WHERE STANDS DEBATE ON BEST SOIL COVERING BEFORE SPRING SOWING? – 3rd wk in Jan 2013

No shortage of rain at present. To prevent leaching of fertility from the soil, the ground is better covered either with a crop or a sheet of something – but what? Everyone I meet seems to have an opinion on this so take your pick.

Clear plastic: Gaining support because it is multifunctional. The soil warms when the sun is out and the light helps germinate weed seed. When plastic is removed to prepare a veg seed bed, the weed seedlings can firstly be hoed away and left on the surface to wither while the soil hopefully dries out a bit.

Black plastic: Still favoured as the soil is easy to work when the plastic is removed, but the BBC Radio 4 ‘Gardeners’ Question Time’ panel tell us the soil is warmed better with clear than black plastic. The slugs gather under the black plastic, but they were in the soil anyway, so just pick them off when removing the plastic to prepare for sowing.

Cardboard: The Sonairte Organic Walled Garden (2 acres) at Laytown, Co. Meath, is currently looking for cardboard boxes to flatten and use as covering on the veg and fruit patches. Good way of using a biodegradeable ‘waste product’. Encourages good worm activity especially if a layer of compost is spread on the soil before the cardboard covering is applied. In Sonairte, we put grass clippings on top of the cardboard coverings which takes the ‘cardboard city’ look off the garden! www.sonairte.ie.

Carpet: I use off cuts of old carpet. Arthur my cat enjoys lying on them, but carpet prevents the sun’s heat getting to the soil. Hence in February, I will remove the carpet to begin preparing the beds for sowing and planting in late spring. Carpet works better for covering over a compost layer on the soil in the autumn and winter to retain heat and encourage soil life activity. The compost heap also needs covering to keep in the heat it is generating. Carpet is my preferred choice for covering a compost heap.

Jane Moore, head gardener at Bath Priory Hotel looking for more carpet to cover her compost heaps in the rain with Áine Neville of www.giyireland.com.

Jane Moore, head gardener at Bath Priory Hotel looking for more carpet to cover her compost heaps in the rain with Áine Neville of http://www.giyireland.com.

Fleece: I was very impressed with how Dermot Carey, the renowned organic horticulturalist uses thin white fleeces in Harry’s Restaurant organic walled garden in Inishowen, Co. Donegal. Unlike the above mulch matrials, fleece mainly works best AFTER planting has taken place, keeping the soil warmer than un-fleeced areas nearby. The difference in comparable plant growth was amazing.

The garden centres offer all manner of membranes to mulch patches big and small. If you have the disposable income, you’d be welcomed with open arms at any garden centre, no doubt. However, the above low-cost or no-cost options serve me fine.

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