Here are some quick tips about using fertilizers and mulch in the garden. First, know where your fertilizer is coming from. If it is coming from animals on commercial feed, the commercial feed may contain GMO plants, which can be sprayed with and contain herbicide. If there is herbicide in your manure, you will not get so much as a weed to grow, and if a few weeds grow, you can bet they are herbicide resistant, and very hard to get rid of…
Mulch follows the same rule, know where you are getting it from, because if it has been sprayed with any type of herbicide, it will remain in your soil for a very long time, which will not be beneficial to your garden.
If you are going to use tree trimmings, a great place to get them is your local county yard. Generally, they do not waste the money to spray them before trimming, so they can be a safe way to get your shredded wood. The trick is to get it ahead of time, let it sit for several months before putting it on your fall garden to finish the decompose before planting the following spring. I like to keep piles of it decomposing over different periods, to use when I start a new area. I have had about a ¼ of my new garden mulched for the last six months, and this is where I will pick up this spring with planting. I generally start with a 4 – 6” layer, and continue to add an inch or two every year after. If you try this, you will be amazed at the soil underneath! Just sayin!
If you are going to use hay, understand that you must keep it thick at all times. Because it has all the seeds attached, it will sprout quicker than you can blink if your hay packs down. And if you decide to switch methods, be aware that those same seeds will sprout very quickly if the ground is turned and you will have a mess on your hands. (This is EXPERIENCE talking here!)
Straw is great, but again, know where you are getting it from, and be prepared to have wheat in your garden. If it is GMO wheat, it has been sprayed with herbicide. It is always a shock when you get a bad batch of something and your entire garden does nothing! Definitely worth crying about on my part!
In some parts I will till the garden where I am going to plant for the first time, and in others, I will simply lay the mulch down several months in advance of planting. You know your soil and which will work the best. In some areas, I till first to both break up the soil, pull weeds and grasses more easily, and to give a first year boost to nutrients, but this is a short term nutrient fix. You will have to add nutrients back to the soil, the decision is whether to add them every year all at once when tilling, or to add them gradually through the season as you harvest and care for your garden. I have done both, and am now firmly in the no till, fertilize as you go camp!