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January 28th, 2011

Grow Your Own Mulch

don_tnIt’s a gray day in Charlotte, but I did manage to get a plot bedded up and ready to plant Tuesday before the rains came in. I might try some cover crops managed as “in situ” mulches (cover crops left to smother weeds around crop plants) this growing season.

With in situ mulches, timing is the trick. If I overwinter cereal rye, it goes steroidal on me by mid-spring. So, I’m going to try planting it deliberately late (like now) along with a legume, probably winter pea. Then I should be able to cut it while it is still manageable, before it tillers.

Soil temps should be warm enough for germination now, my thermometer says.

I had some notable success with rye mowed short as a “mulch” at the Urban Ministry community garden in May. We transplanted tomatoes into the rye stubble and piled up the straw in the paths. Worked very well. The rye completely dies out in our summer heat.

Since I didn’t put in fall cover crops this year, it also gave me a chance to spade some plots (not much area, 1200 square feet) in November and give the freezing-thawing cycle a chance to work on the soil while there’s very little risk of erosion or nutrient loss. And now, I’ll come in with something growing (besides weeds—though some weeds are very valuable cover/nutrient-mining “crops” themselves). The soil tilthed up very, very nicely. It also gave me a chance to mix lime into the topsoil. With pH 5-ish soils, we need to do that every three years or so. Or grow blueberries. —Don Boekelheide, Charlotte, North Carolina

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