Rebecca’s Gardening Tip of the Day: Mulch

April 21, 2010 § Leave a comment

Yes! I am still alive! The advent of spring, coming as it does hand-in-hand with the end of the academic year (grading, grading, grading) has kept me busy of late. Needless to say, the garden is a little more exciting than the school year at present: for instance, I can ponder the intricacies of Cartesian Dualism while I weed a bed of beets, but I can’t get a tan while I’m inside teaching class, can I?

Anyway, now that the garden is in full swing, I thought I’d drop in and share a few useful tips from time to time. Yes, I am still cooking, but it’s easier for me to snap a few shots of the garden than it is for me to get good pictures of the culinary process: so for now I’ll leave that to Sofya!

Today’s garden tip is very, very simple, but it will definitely come in handy for any of you who are similarly puzzling over this bizarrely warm, dry weather. Where o where are our April showers? Everyone out there who is luxuriating in this unseasonal warmth: if this keeps up, my cabbages will not be happy! Just sayin.

So, here’s how I’m dealing with it: mulch. Lots and lots and lots of mulch. By which I do NOT mean the expensive bags of suspiciously-orange-colored wood shavings you can buy at Lowe’s (by the way: when I was working on a landscape crew we used that stuff, and one day we were spreading it in the rain, and all the dye started coming off on us – and the bits of orange shavings were sticking all over our bare skin – we looked like apocalyptic beasts).

The best and cheapest substances to mulch with are straw and leaves. I spent last fall scouting around picking up bags of leaves people had left out for trash pick-up; then I went by the village building and requested that the leaves be brought to my house, not to the dump. Then I went and talked to the village leaf collection guy, who has a sort of vulgar little office decorated with pin-up girls, but I ignored them and asked for the leaves. So soon I was coming home to find bags and bags of them obliging left in Brendan’s truck. Hooray!

As for straw bales, they cost about 5 bucks, which is crazy, because I remember when they were 1.50 each. So what you want to do it, wait until after Halloween or Thanksgiving, when people are getting rid of the bales they used in their aesthetically dubious lawn decorations – or when garden centers are getting rid of them cheap – and get a few.

Leaf and straw mulch have these benefits:

1) They keep the soil moist – which, if you are growing root vegetables, is absolutely essential, since they won’t develop properly if they don’t have room to expand and adequate moisture. If you have a hot, dry, windy day, the surface of a garden bed can quickly become like concrete, if it hasn’t been mulched.

2) They keep weed seeds from falling in the soil and taking root. AND, since the soil is moist, it’s easier to pull out those weeds that have already gotten situated there.

3) If you get a surprise frost, the leaf or straw mulch over tender seedlings acts as a protective barrier.

4) Eventually the straw or leaves will break down, and can be tilled into the soil as compost.

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