basics

Mulch Necessities

Mulch is an integral part of organic gardening. Not only does it help conserve a precious resource, it breaks down and contributes to the organic matter in the soil. And, if that wasn’t enough, mulch helps prevent weeds. Win-win-win. Gotta love it!

Not to mention it’s inexpensive (or can be!). I use pine mulch from my neighbor’s yard. It’s free and easy, and a great way to acidify the soil–important for plants like potatoes and blueberries. Gardenias and azaleas love acid, too.

I also recycle the fall décor placed by my front door every October. Scarecrows and hay bales lend themselves well to fall festivities and ambiance, but hay also works well in the garden.

April and May, when I’ve harvested my sweet onions and potatoes, if the mulch is still in decent shape, I’ll use it around my peanuts. If not, I’ll simply till it back into the soil.

Garden leaves work well as mulch, as do grass clippings–so long as no pesticides are used on the lawn. If so, keep it FAR away from your organic garden!  Newspaper is another good source of mulch. The ink used these days is non-toxic and safe for garden use. Just make sure you’ve read all of the important pages, first.

Plastic paper is sold as mulch. Many gardeners prefer red, because the red light wavelengths stimulate the growth of tomato plants via a reaction with a pigment in the tomato plants – study done by Montana State University. Penn State did their own study that revealed blue did an even better job. Go figure. Other colors are also available.

Whichever method of mulching you use, do use one as opposed to none. It’s better on all counts!

New How-To Grow Section

This fall I’m switching it up and adding a new “How-To” grow section under my “Gardening Guide for Easy Vegetables.” It will outline instructions on how to grow beautiful, healthy organic vegetables. Over the next few weeks, more pages will appear, each outlining directions from seed to sprout, problems to watch out for, good companions, bad companions and specialty tips, as in the case of tomatoes.

It’s my way of organizing information in an easy to find navigation of my site. Since every plant is unique and beautiful and requires different care, I’ve listed some basics.

Ashley's overflowing with growth

General tips of the trade:

Plant depth will reflect seed size. The smaller the seed, the more shallow planting depth.

Heirloom seeds are preferred over hybrid, because we practice self-sustaining gardening and seeds harvested from hybrids won’t reproduce the fruit they were harvested from. Instead, you’ll get a surprise veggie!

Keep in mind that plants like soft, fluffy beds. If your soil is too dense or too loose, like Goldilocks, your plants will complain. Homegrown compost fits the bill best!

Mulch keeps the moisture in and natural hay or pine straw works perfect, though pine should be reserved for your more acid-loving plants like potatoes, peanuts, strawberries and blueberries.

Companion planting helps keep your plants healthy and happy. Two plants that work well with everyone are lettuce and okra.

Fish emulsion is a great all-around organic fertilizer. Gives mild dose of nitrogen and stinky enough to keep the bugs at bay.

Now, I’m getting ready for fall gardening–care to join me?

Get Composting!

Composting is one of the easiest aspects of gardening. It requires little maintenance and produces amazing results. You remember my compost chickpeas, don’t you?

compost chickpeas

Well, they’re aren’t the only thing that’s been growing in the compost pile. I’ve grown, potatoes, squash (that’s a little squash there to the right), tomatoes, beans…the list goes on. And trust me, I do very little when it comes to composting, other than faithfully dumping my kitchen scraps and fall leaves.

Compost is the mixture of decomposed remnants of organic matter (those with plants and animal origins) used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients. 

inky compost

Basically, a compost pile consists of plants, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and the like.  Formed into a pile and turned occasionally, nature takes its course and the materials break down.  We add compost to our garden soil because it provides nutrition for vigorous plant growth, improves soil structure by creating aeration, increases the ability of soil to retain water, moderates soil pH, and encourages microorganisms whose activities contribute to the overall health of plants. More

Compost 101

What is compost?  It’s the mixture of decomposed remnants of organic matter (those with plants and animal origins) used to improve soil structure and provide nutrients. 

How do you create compost?   

Air + Water + Carbon + Nitrogen = Compost

Like most living things, the bacteria that decompose organic matter, and the other creatures that make up the compost ecosystem, need air.  These microbes also need the right amount of water; think “wrung out” sponge.  If too wet or too dry, optimum conditions for bacteria activity will not be met and decomposition will be slowed or halted.  This is the reason some folks “turn” their pile.  It improves air flow!

Me?  I’d rather put Mother Nature to work.  I’ve learned my compost pile works fine without a single turn from me.  (LA-zy!)  Basically, I pile plants, lawn clippings, kitchen scraps and the like and let nature takes its course.  The materials break down and become black gold in our garden.  Composted soil provides nutrition for vigorous plant growth, improves soil structure by creating aeration, increases the ability of soil to retain water, moderates soil pH, and encourages microorganisms whose activities contribute to the overall health of plants.  LOVE it!

What not to compost?  Diseased plants, weeds gone to seed, coal ashes, dog/cat manure, lawn clippings that may contain herbicides. 

Once you’ve established a location for your compost pile, it’s important to know how much carbon versus how much nitrogen to include.  Too much nitrogen and your pile will smell, because excess nitrogen converts to ammonia gas.  Too much carbon and the pile breaks down too slow, because microbes need nitrogen to increase their population.  The ideal is a 30:1 C/N ratio. 

 Carbon is used for energy by the microbes and comes in the form of leaves, straw, hay, sawdust, etc.  These are the “browns” of composting.  Microbes also need nitrogen for the proteins that makeup their tiny bodies.  Matter high in nitrogen are the “greens” of composting (though not always the color green) and consist of “fresh” plants, grass clippings, kitchen scraps, and the byproduct of animals such as manure and worm castings.

There are two types of composting:  hot and cold.  Hot composting is accomplished more quickly and best done within a bin.  Made up all at one time, it’s allowed to compost without further addition of material, although it does require frequent turning and proper moisture control.  Bacteria give off heat as they digest the material.  The enclosed pile will insulate the heat raising the internal temperature to 120 – 190 degrees.  This attracts more bacteria whose breakdown continues more rapidly. Hot compost is good because it kills pathogens and many weed seeds.

A cold pile (70 – 90 degrees) takes longer though it manages a steady stream of material additions; perfect for the family backyard pile (as in mine).  Simply begin your pile with the organic material of your choice, i.e. leaves, kitchen scraps, etc. and continually add to the top of the pile.  Within 6 – 24 months (depending on climate conditions) the material will break down—though turning the pile will speed up this process.  The bottom of the pile composts first (higher heat due to insulation).

When your compost is ready, you’ll know it.  Your material will be unrecognizable from its original form and look like gorgeous black dirt.  Like I said, around these parts we call it “black gold” for the garden!