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Posts Tagged ‘mulch’

Mulch Your Small Kitchen Garden with Lawn Clippings

In 9 days my pile of lawn clippings had shrunk. On top, it looked as though all the grass was drying out.

I’ve explained in earlier posts how I add humus to my small kitchen garden; a task that every kitchen gardener should perform at least annually. In a post titled Small kitchen Garden Soil Preparation 2, I explained how I usually excavate only where I’m going to plant: a full row for seeds, or individual holes for seedlings. To the holes and furrows I dig, I add compost.

But this meager compost-application isn’t the only way I add humus and nutrition to my soil. I explained my composting and mulching activity in a post titled Compost for my Small Kitchen Garden: I explained that I mulch around my vegetables with lawn clippings.

Miracles of Mulching

Mulch is awesome… and a heap of lawn clippings can do a lot of work for you. Here’s an example of the power of mulch:

Nine days ago, weeds in my kitchen garden bed were in fine shape. They had grown unchecked since the ground thawed, and many were in full bloom. Amazingly, there were forget-me-nots in full bloom; seeded, apparently, from a bed a quarter of the way around the house from the vegetable garden.

When I raked the mound of clippings aside, I revealed very dark, decomposed material. The clippings were already breaking down into the soil. In some years, I’ve added clippings whose original depth would have totaled four feet. By the time I finished in the garden in the fall, those clippings were nearly completely gone: rotted away while the vegetables grew.

Also nine days ago, I mowed my lawn for the first time this season. The grass and weeds were tall, and I ended up creating a pile in my garden that was about two-and-a-half feet deep, three feet across, and eight feet long.

Here’s the point: I made the pile of grass clippings directly on the weeds growing in my planting bed. I didn’t cut the weeds; I didn’t stomp them down; I simply piled on the clippings.

Yesterday and today, I started tilling. The pile of grass clippings had shrunk to about half its original depth. I used a rake to move the heap aside so I could dig, and lo, the weeds I had buried only nine days earlier were all but gone! Better still: the clippings had already decomposed significantly!

This is, of course, the whole point of mulch: it keeps weeds down and it decomposes slowly, releasing nutrients into the soil. It also holds in moisture: When I tilled where the grass clippings had been, the soil was moist and easy to work. When I tilled soil that hadn’t been covered, it was drier and harder to dig into.

Mulch Your Small Kitchen Garden

If you’re one of the lucky who doesn’t have enough lawn clippings to mulch your garden, look for a reasonable substitute. I’ve seen people lay down old carpet, cardboard, newspaper, and black plastic in vegetable gardens to suppress weeds around the desirable plants. Leaves will also work, though it’s best to shred them before applying them as they may move around easily in heavy winds.

Whatever you choose, mulch! If for no other reason than to reduce your need to weed, mulch!

Two caveats if you use lawn clippings as mulch:

  1. When it rains, the clippings will throw off a distinctive odor. The odor doesn’t arise from older, decomposing clippings… so you won’t get the odor if the clippings sit for a few days before it rains. In any case, the odor goes away in a day or two.
  2. Grass clippings stick to your feet. Leave your gardening shoes outside, or brush them off thoroughly before you go inside!

Some other discussions involving mulch:

  • Frugal Backyard Landscaping Ideas » Blogging Away Debt – The other day, I asked if you had any questions for me in regards to how I keep our costs low. I received a question on whether I had any frugal backyard ideas and I do! 1.) Use old things and turn them into landscaping …

  • As the Garden Grows | Do you put mulch on your garden beds? – Do you put mulch on your garden beds? Posted in Garden Maintenance, Garden Tips, Home and Lifestyle, In The Garden, Plant health, Summer in the Garden on Aug 14, 2007. If you’ve been reading my garden stories you know I …

  • Sea grass mulch – We got the idea of using it as mulch from our friend Jess, who wrote about her mulching technique on her blog, Dame de Fleur. We figured she and her dad couldn’t have taken it all, and there was probable enough left for …

  • Mulch types – GardenBanter.co.uk – I’ve got a bit of landscaping needing a little mulching. I’ve laid down 4 or 5 layers of news print and topped it with some dyed mostly pine bark.

 

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Watering Your Small Kitchen Garden Revisited

Your Small Kitchen Garden blog recently received a question about watering. The question was fairly general, and I ended up writing a detailed answer that would make a good post. So, here it is:

Rain in a Small Kitchen Garden

In early spring, young spinach sprouts pop out in the bottom of a furrow in my small kitchen garden. I deliberately plant in furrows and basins so water will collect around the plants and soak in there.

Ideally, it will rain on your garden, and that will reduce your need to water. Sadly, it may rain too much on your garden as it did for most of us in the northeastern United States in the summer of 2009. Once you’ve planted your garden, there’s little you can do when it rains too much; roots may drown where water collects and foliage may rot. Molds such as late blight thrive in wet growing seasons.

So, plan your garden with torrential rain in mind: don’t place beds in low spots. Better still, build raised beds that assure roots won’t steep in standing water should it rain heavily one year.

Optimize Water Use

Your plants will appreciate good drainage. As a favor to the environment (and to your finances if you use tap water in the garden), optimize the garden’s use of whatever water it gets. Assuming the garden bed drains well even in torrential rain, set your rows deeper than the surrounding soil. This means your plants will grow in the bottoms of troughs. For an individual plant such as a tomato, eggplant, squash, or pepper, create a small depression—a basin—with the plant in the middle of it. These low areas will collect rain or hose water and give it time to soak in around the plants’ roots.

How much Water is Enough?

As for knowing when you’ve watered enough? I wrote an earlier post on the topic titled Watering Your Small Kitchen Garden. My approach isn’t rigid; I simply try to keep the plants alive with the least amount of watering they’ll accept happily. I note the weather and I watch the soil and the plants. If there has been no rain in several days and the soil looks dry… or worse, leaves are starting to droop… I water heavily. If there is a sustained dry spell—several weeks or more with little or no rain—I change my watering strategy: I water lightly every morning. The idea is to provide just enough water on top so that any moisture that is already below the surface stays there.

Whenever I water, I target the soil line of my plants. If it’s a tight row of greens, carrots, peas, and such, I distribute water evenly along the row. If I’m watering individual plants such as tomatoes, squash, and peppers, I make sure the water lands where a plant emerges from the soil. There may be a relative desert between my tomato plants, but the soil extending a foot from the stem of a plant receives several light waterings a week during a dry spell.

Spot Water Your Small Kitchen Garden

It’s important to note: when I water, nearly every drop ends up in the depressions in which the plants grow. For heavy watering, I try to fill the trench that defines a row, or the basin holding an individual plant. After that soaks in, I fill the trench or basin again. For light watering, I may not fill the trenches and basins, but I direct the water into them.

Finally, I can’t emphasize enough the advantages of mulching close to your plants, and mulching heavily. Having a lawn, I believe, is a horrible affront to Planet Earth. However, as long as I have a lawn I’ll use grass clippings to mulch my small kitchen garden. Lawn clippings, fallen leaves, newspapers, cardboard, black plastic, pine needles, pine bark… come up with something that’s easy enough to manage that you’ll actually manage it. Mulch lets water through to the soil and significantly reduces the amount that evaporates on dry days.

I shot this sequence of photos one day when I was watering some newly-planted tomatoes. The photo on the left shows a tomato plant in its own basin freshly filled with water. Subsequent photos show the basin over the next 40 seconds as the water soaks in around the plant.

 

Further thoughts about watering and responsible ways to conserve water:

 

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