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Applying compost over mulch?

 
master steward
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My raised, no-till garden beds are generally covered with anywhere from 0" to 1.5" of chipped up leaves and grass clippings from the fall.  We cover them evenly in the fall and that's what is left about this time of year.

My compost bin is ready to be emptied so I can put 1/2" of compost on all the beds.  I can also mow the lawn and collect the clippings and cover the compost with those clippings to protect the microorganisms from the sun.

My question is about the existing mulch.  Should I just spread the compost over top of it and the clippings on top of that?  Or should I try to move the mulch aside, put the compost down and then put the mulch back and clippings on top? (clippings wouldn't be as needed in that case)

Moving the mulch is tolerable around plants like tomatoes but would be a challenge in many beds (carrots, potatoes, sw potatoes, squash, etc).  I assume the soil biome is interacting with the existing mulch so moving it could aggravate those organisms.  But covering the mulch with compost may not allow the compost to integrate with the soil as fast.  IE the worms may not be able to eat through the leaves to get to the compost before next spring rolls around.  Then when I move this coming fall's leaf/grass mulch aside to plant seeds, I'd be digging through even more layers before I get to plantable soil.
 
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I just apply my compost to the top. My thinking is, the rain will wash it down into the mulch to be used by the creatures that need it. In your case, I would do just as you said. I would put the compost down and then lay the grass on top of that.
 
Mike Haasl
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Cool, since it's also the easier way, I'm all for it  Plus the missus got started on that today while I was out so it's good that we don't have to change strategy...  Thanks Trace!
 
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If you wish to keep the microbial life in the compost alive and thriving, then perhaps it would be better to rake-back the mulch and put your compost close to the soil where the microbes will do the most good.  Leaving compost exposed to direct sunlight irradiates most of the microbes.  How thick are you planning to put it down?
 
Mike Haasl
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I'm guessing 1/2" to 3/4" of compost.  Maybe I'll do some of each.  Where it's easy to rake back, I'll put the compost under the mulch.  Where it's a pain, I'll put it on top and cover with grass.

A wise man once said "If you're struggling hard with a decision, then either way must be ok so don't worry about it".  
 
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This link may assist determining the mulch versus compost debate:

https://www.abc.net.au/gardening/factsheets/compost-vs-mulch/9436334

 
Marco Banks
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Technically, anything that goes on top of the soil is a mulch.  Thus, compost laid over the surface of the soil is mulch, as is plastic sheeting, shredded tires, gravel, grass clippings, and dead mafia gangsters (Vinnie, Guido, Big Paulie and Medium Sized Paulie).  But not all mulch is created equal, and unless I suddenly decide to move to a trailer park in Yuma, I won't be mulching with multi-colored gravel any time soon.

On the 8th day, God created wood chips.  And the gardener looked upon them and thought, "That's the solution that the orchard has been needing."  And it was good.

Plastic sheeting covers a lot of ground in a hurry, and it much better at moving water toward where you'd like it to flow than dead gangsters.
 
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Seems to me that compost on mulch (if its organic matter) will help turn that mulch into compost by inoculating it with biodiversity and nutrients to aid decomposition. It also seems to me that compost is the best mulch, so what you are describing sounds like a good longterm strategy. If you are currently mulching with woodchips, the nitrogen in the compost may lock up until it breaks down the high carbon wood. However, at this time of year (late July) my garden is largely transitioning toward lower nitrogen demanding plants that are going into flower and fruit and would benefit from less N. I also make compost with fowl so I am not in need of more nitrogen.
 
Mike Haasl
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Luckily my mulch is chipped up leaves and very few chunks of wood.  We're sweating away putting it down right now.  In beds with a decent amount of mulch, we're pulling it away, putting down the compost and spreading the mulch back over the top.  In beds that don't have any mulch or are peppered with little plants (carrots), we sprinkle the compost on top of the bed and cover with some leaves collected from the edge of the garden.

Hopefully that's the best of both worlds and it keeps the fresh compost from drying out or getting sun baked...

Thanks for all the ideas everyone, hopefully this helps others in the future!
 
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