During the fall when the summer crops have come and gone and the garden beds are now empty and they’re not growing anything. Just because they’re empty doesn’t mean you can’t build the soil fertility over the winter. I’m going to tell you how to use free and local resources to do just that. Mulching garden beds is a great practice to help build your soil fertility. Probably the best thing to mulch it with is finished compost. The nutrients are immediately available for the nutrient cycle and it usually comes with a high concentration of beneficial bacteria and organisms like earthworms that will help break down other mulch materials.

I simply lay the finished compost on top in a one inch layer. I make sure to pull back any under-composted or mulch materials. I do not mix it in so that I don’t damage any of the beneficial organisms like fungi that are in the soil. Autumn leaves are great resource that quite literally fall from the sky. They have a wide variety of trace elements and carbon. In fact, of the fifteen commonly essential elements, autumn leaves have eleven of the fifteen. When broken down they add these nutrients to the nutrient cycle and the carbon material adds humus that retains water and provide habitat for soil borne bacterial organisms.

I usually add a thick layer to the garden as it will help insulate the soil from the harshest winter temperatures. By spring the volume will have decreased and decomposed. One thing that autumn leaves don’t have a lot of is nitrogen. For this we’re going to turn to a resource you generate in your kitchen. Used coffee grounds and tea leaves are often tossed in the trash, but they’re a valuable resource to add to the garden. They have a lot of the elements that your plants need. Tea leaves also have twelve of the fifteen essential elements that were looking for and are a valuable addition to any mulch layer.

I usually sprinkle them directly on top of the autumn leaves making sure not to apply more than a centimeter or two in any one area. If over applied you can slow the decomposition processes. I commonly add eggshells my mulch layer as well. They’re comprised of over 40% calcium, but it’s immediately available to your plants upon release from the shell. Egg shells also have a wide variety of elements including nitrogen. They have nine of the fifteen essential elements and most importantly they contain significant quantities of selenium, which is often not found in other free and local resources.

Egg shells are easy to add to the mulch layer. I usually let them dry out in my shed for a few months. This will help reduce any potential of bacterial colonization. Once dry and brittle I crush the shells and roughly sprinkle them on top of my mulch layer. Not only can you take materials that would otherwise become trash you could literally grow your own fertilizer at home.

Comfrey is a plant that sends down a deep taproot and is able to collect nutrients from the mineral layer and bring them to the surface as part of their leaves. I use the leaves as part of the mulch layer helping to deposit these nutrients where the garden plants can have access to them. Comfrey contains all fifteen of the essential elements. In order to keep things in place and start the decomposition process I’ll make sure to give the mulch layer a quick water. When you’re applying mulch near live plants, such as a perennial, make sure not to apply an overly thick layer. All these materials when combined in larger quantities can form a hot compost. Hot compost near a root system can cause significant damage.

When combined and used in a mulch layer or in the creation of compost these free and local resources often have more than enough nutrients to allow you to grow healthy organic vegetables year after year. If combined with other free and local methods such as cover crops, wood ash, and human urine. I am confident anyone can go product free in their garden while producing vast amounts of healthy organic crops. If you would like additional information on the free and local resources I mentioned make sure to drop me a line and stay tuned for future articles.