We’ve all heard of using “fleece” – the nylon netting stuff – to help warm up our soil, cover our plants to protect them from frost, birds and rabbits but have you tried using real sheep’s fleece to warm and condition the soil? Fleeces are usually not too hard to get and don’t cost very much, sometimes only the postage or petrol if they’re close enough to collect.
Way back in pre-history (when I was a kiddie growing up in the 1950s and 60s) my dad and uncles used the shorn fleeces of sheep to cover beds for overwintering and preparatory to planting. The fleeces were raw, unwashed and full of dirt and sheep-shit and other goodies that the soil loves. The worms love them too and come up – kept warm by the nice woolly fleece – to grab the stuff lodged in the wool and drag it down into the soil. Their movement through the soil helps condition it, aerate it and give it a really good texture that will help hold water and nutrient while still making them available to the plants. I’ve a feeling – but no evidence – that all this helps the mycorrhizae too.
The dirt on the fleece is washed into the soil by rainfall, and the fleece also slowly rots down to release more nutrients while it insulates the roots of plants. This is useful in summer as it keeps the tree’s roots cool and moist. The fleece is also a good habitat for garden creatures – such as mice and voles and insects, including bumble bees which may nest under it. Birds collect wool to help make their nests too.
I’ve been using the fine and dry times we’ve had over the winter to cover the beds I’m going to sow soon, as well as those I sowed with overwintering peas and beans, and where I planted the strawberries, with old and unwashed fleece that is no good for spinning.I cover the sheep’s fleece with net afterwards to stop it blowing away. The results on the beds that have had the fleece on for a few months are really super, the soil is lovely, moist, crumbly and perfect for sowing … all I need now is a bit more warmth so the seeds will germinate