Friday, June 10, 2011

To Mulch or Not

Vegetables are sensitive to environmental changes and the recent mix of hot and cold weather has had effects not just on transplanting warm season vegetables as mentioned last post. Some early season crops have already started to produce flower stalks. Remove and use the space to seed or transplant other vegetables maximizing production. Selecting a succession vegetable from a different plant family is good crop rotation practice.

If lettuce bolts for example, planting a rotational root vegetable such as carrot contributes to soil health as would adding compost before seeding. While carrots are easier to seed when weather is cooler, seeding is possible even in hot weather.

Carrots require 14 to 21 days to germinate. The chances of the seedbed drying out in this time are greater than with 7 days to germination seed. There is simply more time for something to go wrong whether it's windy weather or an irrigation problem that leaves soil dry.

Mulching with floating row cover fabric is one good solution for most seeded crops. To further increase chances of success with a many days-to-germination crop such as carrots, try doubling the mulch cover. Place grass clippings on top the fabric. Water easily percolates through both to wet the soil.

Periodically check under the fabric for signs of germination particularly once the 14 day mark approaches. Clippings are easily gathered when lifting the fabric and can be used elsewhere in the garden or in compost. Clippings alone generally are not used with carrots because they entangle with the ferny foliage.

As for mulching elsewhere in the garden in early June, definately avoid mulching peppers. It may be tempting to apply mulch during tranplant establishment but mulch delays soil warming. Wait until early to mid July to mulch peppers so soil thoroughly heats. This can make the difference between a good versus a poor or no harvest of peppers.

As for other warm season crops, it may be early to mulch them too. Efforts are probably better placed on proper watering and fertility to get plants established and hasten growth so they can outgrow flea beetle invasion that is common this time of year. More information on control of this insect can be found in the CSU Extension fact sheet, Flea Beetles.

Photo credit: Lettuce flowering, Seeding carrots, Double mulching with grass clippings over fabric - all Carl Wilson.

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