As spring turns into summer, more and more folks are working hard to get their gardens planted. Tilling up plots and planting seeds, they hope their gardens will overflow with tomatoes, melons, and squash.
Gardening is one of those summer pastimes that many of us enjoy, but if we are not careful, can quickly turn into frustration and overwhelm. Frustration comes in the form of wilting and weak plants and overwhelm from a garden with more weeds than tomatoes. To help combat both of these outcomes, I like to take a few extra steps while planting my garden to keep roots from drying out and those pesky weeds from taking over.
Mulching is nothing new to most folks. Where we live, piles of bark mulch can be seen in most, if not all, suburban yards. When you tweak things just a bit and take that mulch to your vegetable garden—that’s where the magic really happens.
We are, in a sense, looking for the same outcome from mulch as ornamental gardeners. We want to lock moisture in and keep weeds out. However, since we are dealing with food, we need to be a bit careful when choosing what to mulch with.
Let’s start with the basics.
What is mulching?
Mulching is the process of adding a combination of organic and manmade materials over the surface of your garden as a covering. This covering is what will lock in moisture to help your roots flourish below the ground and also keep the soil loose and cool during hot summer months. An added bonus is the deterrence of weeds, which can strangle young and fragile plants.
Mulching is applied in two layers—an inorganic layer followed by an organic layer.
Inorganic means anything manmade such as brown, print free paper or non-glossy soy-based ink newspaper. If you are not sure of your newspaper’s ink, do this simple test. Rub your fingers over the ink, and if any stains your fingers, the ink could contain petroleum oil since it tends not to dry completely. Also, soy-based inks are much darker so comparing a known soy-based ink paper to one in question is, in my opinion, the easiest way to know for sure.
To apply, simply lay sheets down directly onto the soil in between your rows. Sprinkle on a bit of soil to hold the paper in place.
Next is the organic layer, which is your nature made materials including grass clippings, leaves, straw, (do not use hay, find out why), or compost. There are more options, however, I find these work the best.
Once your organic layer is added, lightly wet the material with a hose to hold things in place until it settles. How much you mulch is up to you. For me, several inches work the best. At the end of the gardening season, simply work the mulch back into the soil and allow it to finish composting in the off season.
If you are new to gardening, you can read up on the best vegetables to start with so you can coast a bit your first time out; 7 Can’t Miss Vegetables for Beginner Gardeners covers it all—from shopping to harvesting, it will walk you through the growing process to help make this season an easier one. Call it your trial run before you go all in.
Along with this mulching method, use as many other natural techniques as you can to ensure you are keeping things as organic as possible. Growing your own food is a wonderful way to fill your kitchen with aromas only fresh produce can supply and treat your family to organic foods all summer long.