We grow in the tropics, on a cement rooftop, in more than 6 hours of direct sunlight. Needless to say, our garden gets hot. However, though we water only in the cool of late evenings or early mornings, by dusk the following afternoon our soil is still moist and forms loose clumps when squeezed in the palm.
The key to healthy soil is keeping it covered with mulch. Just as nature tries to protect bare soil by bringing in weeds, we have to fill the empty spaces between our garden plants with mulch to catch moisture and nutrients that would otherwise be lost to evaporation and erosion.
In our box planters pictured above, we are using an inch of hay that happened to come with the wooden egg crates we found. As you see when the hay is lifted back, seedlings are able to start and grow through easily, and the soil remains dark and moist. This natural mulch is ideal because it will eventually begin to break down and become a source of organic matter, continuing to contribute to the soil structure.
Where the use of hay is impractical or not affordable, other materials such as newspaper, leaves, and even permeable bags or fabrics may be used. Use the materials at hand. One example is our garden tower bags. These are tied at the top and holes created only for the individual plants and drainage at the bottom in order to keep as much of the soil covered as possible. The bags serve as the planter and the mulch, limiting the amount of resources needed.
Without mulch, all other efforts you put into feeding your soil and plants will be diminished. Why waste your energy and resources?