Build Better Gardening Soil: Mulching

Properly caring for your garden soil greatly reduces having to repeatedly till the soil. By consistently enriching your soil organically, you maintain open and loose soil structure for your vegetable garden. Keeping the soil covered provides more soil structure—if you can, keep your soil covered.

One great way to cover your garden soil is to use mulch. Organic mulch is best. Carbon mulches, like straw or old leaves because soil microbes under those types of mulch material can consume nitrogen from the soil. This is because those microbes are trying to break down the carbon from those carbon based mulches. Only these high carbon mulches create this issue.

Carbon Vs. Non-Carbon

While not totally ideal, carbon mulches can be used, they are not too much of a problem. In fact, carbon mulches provide great weed control for your garden. Mulch is wonderful at retaining soil moisture—It also help act as an insulation in extreme weather conditions. Earthworms, microbes and other organisms eat the mulch, creating more organic waste that gradually enrich the garden soil. This “eating away” of the mulch means you will need to replenish you mulch cover throughout the growing season. Don’t overlook simple grass clippings as a cover resource. Don’t just throw away those grass clipings—they don’t need to be in a landfill.

The organic wood material in cardboard and newspaper is ideal cover material under certain conditions. These type of material are best suited as kill mulches. Kill mulches are used to kill vegetation in preparation on new planting. You can use these kill mulches for pathways and around trees. Mix cardboard and newspaper to cover the area. Next, cover the cardboard and or newspaper with grass cuttings and leaves to create a kill mulch cover. Add wood chips to this mulch recipe to create a good pathway mulch cover. Wide garden beds and restricted foot traffic pathways are keys to protecting you soil structure—this avoids compacting your garden soil.


Using low-tech soil tilling is a great way to prepare you garden soil for the upcoming growing season. Using a power tiller or rototiller mixes different layers of soil, disrupting the soil into a crumb soil structure. This actually disrupts the enrichment that you are work so hard to achieve. It is not absolutely necessary to till the soil to enrich it or rid the soil of cover crop you need removed. You can simply bury the cover crop with mulch.

Chickens are great for tilling cover crops. The till the soil—but only a few inches down. they don’t cause too much damage, and their droppings enrich the soil in the process. To loosen the soil, use a garden fork or simple garden hand tool. These hand tool methods loosen the soil, but does not grind up or crumb the soil structure. Check out this video showing how to mulch with newspaper and cardboard: