It was another interesting day at school yesterday, full of information; there is a lot of presumed competence going on in these classes (which I appreciate), but that means my learning curve will be steep. Normally I like that. My brain is just a little tired at the moment.
The nice thing is that I'm also getting answers for why some things in my garden are working right - and I didn't even know I was doing them. Or if I did, it was for some other reason, and it turns out that it works well for other things, too.
For instance, I learned a tidbit in my "Weeds in the Urban Landscape" class that helped me understand why I have very few weeds. I always thought it was my vigilance paying off - and in fact that is probably part of it - but it has a lot more to do with the way I am managing my soil these days.
Did you know that weeds like a high ph? They prefer things around 8 on that scale - quite alkaline. Did you know that gardens high in organic matter tend to be closer to 6 or 6.5 ph, more acidic than weeds like? I didn't know this. I was adding tons of organic matter to the soil to improve water retention, amount of oxygen, and food for the microbes. I had no idea that I was also making an inhospitable place for weeds.
We did apply wood chips with the consciousness that they would smother weeds. But a thick mulch doesn't just smother them - it also prevents seeds, blown in by wind or pooped out by birds, to reach the soil. It also prevents light from getting to seeds that do touch the soil, which means they never germinate. And of course wood chips, or any organic mulch, is also adding a layer of organic matter on top of the soil, thus decreasing ph.
Here's something I did know: A no-till system also discourages weeds. Our vegetable beds have not been tilled in many years, and we get very few weeds in them. When you turn over soil, you expose many buried seeds to light and air, therefore causing them to germinate. It's far better to disturb the soil as little as you possibly can.
I do still get a stray weed here and there, but considering the state of our yard before our sheet mulching project (bindweed so widespread I thought we'd never get rid of it, ditto Bermuda grass), the difference is pretty incredible. And another benefit of added organic matter is that it's easy to pull the weeds I do find.
For those of you that live in California: The instructor of my native plants class is also an avid hiker. He says he believes this year will be a banner year for wildflower shows in the hills, due to the vast amounts of moisture we've been getting. He beseeched all of us to get out there this spring. Don't just be satisfied with seeing other people's pictures! he said. You must get out there and see the beauty for yourself. This instructor, Stew Winchester, also leads backpacking excursions specifically to see wildflowers. If this interests you, you can visit his website for more information. I believe the summer dates are not up yet; check back later or send him an email. He also teaches in many places besides Merritt.
I look forward to learning ever more about what I've been doing wrong (and right!) in my own garden, and I hope to share those things with you as I discover them.