Why Soil Should Be Covered
Driving through our state (Illinois), you may mostly see bare soil. Corn and soy beans cover it up for a few months of the year, otherwise it lays there exposed.
What’s the harm? Quite a bit, actually.
The bare soil erodes from wind and rain, shuttling nutrients away from the fields and plants. These lost nutrients are normally applied later in the form of synthetic chemicals.
The dry soil then forms a crust, where water cannot penetrate. When it does rain, that rain rolls off into ditches, homes, and roads - not down deep to the plant's roots. This of course causes the extreme cases of flooding we’ve seen in recent years.
Keeping the soil covered keeps your soil cooler, which increases your soil life. Those microorganisms help your plants assimilate nutrients.
How to Keep a Covered, No Till Garden
Keeping a no till, covered soil garden bed is actually easy, less work, increases nutrients to your plants, and holds in moisture.
1) Cover any soil with hay, straw, wood chips, or card board when not in use, and between plants after planting. This locks in moisture, minimizes weed pressure, and prevents erosion.
2) When you harvest, cover the soil with hay, or the remnants of harvested plants. Leave the roots in the soil to attract microbes and worms. Plant another succession into the bed as soon as possible.
3. When weeding, if the weeds do not yet have seeds, use them as mulch. They’ll dry out in a matter of days (and this is what hay is!).
I hope this encourages you to cover your soil in your garden beds. It's so easy! You could go one step further and plant a cover crop between plants or when your beds are not in use, like white clover.