I know that mulches are not traditionally used in vegetable gardens, but flossing, driving cars with decent gas mileage, and using Wikipedia to settle dinner-table debates are not traditional, either, and we find that stuff reasonable at this stage of human development.
When considering whether to mulch your vegetable garden, the great question to ask yourself is, do you want to be Sisyphus, or not?
Because you are inevitably serving up to nature a nice cozy rectangle of carbon and nitrogen that will get filled. And I don't care if you start with sterilized soil in a raised bed. Eventually, you will get weeds. And unless you are there to pluck them out every night, they will become overpowering.
My garden off the mulch
Here are a few interesting facts about weeds that I just learned from University of Cambridge botanist David Briggs:
- Weeds adapt quickly to all kinds of pressures, including the pressure of finding themselves in an immaculate botanical garden, staffed by many young gardeners with horticulture degrees. In such a situation, some of them flower earlier than they do in nature or in the gardens of the sloppy, hoping to set seed before anybody notices.
- Many small-seeded weed species can be lulled into dormancy by even a shallow covering. In other words, they need light to germinate.
- However, many weeds of crop lands produce a lot of seed that is viable for a long time, leaving "seed banks" that persist in the soil…just waiting for some foolish gardener to bring out the rototiller and expose them to the sun.
- Seeds of some weeds can persist in the soil a hundred years.
- One experiment looked at a wheat field and found in 34,000 seeds in a single square meter.
So, as Susan Harris suggests, rake those fall leaves onto your vegetable beds. Or order a truckload of wood chips, or bury the place in spoiled hay. And don't clear it up in spring. All your crop seeds require to germinate is a shallow stripe of exposed soil made with the handle end of a shovel.