As the temps start to heat up here in the north, it’s time to start thinking about retaining moisture and keeping weeds down. As 95% of my garden is in above ground garden boxes the weeding is very minimal. The most common culprits are rogue tree seedlings and the ever invasive weed, wormwood. Hand weeding is the best way to rid your garden of these types of plants. Weeds tend to compete with vegetables for critical moisture so it’s best to not go too long between weeding.
One sure-fire way to take care of both concerns – weeds & moisture – would be mulching. I’ve heard the best is brown leaf mulch but for those in North Dakota, it’s difficult to find something that normally blows away in our strong winds. I’ve also read about grass mulch being wonderful stuff due to the high nitrogen content. I tend to steer clear of grass clippings due to bug/weed sprays and numerous dandelion seeds. Instead, opt for a nice clean layer of straw.
I even utilize straw to “hill up” my potatoes. Typically dirt is used and although I still employ some dirt for this use, I am adding straw to this year’s crop. Rumor has it, by hilling up with straw you can greater increase your overall yield. I’ll let you all know what the final tally is as we harvest in fall.
Before mulching, make sure plantings sprout approximately 3-4 inches out of the ground. This allows the seedlings to easily seek sunshine through the layer of straw. I also install a drip style watering system down each row of my garden boxes. By layering the mulch over the top of them, it not only hides the hoses but keeps the water where we need it.
In the case of transplanted vegetables, I would be sure to mulch right away. I learned the lesson the hard way during a strong wind storm. Pepper plants were severely robbed of soil moisture caused by the wind which then whipped the wilted plants around until they were nothing but main stems. I was able to save some of my tomatoes and peppers by immediately watering the ground in an effort to plump up the plants. Never the less, I still had to replace quite a few.
While I lay out my hose and mulch system I install a watering timer. There are many varieties on the market but I like battery operated timers. They allow for set watering times, length of watering and the frequency of watering. It’s a great system, especially for those who are away from home for a weekend or even an entire week. This process has definitely changed the amount of work and time I put into my garden.
Some guidelines insist upon watering your garden in the morning and in the evening. During the peak of summertime heat this may be beneficial. For a northern climate garden, once a day should be sufficient, 15-20 minutes depending on the water output and plant needs. Personally, I water in the afternoon (about 3pm) when temps peak. Since the system is protected by mulch, the plant receives moisture when it needs it the most. If your garden needs more moisture during especially hot days, utilize the manual setting on the timer and run the water for 10-15 minutes in the early morning or late evening.
From time to time, inspect the health of your garden. By doing so, you can tackle any pests or nutritional needs of your plants. As watering is automatic, I have very little manual work once my garden is set up. I do fertilize by hand using rain water diluted solution and when pests occur, I use bug dust or various organic means.
So far, this year is off to a rocky start but every year presents new and exciting challenges! Happy mulching and watering!