Mulch: saving you water and weeding

Vegetable garden with mulch

Up until this year, I have always rototilled my garden, sowed seeds in rows and then kept the soil bare, waiting for the seeds to grow. Every other garden around here looks like that, I thought that was simply how it was done.

Of course weeds start to sprout soon and getting rid of those weeds has been an ongoing battle, which I'd usually lose around mid July.

Weeding soil left uncovered is extremely labour intensive, even when using a hoe or a wheel plow.

Collecting mulch material: lambs quarter
Only after reading "Gardening without irrigation" by Steve Solomon  have I realized that bare earth is an unnatural thing: something will always try to cover it. Pulling out weeds or hoeing down anything trying to cover the soil is a losing proposition; this year I tried using a mulch instead.

A mulch will choke out the weeds by restricting their access to light and air. It will eventually break down into compost that feeds the vegetables and it prevents the soil from drying out, letting your plants get by with a lot less watering.
You can use just about any organic matter as mulch; I have read that newspaper makes a great mulch and of course straw is the best.  I decided to use grass clippings and the weeds themselves as a mulch.  I have an abundant supply of wild spinach (lambs quarter); I cut that down with a sickle and put it down in between the rows of my vegetable garden. It dries out in about 4 days, turning into great mulch.
Lambs quarter applied as mulch around beans and corn

Greenhouse with grass clippings mulch
Grass clippings from a lawn mower make mulch that may look prettier, but I think the clippings are too small and can create a matted mess after a while. So far, I have had to weed a LOT less than without the mulch and the plants never look wilted because the mulch prevents the soil from drying out. Mind you, this has been a very wet summer so far, so I can't really vouch for the mulch's effect on moisture yet. I do know that in similarly wet summers, the weeds exploded all over my garden and this year the mulch has made it very manageable.

I am hoping that I can keep suppressing weeds this year, preventing them from going to seed and laying the groundwork for next year's invasion as they have every year before :-)

What do you use as mulch?

UPDATE 11-August-2016: the lambs quarter I had added as mulch is also a great fertilizer. Check out the beans and corn in the picture below! I didn't add any other fertilizer (but I did use a cover crop).
Beans and corn fertilized by the mulch

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