulch on the garden, weeds don’t grow so much, there is very little weeding to do on a weekly basis (I think I have weeded perhaps 5 times this season in total) when you do weed, you simply drop the pulled up weed onto the mulch as it ads to the layer.

The MULCHING in itself prevents lots of weeding, and also preserves the moisture in the soil. The watering needed then in the plot is much less than in a normal garden as the layer of mulch holds in the moisture. Of course in Africa this is a huge benefit with the lack of rainfall – the layer of mulch also makes the most of those really heavy rain moments where the water has a tendency to hit the soil and run off. The mulch helps prevent this. Here for me, it means I don’t need to water everyday – which with my busy schedule is a huge help. I don’t often go out into a garden with drooping plants, praying that my last minute watering might be just enough to bring them back to life!

And what of the results? Well, this year I have at last managed to have vegetables ready at different seasons, in quantities which feed the family! Butternut squash, spinach, tomatoes, carrots, cabbages, courgettes – the beans were a little less successful, and we are currently watching a melon ripen beautifully. Its been easier for me to manage – weeding and watering have taken up a lot less time. Maybe I’m getting there! Its not sure – but I think my grandpa would need to see it to believe!

Elaine is a mother of three teenagers and gardens on the side of the mountain at 734 m (2,408 ft) above sea level.

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