Sunday, August 30, 2009

Garden Mulch

By Keith Markensen

Once your plants are an inch or two high you will have another decision to make. Even the best garden soil tends to form a crust after a hard rain has beaten the air out of it and a hot sun has baked it. That crust makes it hard for the soil to drink up the next rainfall, and often forces much of that rain to run off uselessly to lower ground. To prevent this, gardeners cultivate the soil with a hoe. A "dust mulch" results, which diminishes loss of water by evaporation. There is, of course, a second important reason for cultivating the soil: to eliminate weeds.

There is a magnificent substitute for cultivating a garden. This substitute is mulching, spreading some sort of cover over the soil between the rows. The ideal material ought to be cheap and composed of a vegetable matter so that it will eventually be incorporated into the soil itself. Fortunately, there are many such products. Peanut hulls, buckwheat hulls, peat, straw are all sold for this purpose. Fallen leaves are good. Spoiled hay is excellent, although there is a risk of its containing mature weed seeds. Grass clippings are excellent, provided they contain no seed.

If rainfall is generous, you need not bother about your vegetables getting enough to drink. But if the ground begins to get dry it is time to use your hose. Better than any spray is a "soil soaker" hose to attach to your regular garden hose. You want to get your soil moist nine or ten inches deep. Then do no more watering for at least a week.

When it comes time to harvest your vegetables remember most vegetables contain more flavor and more complete nourishment when young than when fully mature. You and the cook are now in collaboration. Confer together. She has a natural interest in composing a table symphony, and this may lead her to want a combination of vegetables that your garden does not at that moment afford.

If you are, or become, an enthusiastic gardener, your vegetable garden will be a place you will often steal time to visit. Whether it is on a wide lot or just a small yard garden it ought to be a beautiful place. Well-planned landscaping ideas produce a beautiful outcome;likewise, in general, a well-planned garden, healthy and productive, develops a distinctive beauty that reflects its function.

We moderns are inclined to make a sharp distinction between the things we have for beauty, such as flower gardens, and the things we have for utility, such as vegetable gardens. All this suggests that you may wish to grow a few rows of cutting flowers among your vegetables. They not only add beauty but can follow your vegetables to the table, to delight your eye while the vegetables delight your palate.

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