I found that for an easy low impact mulch for vegetables there are two options. Leaves and grass clippings. During the summer months using grass clipping that you collect from your push mower is a great free mulch that offers nitrogen to your vegetables. It is readily available and easily acquired for free. But now its fall and the grass is about to hibernate for the next 6 months. We’ll need a mulch for the winter to protect our soil and help retain moisture in the ground through the winter so that it’s available early spring. Just in time is the falling of the autumn leaves. You may not need to drive some of Seattle’s Maple and Elm lined avenues to collect all you need for your garden this year, you might be lucky enough to actually have enough in your backyard or sidewalk. Last weekend I visited a friend on 20th Ave E and found two laborers and two home owners collecting leaves all bound for the yard waste bin. They were more than happy to have me take them away. My truck wasn’t quite full so I kept raking. One home owner actually came out and gave me a bottle of wine for raking his sidewalk! I’ll be using the sidewalk leaves in my veggie beds next season. I left the street leaves for obvious reasons. Leaves decompose more readily than wood chips do and don’t steal nitrogen like their woody counter-parts
Wood chips are great for perennial beds. Save your back and have your local arborist drop a load of chips. They have to get rid of them and rather than paying for the dumping fees they are happy to unload their days work on to you. The trick is you may not be able to dictate what kind or how much you are getting. You should also be careful not to get fruit wood if you are mulching fruit trees. The fruit wood that is being chipped rarely is just pruned out stems and branches. When an arborist is called in to do work it often revolves around disease. When using diseased wood chips it is important not to mulch trees in the same family. An easy way to get around this is to use conifer chips on fruit and fruit chips on conifers. Pine needles are also good mulch but have a tendency towards acidifying the soil which works well for some berries like Evergreen Huck and Blueberry which both like acidic soil.
Once you know what you need, this is the time of year to start collecting your mulch from your neighborhood.