Organic Garden Mulch For Better Vegetable Harvests

Using organic mulch protects your plants and increases vegetable harvests.

| July/August 1971

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    Although melons like a warm soil, all but the hills should be mulched with any dry, natural material at hand. Straw, hay or dry grass clippings will conserve soil moisture and keep weeds from crowding vines.
    Photo by Betty Brinhart
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    Pepper plants do extremely well and set a good crop under a thick mulch of straw or dried hay.
    Photo by Betty Brinhart
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    Snap beans double their yield if aisles between rows are heavily mulched when plants are 12 inches tall. Green grass clippings are excellent here. No need to dry the clippings if they're not applied too thickly.
    Photo by Betty Brinhart
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    If your soil has a a tendency to pack hard in summer, there is no better natural medicine than wood chips to keep that dirt loose and porous. Use the chips like any other mulch, especially on garden paths and in heavily traveled areas. Best of all, like many mulches, wood chips are free for the hauling in most regions.
    Photo by Betty Brinhart

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When my parents migrated from the Ukraine region in Russia to the rich farm lands of Illinois during the late 1800's, they were already experienced organic mulchers...not from choice, but from extreme necessity.

Although the prevailing winds of the Ukraine could usually be depended upon to provide sufficient rainfall during the growing season, there were years when those winds completely failed the farmers and gardeners. The dry, scorching summers that followed could be just as cruel and devastating to plant life as the Sahara and crop failures and famine caused untold suffering among the inhabitants during the year that followed.

Although these simple Russians put their entire trust in God and Nature, they gradually realized that that was not enough to insure them a decent harvest every year ...and they set about devising some means of minimizing the destructive force of the droughts.

One spring, someone tried using dried meadow hay as a mulch to conserve soil moisture during the summer months. The idea worked ...and spread like wildfire. Soon everyone was cutting the lush, green grass in the meadows and along streams, drying it in the sun and storing it in neat stacks beside the family garden or orchard for use when needed.

When the vegetables were tall enough garden plots were heavily mulched with a 12-inch layer of the organic mulch of dried hay and more grass was thickly spread around fruit trees, berry plants and flowers. Soon, garden mulching had become a way of life, and - when one of the most severe droughts of all hit the Ukraine several years later - the mulched gardens came through with very little loss of production. Thus, my ancestors warded off a potentially-serious famine.

Having learned the hard way that good gardening and summer mulching go hand in hand, my mother gardened the same way in Illinois. Here, however, she ran into criticism from German-born neighbors who believed in 'clean' gardening. They didn't want any 'trash' (as they called my mother's mulch) in the aisles to spoil the beauty of their straight, well-cultivated vegetable rows.

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