There is a myth that organic mulches lock-up nitrogen from the soil. This could happen with soils which are very short on organic matter and micro-organisms. It does happen if fresh high-carbon sources, such as straw or hay, are incorporated into the soil. In my experience, surface mulches have not caused nitrogen shortages to the crops they mulch. Our soil is very fertile, and we do what we can to encourage soil micro-organisms to multiply, so that they can readily digest what we add to the soil. The longer-term effect of high-carbon mulches can be to increase the soil nitrogen. The micro-organisms feeding on the carbon die and decompose, and they are a high-N source!
Using mulch helps control weeds, and reduces the weed seed bank, which is the name for the store of weed seeds already in the soil, that will otherwise grow in the future. “One year’s seeding, seven years weeding,” is a wise and rueful gardener’s saying. Only perennial grasses and a few other “running” perennials will come up through a thick layer of hay. Plastic mulches, while they do deal with weeds, actually raise soil temperature. This is an advantage for warm weather crops, but not for brassicas! If using organic mulches for warm weather crops, it is often best to wait four weeks after transplanting, cultivate to remove one round of weeds, then roll out the mulch. This avoids cooling the soil which would slow growth down and delay harvests. If you’re waiting for watermelons, this is too sad! All kinds of mulch also reduce rain splash, helping prevent fungal leaf diseases.
Transplanting into hay or straw mulch, organic myth-busting, keep soil in Organic
We remove the twine (if it hasn’t already rotted and fallen off) and study the end of the bale to figure out which way it will unroll. This can be surprisingly unclear. If we have to turn the bale, or maneuver it to line up, we might have three people do that. Once it’s rolling, two people can manage to unroll a round bale of hay. We spend some time at the end using wheelbarrows to move hay from the thick places to the thinner spots.
Each planter works along a row, transplanting into the exposed soil in the nests, firming the plants in and watering from a can every 10-20 plants (depending how hot or windy it is). Another crew member pulls the hose and wand along the aisles and gives all the plants a generous second watering. After the hose watering, someone pulls the hay around the stems at ground level.We call this ” tucking the plants in”. If plants are “untucked”, this is the signal to the Hose Waterer that the plants need water. When they are all tucked in along a section of a bed, it is the signal to those unrolling row cover to go ahead and cover. Our system is almost disaster-proof, as it includes indicators about the next task needed.
A bed of early spring cabbage, planted into hay mulch.
Photo Kathryn Simmons
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On the danger of allowing weeds to grow and seed themselves: also used figuratively. □ 1866 Rural American 1 Dec. .
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If you like a flower, for example, but it self-seeds too abundantly, a solution is simple: don’t let it go to seed.
Back to the Norway maple. It produces a truckload of viable seeds, meaning seeds that will sprout. (As an aside, the lovely native sugar maple, A. saccharum, is very stingy with its own – which has helped the Norways run rampant through our naturalized ravines.)
This little seedling of the Norway maple (Acer platanoides) is one of the small forest that germinates in my garden each spring. The maples are a constant reminder of the old chestnut (as in: saying) in the title.
Think about it; if every year, every single seed produced a fertile plant that lived for many years (each year, producing many seeds, every one of which produced a fertile plant, and so on), the species would overpopulate.
I can’t do anything about deadheading trees, and don’t have room to create a nice hot compost pile. Plus, my yearly mulch of uncomposted maple leaves will always contain seeds.
Deadhead the plant after blooming, before the seeds ripen. Some of the colonizing spring bulbs (such as the Scilla or Chionodoxa we posted about earlier) might fall into this category if you find them becoming a pest in your garden.
Therefore, to varying degrees, their seeds are genetically programmed not to germinate all at once. By having some seeds lie dormant for a few years, the species spreads the fruits of one year’s fertility over many. This ensures its survival should future seasons be less hospitable for reproduction.