vegetable patch management
cycling mulching
Cycle mulching is when you vary the amount of mulch you spread on your vegetable beds depending on the air and soil temperatures and evaporation rates at any given time of the year.  I practice it to maximise germination rates and minimise snail and slug damage, particularly in early to mid Spring.  

ADVANTAGES and disadvantages of mulch
In warmer weather mulch not only provides organic matter for your garden soil it also reduces the evaporation rate and inhibits the growth of weeds, however in the cooler weather that same mulch reduces the soil temperature by stopping the sun's rays from penetrating into the soil which can inhibit seed germination.  For more information on the advantages and disadvantages of mulching see the Advantages And Disadvantages Of Mulch webpage.

HOW cycle mulching works
When conditions are cold and wet and the soil temperature is low you plant seeds and seedlings into bare soil without adding a layer of mulch  but when the air and soil temperatures begin to warm up and the evaporation rate rises you begin to apply mulch.  How thick the layer of mulch is will depend on how hot and dry it is. 

In Summer veggie beds are covered with a thick layer of mulch, however as the temperature starts to cool in Autumn the amount of mulch used to cover newly planted beds steadily reduces until no mulch is applied.  No further mulch is applied until mid Spring when soil and air temperatures begin to rise again, then it is applied in gradually increasing amounts to new beds in the leadup to Summer. 

Chart showing when you should apply mulch to your vegetable beds and how thickly you should apply it.  This chart is for the Southern hemisphere so mid Summer is January.

cycle mulching variations
Cycle much is not based on a strict set of rules.  Whether you mulch or not and how much mulch you put on at any given time will vary depending on a number of factors.
  • Whether the season is early or late.
    If the Spring is an early one then I start mulching earlier in the season, similarly if the cooler autumn weather comes early I start reducing the amount of mulch I use on my autumn beds and stop adding mulch all together at an earlier date.

  • Regional climate variations.
    A garden in a cool wet climate zone will have a longer period where mulch is not spread over the soil then a garden in a hot dry climate.  In  very hot and dry climates cycle mulching may not be suitable at all.
  • The type of seeds you are planting.
    Seeds need different soil temperatures in order to germinate.  In mid Spring is possible to have a vegetable bed without  mulch along side a bed with mulch simply depending on what type of seeds or seedlings you have planted.
  • Delayed mulching
    This is where you plant seeds into bare soil but once the
    emerging plants have reached a reasonable size you add a layer of mulch around them.  This is usually how I grow beans in mid Spring.  Pretty well all plantings in bare soil in early spring should have mulch spread around the maturing plants once the weather warms up.
  • Pothole planting.
    Pothole planting is where you make pothole size patches of bare soil amongst a vegetable bed covered in a layer of mulch with the bare soil and mulch separated by Edge Pots.  This works well for late Spring planted zucchinis and tomato plants.

exceptions to the cycle mulching rule
  • Fallowed Vegetable Beds
    Photo of a fallowed potato patch covered in mulch.
    My fallowed potato patch covered in mulch in Winter.  Just prior to planting out the bed in mid Spring the covering mulch layer was dug into the soil.
    The only time I always apply mulch even if conditions are cool is when I am fallowing a vegetable bed.  If I need to fallow a bed I cover it with a thick layer of mulch in order to inhibit weed growth and provide the bed with a good boost of organic matter.  When I am ready to plant out the bed I turn it over with a fork digging the covering of mulch into the soil.
  • Fine Seed Plantings in Summer
    I sometimes sow fine seeds into bare beds in Summer but these beds are always covered with 50% shadecloth for the first few weeks and a delayed mulch is applied as soon as the seedlings are big enough.  Seeds that are planted in this way include lettuce, spinach and carrot.

PAGE CREATED 2015-08-11