Spring: Mulching in the Orchard

This year we are dedicating the blog to jobs in the garden and home. The posts will see us use the season in the header and the jobs being done and the location. Hence: SPRING (season): MULCHING (Job) and LOCATION (Orchard). We want to do this so we can create a cycle for our garden, a culture where we can track jobs in the garden and home, and how they can be better integrated to minimise waste and maximise growing time. 

We have to think carefully about how we use manure

Our neighbour has had a delivery of horse manure, there's plenty of it round here but we have to think carefully how we all use manure in our gardens.

Manure is not part of our garden cycle, it is outside our garden. We suspect this may be the case for you too. Manure produced by animals, in our case horses, are not feed or stabled by most gardeners. Manure is a great resource but it can also be very damaging if the source is not reliable. We know the source of our horse manure to be a fine livery but muck can be a problem in the garden. Manure can carry weed seeds, chemicals, disease and infection that can kill. Our manure is well rotted, older than six months, yet there still could be problems with cross contaminates from leachate from younger manure being added to the heap. A rare but frightening cost of fresh manure dug into beds for crops is Ecoli O157. We don't have to tell you about Ecoli, there are plenty of websites out there that will tell you what happens to the human body when it is ingested. It can last in manure for up to six months and if that manure is used as a mulch or dug in, your crops will suck it up through the roots and that lettuce, courgette or bean is a ticking time bomb that could kill you or your family. We never use any outside manure direct on crops, we could stacked it six months ourselves but as we have only a 1/4 acre site that would eat into a large area that we could be using. We instead add the manure to our heaps with our compost, effectively turning them into hotbeds capped with fresh compost. Any potential harmful leachate runs off and the roots never reach the manure.

Fresh manure can be used on your plot, but use it for hotbeds #manure

We find by using manure that may be less than six months old like this, it rots down over the summer and produces a lovely friable compost. Manure we bring in from an outside source we also treat as a mulch for the orchard but never add direct to our growing beds.

Manure in the fruit orchard.

We use this manure mulch on our fruit trees. A good 2-4 inch mulch will do wonders for fruit trees, suppress weeds and feed the tree throughout the summer as it rots down. As you can see from the mulching below, we aim to create a large circle around the tree to block out light to the grass.

Mulching with manure could save you from weeding all summer.

This mulch ring is actually two builder's buckets worth of muck. We like use these black buckets as they store well, are easy to carry, incredibly versatile and are not back breaking. You can find wheelbarrows hard work on a hillside, and they are back breaking but a bucket minimises the weight you are carrying and means that you give the same amount of mulch to each plant. This stops you from spreading the mulch too thin. It's better to mulch half your plants well than mulch all your plants poorly.

Getting the mulch in.

Don't forget when handling manure from a third party source to wear gloves. You can pick up some pretty horrible diseases from manure if you ingest it or have cuts on your hands. The risk is minimal with well rotted manure but it is always best to be safe than sorry.

Tools for spreading manure.

Like with any manure, it is advised to spread it outdoors and if you want to use in a glasshouse or polytunnel to make sure the area is well ventilated when spreading the manure. We don't dig in our compost or manure, we use it as a mulch, it saves the back but more importantly builds up fertility in the soil. Being on a hillside we have problems with soil depth and over the next year we want to use mulches to build up soil depth.


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