red paper

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!

Tomato Update

Okay, so I’m not sold on the red paper thing.  Not because I doubt it reflects the perfect rays of sunlight to ripen my fruit to ruby red perfection, but because it’s interfering with my plant’s ability to absorb water.

You see, cutting slits in the paper for my tomato plants to grow does not allow sufficient water to get to the roots.  Florida downpours can do the trick, but my sprinkler?  Not so much.  My plants are stressed and susceptible to attack by the fungus and worse, the dreaded hornworm.  In fact, much of the water ends up in puddles on top of the paper–despite my every effort to weight the paper down in all the right places, encouraging the pools to funnel down toward my plant.

Nope.  Not working for me.  I’m sure there is an answer to this dilemma.  It just remained out of my reach for this first season of experiment. 

 Needless to say, I’m open to suggestion.  I hate to give up, but I hate wasting time, too. On to brighter beds, my Hungarian Wax Peppers are doing well.  Not huge by any stretch of the imagination, but they are producing some rather robust peppers.  Used one last week for some homemade Pico de Gallo.  Tomatoes, onions, peppers, cilantro, little lime juice and voila!  A delightful homemade salsa! 

You see, there is good news.  Even though my tomato plants look horrible, they have produced.  And isn’t that what’s important?

I think so.  Did find an interesting development with my sunflowers this week.  Now granted, I’m no expert with these mammoth marvels but I had no idea that the flowers could actually form all the way down the meaty stalk.  In our school garden, the flowers were solely at the top of the plant.  Our second batch, too. 

But mine?  I have blossoms running all the way down the stem!   Which is pretty cool, if you ask me.  Not only do I get the huge flower up top, I get the added benefit of these little beauties.  

I realize this may be an anomaly, but that’s okay.  I’m not too picky when it comes to my plants producing.  They produce, I pick ~ and that’s about as far as I care to dwell on the matter.  Remember, I’m a happy gardener!  And happy gardeners don’t sweat the small stuff.

Scientists Say…

Red paper mulch will increase your tomato yield!  Increase my tomato yield? Now that’s what I’m talking about–woohoo!  Let the celebrations begin!

But how is that possible?  According to the Agricultural Research Center and scientists at Clemson University, red plastic paper “reflects onto plants higher amounts of certain growth-enhancing light waves from sunlight.”  And is said to have “boosted tomato yields in research plots up to 20 percent, while conserving water and controlling weeds.”

Wow.  Now that’s some serious cabbage–er, I mean, tomatoes.  You mean I’m going to reap 20% more bounty this season?  All because I laid this red paper around my tomatoes?

Count me in!  I’m game to try anything.  And is there any better color than “red” for my “red sauce” producing tomatoes?  I think not.  So how do my babies look dressed in red?  All transplanted and settled in, we’re off to the races.

To my 100% organic friends, I apologize.  I know using plastic is not good for the environment, but they’re promising me 20% higher yield.  That’s hard to resist.  And it kills nematodes!  Important for my nematode-infested ground.  Isn’t the trade-off worth it? 

Eventually the “green” scientists will develop something red AND biodegradable.  We’ll see.  Until then, I’ll suffer through plastic and perhaps sneak it into the recycle bin when I’m finished with it.  After I use and re-use it, that is.  Several times.  As many times as I possibly can!

Hm.  Once I get past my anxiety and guilt (hopefully assuaged by a bumper crop of San Marzanos), I’ll let you know how it went.  Until then, consider me the “mad” scientist in the garden willing to try most anything–once!  Why not?  I’m adventurous. 🙂

How about you?  Ever tried red paper mulch in your garden?