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July 26th, 2011

It's Leaf-Mold Harvest Time

dougSummer brings an abundance of tomatoes, green beans, and zucchinis. I harvested something else just as wonderful from my garden this weekend: leaf mold. Last year’s autumn leaves have decayed to the point that I can put them to use in the garden.

Leaf mold is the easiest form of compost to make. It requires just one ingredient: leaves. Last fall I dumped my leaves (and a few from my neighbors) into a 5-foot circle of welded-wire fencing, then left them to slowly rot without any further attention.

If I had shredded the leaves first, the leaf mold might have been done in May. (And if I’d turned the pile a couple times, it would have been done even sooner.) As it is, with my hands-off method, the finished leaf mold is ready to use while I’m prepping the garden for fall vegetables. I incorporated some of it into the soil of my raised beds. Some of it ended up between the rows of summer crops, as a mid-season topdressing. What was left became mulch among the roses and perennials.

Last fall, it seemed like I was stockpiling a mountain of leaves. Eight months later the volume of finished leaf mold is less than one-fourth of what I started with. There’s never enough!  —Doug Hall

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July 15th, 2011

Conserve Water in the Garden

dougWater is the lifeblood of gardens. When summer heats up and natural rainfall becomes scarce, gardens can falter—unless the gardener steps in with a watering can. Water is a precious—and in some communities, expensive—resource that is not to be squandered. Here are some ideas to keep your summer garden thriving without wasting water:

• Soil preparation. Soil that is rich in organic matter, porous, and fertile encourages healthy, deep root systems. And far-reaching root systems are better able to provide plants with the moisture they need in times of drought. Midsummer isn’t the best season for amending the soil; save this task for fall. In the meantime …

• Mulch. Mulched soil loses less moisture to evaporation. It also stays cooler, which keeps roots and beneficial soil microbes happier. Straw, leaf mold, or dried grass clippings are good mulches for vegetable beds. Shredded wood, pine straw, or bark are good under shrubs and in flowerbeds. Bonus: Mulch prevents many weeds from germinating.

• Drip irrigation. When you water, use a technique that applies the water exactly where it’s needed. Soaker hoses and drip tubing deliver the water directly to the soil (as opposed to a sprinkler that flings water into the air and allows much of it to evaporate). Hand watering, with a hose or watering can, also ensures that the water lands where it is of greatest benefit to your plants.  —Doug Hall

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