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.



Happy Weeding, Happy Garden and the Humus Among Us

Notes From the Gardener



The Memorial Day weekend is generally understood in our area as the advent of the tourist season. Soon the roadways will be bursting to capacity with visitors coming to enjoy for a few days what we who live here can enjoy throughout the seasons. To the merchants, this influx of people is a godsend. To many residents it is simply a big pain. It is all in the eyes of the beholder. In the eyes of this gardener the arrival of the tourists is analogous to the arrival of the weeds. All of a sudden they're everywhere.

Since no garden can produce a crop left unprotected from the onslaught of the weeds, "weeding" is a primary chore of each and every gardener. I don't suppose that even the longest stretch of the imagination can make weeding fun, but regarding weeds in a different light can make the chore less tedious. Let me begin to explain by offering you Penny's definition of a weed. She says, "A weed is simply a plant growing where you don't want it to grow". Now, since I am the one who does the weeding at this farm, I might accuse Penny of seeing nature through an optimistic, rose-colored fog, but her definition is right on the mark. A weed is only a threat to a garden crop if by proximity it competes for water, sunlight and nourishment. Otherwise, weeds serve an ecological purpose, provide beauty and can be used as food.

If you've ever witnessed a piece of land razed and stripped of its topsoil, the first plants to appear are the deep, fleshy rooted ones like plantain, dandelion, chicory or mullein. Those deep roots help prevent erosion and as they die back those fleshy roots add humus to the soil. This is nature's first step in recreating the topsoil. Many of the "weeds" serve the gardener well by acting as host plants to the many beneficial insects. Lacewings like the nettles and lamb's-quarters. Predatory wasps are attracted to umbel flowers like those of the wild carrot, Queen Anne's Lace. Evening Primrose is always allowed to grow here and there on this farm because Japanese beetles are so attracted to this "weed" that they ignore crop plants that they might not otherwise.

Weeds. Beauty. Can the two words appear together? Yarrow, daisies, black-eyed Susans, buttercups and purple loosestrife all appear on lists of weeds. No! They're wildflowers, you say. Again.....the eye of the beholder. What artist has ever captured the haunting blue of a chicory flower? Let some milkweed grow in the garden and you'll enjoy the flitting of the monarch butterfly all summer long. Maybe you'll be fortunate enough to see dozens of migrating monarchs gather on an autumn aster that you decided not to pull as a weed months before.

Salad lovers are always looking for a new ingredient to add variety and zest. Lamb's quarters, purslane and chickweed are all common garden weeds that are quite tasty and nutritious. All we have to do is learn to recognize them as food.

Regarding weeds with new understanding may never make weeding an adventure, but perhaps a little less burdensome. HAPPY WEEDING!