There are a few things I (Cheryl) must reiterate about my garden life. 1. Curiosity yes. Skills no.
2. Everything in the garden takes me twice as long as normal people because I'm so easily distracted.
3. I can never, ever seem to come home with enough mulch.
4. I should not be trusted with plants who have needs that are in any way complicated.
Which is why the blueberries I planted two years ago are still these pathetic runts:
And why I should have resisted when Julie gave me a cardoon and an artichoke plant, which are sort of greedy plants that like lots of room and nutrients and water and stuff.
But I went out to the greenhouse this week and came back laden with lettuce, frisee, fennel, cilantro, broccoli raab, mustard greens,chervil, and gorgeous pansies for my more-shady eastern bed. Julie had helped me pick these because they fit with my edible garden theme, are somewhat shade tolerant, and many are from the botanical family that's especially attractive to beneficial insects (as well as being the preferred food of the caterpillar that turns into the swallowtail butterfly - very pretty).
So I got the bed ready in the laziest possible way. I did a fairly uninspired job of weeding, then spread mulch over as far as I could. (Having, as usual, bought much less mulch than I needed, I could only go so far.) With the lettuces and herbs, I put some compost in the small holes I dug in the soil. But there was a foggy memory in a dusty corner of my brain telling me that overly fertile soil can discourage flower formation so I didn't add the compost boost to the pansies' spots.
A gentle word on mulch. In general, instead of bark mulch, which doesn't add anything to the soil, I'd recommend a good compost that is free of weed seeds or a product like VT Compost Company’s Perennial Blend. It is a mixture of compost and potting soil and peat moss and will create a weed barrier while adding nutrients at the same time. If a weed seed is under the compost blend, it won’t see the light of day, and in theory will not germinate.
Alternately, I am a big believer in hoeing or using a tool to scratch up the soil surface every now and then, before the weeds germinate. I know it can be hard to fit in, but it can be kind of meditative, quick and not at all like weeding. Really. Around food crops, it’s always best to assume you will have to do some handwork since there are no perfect and total mulch options. Close spacing, planting in rows and mulching paths works well in a more traditional plot; but in a situation like yours, where you are doing edible landscaping and not going for straight rows, weeding is inevitable.
Scratching up the soil surface before you even see the weeds is the simplest, input and money-free solution. But if you want to invest in your gardening future, I think your beds could really benefit from the Perennial blend. For about $30 you could cover that whole eastern bed with a thin layer. That method is called “top dressing.”
Oh yeah, now that you have the mulch down, say three Hail Mary’s and come back to talk to me in a few weeks.
While I still had a ton of greens left to fit in, I went back to the greenhouse for today's grand opening and came home with some stunning annuals and very pretty perennials, as well as the most adorable basil I've ever seen. Tomorrow morning, more mulch goes down, the rest of the plants go in. And I now have to consider what to do with the additional bags of mulch that I bought.