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Mulch

06/21/05 12:00AM By Ron Krupp
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(HOST) So far, this gardening season has been a roller-coaster ride with rain and low temperatures, followed by heat and humidity, and then more rain. But, according to commentator Ron Krupp, cool, wet conditions may be good for the hay crop, which may, in turn, result in plenty of mulch for the garden.


(KRUPP) There's an old saying, "A cold rain in May makes a barn full of hay." Driving around Vermont, I notice the clean rows of freshly cut hay in the farm fields.

I know farmers love dry, warm weather because their barns will begin to fill up with hay bales. Some farmers make grass silage, which can tolerate moisture. Others cut grass for green chop, which can be fed directly to the cows - or make those large round bales that sit out in the fields. Farmers also have another option, and that's to make mulch hay from fields of poor quality grass.

Mulch hay is just one of a number of organic materials used in the garden. Straw is also a form of mulch. It comes from oats, wheat and rye. The grain is used to feed animals or in bread-making, and the grass - or what is called straw - is used as mulch. Other mulches include leaves, pine needles and even newspapers. They all can be placed on the soil surface to conserve moisture, hold down weeds and improve soil fertility.

Some gardeners love to mulch - like my friend Deborah Stuart of Wentworth, New Hampshire, who would not be able to live without hay, grass, pine needle mulch and horse manure bedding. One of Deborah's favorite mulches are newspapers. They are now deemed environmentally safe because of the non-toxic soy dyes used in the printing process.

Deborah is a "mulch collector", always looking out for grass and pine needles. She has rakes, baskets and black plastic bags in her arsenal of collection paraphernalia - all in the trunk of her car. Deborah told me, "I can be driving down the road and see a pile of grass or pine needles, quickly jump out and, lickety-split, gather them up without notice. I used to rake pine needles off the maca- dam road near my home and place them in a wheelbarrow. People would drive down the road and see me raking needles, and I am sure they thought I was nuts. Today, I'm given bags of pine needles by a campground, and I'm in heaven."

Instead of using the attack-and-kill-the-weeds-at-any-cost technique, Deborah simply smothers her perennial beds with newspapers and then covers them with pine needles or a grass mulch. This past year, she included horse manure bedding in her mulches; the bedding adds humus and nutrients to the soil as it breaks down.

This is Ron Krupp, the Northern gardener.

Ron Krupp is a gardener and author who lives near Lake Champlain on Shelburne Bay.
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