For lots of vegetable gardeners it would be heresy to say organic mulch is more valuable to a vegetable garden than is compost. Compost is king. Compost is magical. Compost makes things good happen. Well, all that might be true but only if you DO NOT use organic mulch over your entire garden.
Soil Food Web Is Critical To Success
The soil of a vegetable garden is good and productive if it contains a healthy population of soil food web critters – earthworms, springtails, beneficial nematodes, and billions of beneficial microbes (bacteria and fungi). The soil food web will thrive ONLY if you feed them with organic material. Compost is not food for the soil food web. It has already been eaten. Compost the result of microbes and worms eating and decomposing a pile of organic matter. Compost does other good things, but it does not feed the soil food web. Only organic mulch is the right form is food for the soil food web. No food, no soil food web.
Mulch Becomes Compost
Think of it this way. A two to three inch layer of chopped leaves or straw disappears within a few months. It is being pulled down and eaten by the soil food web. What is left after all this munching and crunching is something called “humus”; the black material we see in good soil. Guess what? Humus is almost the same as compost. Only it has already been spread throughout the top level of the soil.
Bottom Line? It is critical to have a two to three inch layer of chopped leaves, straw, or finely shred bark over the vegetable garden all year long including during the winter. That guarantees a huge soil food web is in place doing much much more for your veggies than some compost. I use compost when planting and I spread some around my plants in early summer but I depend on my mulch layer as the primary furnace to feed my plants.
What Is Happening In Nature
This is the week we in southern Michigan hope to be able to say there will be no more frost this year. Start looking in flower beds for the Hummingbird Moth (Sphinx moth) now into September, they are delightful. The bluebirds are starting to build their nests so it’s not too late to put up a bluebird house.