If you follow my instragram, you might have seen bits and pieces of one of my experiments.. wool mulching. As you might know I am developing a no-dig dyegarden (with some bonus fruits and veggies, because a woman’s gotta eat!). One of the known aspects of no dig gardening is the use of a mulch. A lightblocking but water permeable material to block out weeds. That would be enough for me, because less work on this one woman show does sound really alluring. But it does more! It also balances the soil temperature and retains moisture. I’m a big fan of using as much natural materials as possible, but you could also use landscaping fabric for these results too(ish). So.. Want to know more about my wool mulch experiment? Please read along!

Fresh wool mulch on one of the beds in the garden

For a few projects I worked with raw fleeces from a local sheepherd. Working with raw fleeces means that you have to sort and skirt your way through a wooly landscape and get out the parts you can use. It also means that you have to get rid of the dirty parts, the badly entangled or felted parts and the parts that have too much vegetable matter to work with. After sorting out a few fleeces I had this big pile of “non-usable” wool. And since I don’t like throwing things away I was on the lookout for another use for this good but not artwork-proof material. So when I started in a new garden late 2017 I wanted to try someting.. wool mulching.

I knew about the use of mulches like straw, leafs, compost and other plantbased material, but wool also has the qualities that make it worth trying:
* When layed out thick and dense it blockes out the light to stop weeds from germinating
* It will still let through rain, water or liquid fertilizer
* The vegetable matter, manure parts from the back end of the fleece and other yucky stuff provide a little extra boost
* When the wool decomposes slowly and is taken down by the soil life like worms it adds structure to the soil too

Woolmulch after a month or three, in december. Decompostion has started and bacteria and other soil life are thriving on it.

So when I cleared my entire new plot of weeds and old plants I started laying out all the woolscraps. I covered a few clean beds with wool to compare it with other mulches and beds that don’t have any mulch at all.

To be sure I didn’t have to play games of hide and seek after every autumn storm I stretched some wire to hold it into place. When wool gets wet, it is actually quite heavy and doesn’t fly off. Tiny bits on the edges might have escaped, but the majority of the dense packed wool and larger (slightly felted) pieces hold their ground. Quite literally.. I am on a rather sandy soil.

So.. what are my findings of this late season experiment?

Black goodness underneath the woolmulch. Super clean soil!

In the beginning of january I got a new, larger and sunnier plot. (Yeah.. again. I am an allotment nomad!). So I had to clear out the mulched plot and boy did it make me happy!
Under all that wool was this gorgeous black lushy soil. In all those months I didn’t have to pull out any weeds, except for a few little ones on the edges. The wool already started to decompose a little, shown by the fungi I found and the short bits that had been worked into the soil already. I thought it would take much longer for that to happen. Soil life was thriving! I found quite a few worms just underneath too.

Compared to the beds I didn’t mulch these beds were a piece of cake to mantain! Weeds had a party on the mulch free beds, but didn’t invade the mulched beds. And compared to the beds that had been mulched – with leafs and clippings – I found that the wool mulched beds didn’t need as much refills as the leafed ones. It resulted in a few weeds in the leaf mulched beds and almost no weeds in the wool mulched beds. Less decomposing probably also means that the wool did add less to the soil structure than the leafs did. So a few pro’s and con’s on both the wool mulch and the leaf mulch, but both really did well and I am really pleased on the wool mulch results.

2018 garden plot in february

For the 2018 growing season I am curious how the wool (and other mulches) will hold. In the more wet climates mulches like leafs, straw and -I guess- wool are slug resorts in the summer. It holds moisture and gives shelter during the hot days. I think the wool might be less attractive to them, because all the fibers will stick to their slimy bodies. But I will have to test that before I can really say that. Not all dyeplants like to be mulched too, weld is one of those. Self seeding plants need bare soil too, obviously. Japanese indigo, on the other hand, can use some help to retain moisture and balance out the soil temperature since it isn’t really a Dutch climate loving plant by nature.

Like I wrote before, the idea of less weeding and more ‘productive’ gardenig souds appealing. I can use all the time I can get to harvest, dry, dye, felt and embroider. So I will definetly try out woolmulching this summer. I will probably devide the Japanes Indigo bed in a mulched area an a non-mulched area to find out if it makes any difference in crop production and if woolmulching will work for me.

At the end of the season (or maybe sooner) I will be back with the growing season results. I’ll keep you posted 🙂

– Jodie

ps. do you have any experience with wool mulch, other mulches or no-dig gardening?