Applying Mulch, Mowers and Moisture
Notes From the Gardener
All that back breaking work of Spring has ended. the seeds have been sown, the plants are in, the carrots have been thinned and the tomato stakes are in place. There seems little left to do but sit back and watch summer take the crops to fruition. Aahh, Summer. That great deceiver that uses its charms to lure you away from the garden and gives you the illusion that there is little to be done but wait for the plants to produce fruit.
Yes, Summer is boating and swimming, camping and cookouts. Summer is also hot and dry, full of insects, and the season of the weed. Without the gardener to stand sentry, summer can steal a garden away. Summer presents the gardener with many formidable opponents, such as insects, weeds, and extremes of heat and drought.
Extended periods of drought and high temperatures like we are currently suffering, turn gardens and landscapes from green to brown. Although we have no control over rainfall, we can, however, increase the soil's ability to retain the moisture it receives.
A soil's ability to retain moisture is primarily determined by the soil particle size. Soils made up of large particles (sand) do not hold moisture well. Clay and silt soils hold moisture well, but once dried they become dense and take up moisture slowly.
Adding large amounts of organic matter (humus) to the soil will increase the soil's capacity to take up and retain moisture despite the original make up of the soil. Humus will help heavy soils to take up moisture more readily and will help sandy soils to retain water.
The second most important - MULCH! At the end of the Spring when the soil has heated up and the rains have come to an end - that's the best time to mulch. It helps conserve the moisture in the soil and it prevents the weeds from growing.
Timing is of importance in applying mulch. You don't want to do it too early, because then you'll prevent the soil from warming up. You don't want to do it too late because a lot of the moisture will have already escaped and you'll be looking at a long dry period (like this summer).
You can recuperate an overly dry growing bed by watering it well, and then mulching heavily to prevent loss of further moisture to offset a long dry season. Even with water restrictions in place (we've been hauling a lot of water by hand this summer), you can do a small area of the garden each evening (and evening is the best time to water effectively).
As far as materials for mulch, you can use most anything. I like to use anything organic, such as leaves, gathered the previous fall and left in a corner pile to decompose as much as they can before I put them on. I find leaves and old hay that I get from local farmers to be the very best. Those of you with grass catchers on your mowers can spread the clippings thinly right on the garden beds.
And for goodness sake, don't be worried about introducing weed seed into the garden! Few will sprout from under a mulch and those that do can be easily pulled out and left there to become part of the mulch itself.
Hot and dry are by far our worst enemy this year. Safeguard your garden by mulching and you'll still harvest a good crop.