Welcome to Grow Your Own Food, an informative series on gardening and growing your own food in Canada. Each month Redawna Kalynchuk draws on her extensive gardening experience to guide you through a year of growing your own food: planning, planting, maintaining, harvesting and putting your garden to bed for winter. This month, Redawna tells us all we need to know about mulching your garden and she shares some tips on saving seeds for next year's garden.
We’re well into summer and most of the heavy lifting for our gardens is done for now. You should be harvesting some of the produce or getting close!
Though things like carrots, potatoes and beets may still be on the small side, you can be harvesting some of the babies. This is also helpful if you over-planted carrots, as thinning them makes a huge difference in the latter part of the summer. They’ll appreciate the extra growing room and will pay you back handsomely. Beet leaves are fantastic in salads and baby potatoes are spectacular any way you choose to prepare them.
Lettuce, peas, beans, zucchini and berries all should be harvested as they ripen. Zucchini are fantastic on the smaller side and if you have many, start enjoying them now. Before you know it they’ll become huge and you may have more than you need! If this is a problem you’re experiencing, you can cut them into spears for pickling or you can shred and freeze them for future use.
Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and onions will start to ripen now; depending on your season and the age of the plants, you may already be enjoying them. Melons, pumpkins, corn, celery and large squash are still in the early stages — continue to feed every second week with an all-purpose fertilizer.
Staying Ahead of the Weeds
The most important job in our gardens during the summer is consistent watering and weeding. Both are fairly easy to maintain but there are ways to improve upon the daily tasks.
Because let’s face it, weeding is one of those necessary evils that has to be done. Weeds, if left unchecked, will quickly take over your garden. They’re competing for water and nutrients from the soil that you’d rather have your vegetables and flowers use.
One of the best ways to stay one step ahead of the weeds is by mulching your garden. The benefits are huge. It really is one of the best things you can do for your garden next to composting!
The Benefits of Mulching
Mulching greatly reduces the amount of weeding required over the summer as well as over time as well. It helps the soil hold moisture, which in turn reduces watering. But best of all it enriches your soil and turns your garden space into a nutrient-rich growing oasis.
Mulching made it possible for me to stay on top of a 4,000 square foot garden, turn a neglected garden space into a very healthy piece of land, and eradicate a serious thistle issue. If you’ve ever battled thistle you understand that’s huge.
Two Types of Mulch: Newspaper and Grass Clippings
I faced an extreme case in a huge space so I went with two types of mulch.
The first was newspaper. I was thrilled to find an easy and very inexpensive, organic way to battle the serious weed issues in the space. As I mentioned in the Planting Your Garden post, I try to space my rows a foot apart (very easy in a 4,000 sq ft garden) and I compact the soil between the rows. That compaction is the first step in fighting weeds.
Next I placed many layers of newspaper between the rows. I layered it so there were no open spaces and went within an inch of where the flowers and vegetables were growing. Note: do not use the shiny fliers and inserts as they won’t break down — only use newspaper.
Once all the rows were lined with paper I covered it all with grass clippings. It holds the paper in place and over time they break down, feeding the soil and making for a very clean garden. All my grass clippings from the entire summer go into the garden, continually covering the rows. The first few days the fresh clippings will turn from green to brown.
Of course not every situation is as extreme or as large, and newspaper probably isn't something most people require. In that case I recommend going with just grass clippings to mulch your garden.
The following spring till the entire garden with a rototiller, working the grass and newspaper into the soil. All the moisture from the previous season as well as over the winter breaks down the paper and grass even further, adding to the soil. After a few seasons of mulching with grass you’ll find a noticeable difference in your garden soil.
Alternative Mulches and Weed Reduction Methods
Can I use straw or hay to mulch my garden?
In a pinch, yes, but there are a few things to consider when using these as a mulch.
First, it can get expensive. It takes time and equipment to produce bales and farmers depend on bales for part of their income.
Second, they're much less nutrient dense and don’t add much to the soil. They can also introduce weed seeds to the growing space. Grass is not only free, it’s in constant supply from spring until fall.
Another note on reducing the weed growth in your garden is to water by hand if possible, only watering the rows. This cuts back the amount of water any possible weeds receive, restricting their growth even further. You’re also conserving water by watering by hand. It does take a bit more time, but will save you money as you’re only putting water where it’ll be used.
Now let's take a look ahead to next month and a few things to consider if you’re wanting to save some seeds from this year’s crops for next year’s garden.
- Flowers and herbs — The seeds are easy to harvest. Once you’ve decided which flowers and herbs you want to grow, stop deadheading the flowers on the specific plants. Our goal is to allow the flowers to lose their petals and allow the seed heads to form. Those heads are where the seeds are.
- Vegetables — For things like peas and beans we want the pods to be left on the plants until they’re dry. For vegetables like tomatoes, squash and melons, we harvest the seeds when the fruit is fully ripe.
One final note: we want to keep seeds from our most vigorous plants so keep that in mind when deciding which plants you’ll select from.
- Grow Your Own Food: Summer Gardening Chores
- Grow Your Own Food: Planting Your Garden
- Grow Your Own Food: Fertilizer and Compost
Grow Your Own Food is written by Redawna Kalynchuk. Redawna is the writer, photographer and content creator at Nutmeg Disrupted. She has over 20 years of gardening experience and has gardened from indoors under high-powered lights to frosty zone 2b gardens in northern Alberta. She enjoys pushing the boundaries of traditional gardening and loves empowering others to grow their own food. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest.