Starting A Garden Using Mulch Only

DF McElwee
by DF McElwee
Where to begin. I'm moving to Florida at the end of May (should arrive on or about the 30th) 2013. The property does not have an existing garden so I will have to install one. I do not own a tiller either. Additionally I do not want to miss planting time either so I will have something to harvest in the not to distant future.
I was told by someone who lives in central Florida (Zone 9a to be more precise) I could collect mulch from a local landfill (not in the landfill itself, but a separate cleaner area) and this is what she uses for her garden/gardening.
So, my question is, can I start a garden using mulch only that I build up much like a lasagna garden or raised bed (without the wooden form around it)? This is my own very first garden and I really need my plants to be successful due to money issues for me and my friend who is recovering from cancer.
Any helpful advice is greatly and graciously appreciated!
starting a garden using mulch only, gardening, raised garden beds, Seeds sprouting in my flats
Seeds sprouting in my flats.
  24 answers
  • Cynthia B Cynthia B on Apr 23, 2013
    Congratulations on your move to sunny Florida! When we moved here, I had a huge learning curve. The soil in the back yard is mostly sand and worthless. I hope yours is better. I ended up building raised beds and started planting in January so everything was finished by July. Last summer I was able to extend the growing season with a shade sail suspended over the beds. Until I put bird netting over my tomato plants, I fed the local wildlife some awesome tomatoes. Check your local library and newspaper for gardening advice and forums. The county extension agencies have many publications and frequent Q&A talks in the community. Good luck to you and Good health to your friend.

  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Apr 23, 2013
    DF, I will second the rolling out of the Florida welcome mat. You will quickly learn that it is whole different ballgame down here when it comes to growing vegetables. Summer is actually the most challenging time to grow them because of the heat. I think you could certainly do a lasagne type garden incorporating free mulch. You'll have to check with your county as to availability.Because of our soil conditions, many people, like Cynthia, opt for raised beds. The first thing you should do is to have a soil test done. You can get a very basic one done at your local extension office or send a sample off to the University of Florida. Tell them you intend to grown vegetables and they will send a report back telling what your soil needs. Here's some good reading until you get here:

  • DF McElwee DF McElwee on Apr 23, 2013
    Thank you Cynthia B & Douglas Hunt for your kind welcomes. Much appreciated. Cynthia, my soil is the same as yours. The learning curve will be madness since I'm from the northern climate. The Farmers Almanac tells me to sow and plant seeds. The online Garden Planner tells me it is time to harvest. Yes I am confused at this point. I am sure I will have to use the shade sail and netting as well. The county agent wants me to call him when I actually get there next month so I'm sure he will give me some good advice too. I just want to get a plan together before I get there so I can hit the ground running so to speak. Sorry to hear about you feeding the wildlife with your tomato's however. Thank you for your reply and helpful info. I am sure it is a whole different ballgame Mr. Hunt. The property does have a fairly large L-shaped wooded area around one side and back of the property. There are plenty of leaves, pine needles and I'm sure there is probably some rich soil under all those trees, leaves and pine needs as well I could utilize. I think my best bet would be to put the lasagna style with the free mulch garden directly at the back of the house, since it is shaded in the hot afternoon hours. I know the mulch definitely helps hold the moisture in and the plants are going that to help keep them going. Total did not even think about having soil tests done, so I will do that as well. I also appreciate the informational link. I have saved it and will read it shortly. Thanks again for the welcome and helpful info.

  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Apr 24, 2013
    You'll definitely need to get the Florida version of the Farmers' Almanac as a planting guide, DF. Tomatoes are a fall and winter crop here, for example. The big upside is that you really can garden year round.

  • Caley's Culinaries Caley's Culinaries on Apr 24, 2013
    The county agent probably has the recommended planting schedule and vegetable varieties for your area. We were very successful with veggies on the beach in SC. We planted in compost piled onto the sand. There is a neat set of directions just for FL in the book: Southern Herb Gardening. It says mulch with corrugated cardboard for weed suppression, moisture retention and insulation from the sun. Best Wishes!

  • DF McElwee DF McElwee on Apr 25, 2013
    @Douglas Hunt the Florida version of the Farmer's Almanac would be very helpful alright. I am glad to know at the very least, I might still have a decent crop/harvest even if later in the year. Year round gardening is a huge plus as well as canning for later use will be to me.

  • DF McElwee DF McElwee on Apr 25, 2013
    @Caley's Culinaries I am sure you are correct about the county agent having the info I need, but grateful to you all for the helpful info too. Sounds interesting, growing veggies on the beach in SC. I'm reading anything I can get my hands on about FL, the how to's and what nots. The what to plant when seems to be my issue at the moment. LOL Thank you for the comments and good wishes!

  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on Apr 25, 2013
    DF, I believe that link I gave you provided planting times for a great number of vegetables. At the beginning of June, you should still be able to plant eggplant, lima beans and southern peas (like black-eyed peas, not the traditional green pea), sweet potatoes and watermelon. But things will not really get into gear for you until the fall. There will definitely be a learning curve, but I'm sure you'll get the hang of it.

  • DF McElwee DF McElwee on Apr 25, 2013
    Yes sir, it did provide me that info. I looked at the link you provided after I responded. Sorry about that. I'm glad also I will be able to plant the others you mentioned when I get there too. I'll take what I can get harvest wise until things pick up gardening wise later in the season. More than likely I will put it all in a calendar with reminders just to be sure. Thanks again for your help and info!

  • Marie S Marie S on Apr 25, 2013
    You can use flower pots, straw bales, make wooden boxes, raised beds.

  • Mom4Real Mom4Real on Apr 26, 2013
    Wow! What great information! Thank you so much for sharing!

  • DF McElwee DF McElwee on Apr 28, 2013
    @Marie S I will be utilizing some of those as well. The corn I started in planter boxes is already about 6" tall so I may have nearly full grown corn by the time I get moved. LOL

  • DF McElwee DF McElwee on Apr 28, 2013
    @Mom4Real I'm glad my crazy question brought some useful info for you in terms of the responses given. If we don't ask, we don't learn.

  • Marie S Marie S on Apr 28, 2013
    Good for you, the spring here is BC is not really warm yet.I had big planter I planted potato's and planted garlic, oinons in my potato's. If you have roses, plant garlic around the roses, keep the bugs away. :-)

  • DF McElwee DF McElwee on Apr 29, 2013
    I hear you @Marie S. Companion planting is a very good thing and keeping the bugs away helps too. I just need to get super organized and put it all together in the garden or containers as the case may be. I've pinned quite a bit to my Pinterest (same name as here) and adding stuff to my blog as I get time as well. I hope it helps others along the way too. Thanks for info and your response!

  • Luci Blake Luci Blake on May 07, 2013
    DF I just moved north from Fl to Wv after 25 years there. Your general growing season there is Sept to May. Many counties or cities (I came out of Orlando), have compost for free or a small fee - you load. Its how I got my gardens started. I did really well with container gardening. Unless you have a huge family to feed, a rubbermaid 18 gal, 5 gal buckets or other raised beds is the best way to go. I can send you photos of how to if you are interested. There is a great farm in Brooksville that can help you out too They grow rabbits and worms - worms are the Fl farmer's friend as the castings (poop) and 'tea' (pee) will make pretty much anything you plant grow like crazy. Good luck!

  • DF McElwee DF McElwee on May 08, 2013
    @Luci Blake I greatly appreciate the help and info. I will check out the link and farm you mentioned too. Thankfully the property is zoned A/R-2 (Agricultural Residential for those that don't know), so I can have more than the city limitations of 4 chickens as well as meat rabbits in reasonable numbers for self consumption only. My goal is to grow and raise enough food to sustain myself and my friend recovering from cancer for economic and healthier non GMO foods. I've been reading up on worms, worm castings and casting/compost tea and agree with the benefits of them all. Of course I am always interested in photo's/video's of "how to" gardening, tips and techniques so do share what you will please. I envy you being in my home state. One day I will move back there myself.

  • Luci Blake Luci Blake on May 08, 2013
    You are in a good area for the worm farming, they do some cool things (Ive not had the opportunity to visit them but friends had), with worms and rabbits, and give farm tours. Are you on Facebook? If so check out my garden photos there under Urban Gardenista This was the container garden on my acre there. Worm bins are the large grey ones. There is also a self watering raised bed system I made. You can get eco billboard there (ask the billboard workers not the company) that will work for pond liner and much less expensive. The regular billboard is pvc and shouldnt be used as liners for food sources. If Orlando, my friend has a great U pick farm (also on FB) that is a good model, he uses the worm farm I gave him when I moved. His stuff ROCKS! What part of WV are you from? Im in Ripley.

  • Luci Blake Luci Blake on May 08, 2013
    Oh and if no one has answered your initial question of can you grow in just mulch, yes. Some things will grow in it but it draws too much nitrogen for most plants if it is fresh mulch. Is it possible she may be calling compost mulch? If the mulch has been sitting a while and composted down some, yes you can grow in it, however, it tends to dry very quickly and needs extra water (I did this last summer here, and the material wasn't compost completely, but it was past the mulch stage too, it simply needed more time to compost). I will use the pile that has been sitting and use it mixed with really GOOD compost this week.

  • DF McElwee DF McElwee on May 12, 2013
    There is a farm directly (well one street away) behind where I will be living (homesteading) and I went there when I visit in February 2013 and bought some fresh goodies from them at their farm stand. I can't remember the name of it right now. I hope to develop a good neighbor policy with them and also other farmers and homesteaders and neighbors in the area as well. I checked out your and your friend Orlando's pages and liked them both. I'll add them to my page as well (Oneacre Homesteader I was curious as to the "earth buckets" and containers. Those would be fairly easy since I have several of the "totes" for the move I could use afterward for that purpose. I am glad to know about the mulch as well. To me, the photo's that she shared did look more like compost as it was a rich black, not the normal looking chunky mulch. The property has a fairly large wooded area around the perimeter so I am sure I can probably pull out some of the nice rich soil from there, perhaps mix it with the mulch from the county to get things started. From the looks of things I should have plenty of time to get things better prepared for the fall growing season. I am so looking forward to growing my own. Ripley is a fair piece from where I'm from. My tiny hometown is rarely ever heard of, which is Parsons. Most folks know where Elkins is however and I'm about 17 miles northeast of there.

  • Luci Blake Luci Blake on May 14, 2013
    The 18 gal totes are easy to put together: you need a 4" french drain pipe, silt sleve (you can get them packaged together), a pvc pipe. zip ties and a drill. Open the french drain and measure enough to fit in the bottom of the tub, pull the silt sleve over it and zip tie the ends of the drain together, poke a hole just large enough for the pvc to slide into on one side and set inside the tub. Drill 4 or so holes for drainage just a few inches above the pipe in the bottom of the tub and fill with compost. Add plants. Add water to the pvc until it comes out the side holes. You can modify this for large 3x6 or 4x8 raised beds too. The 5 gal buckets are just as easy. I grew a LOT of stuff in them. Companion plant in the tubs, it makes it easier to keep bugs out. I had a tomato plant, basil, carrots, marigolds, radishes, lettuce all in one tub. How long have you been away from WV?

  • DF McElwee DF McElwee on May 21, 2013
    Thanks for the tips and info Lucy. I do appreciate them all. Another mystery solved and yes, the lady "is" using compost (and some mulch to retain moisture) from the county. Lets see. I've been away from WV now for about 21 years.

  • Luci Blake Luci Blake on May 24, 2013
    I was gone 25. Been back almost 2 years now and LOVE it.