Sunday, July 20, 2014

Much Mulch May Mean More Munching

One of the yearly tasks on the farm is the process of putting straw mulch down around the tomato plants.  Mulch is an important part of our tomato growing plan, so it feels good to finally get it done.

We started with the South rows - German Pink, Italian Heirloom & Dr Wyche's Yellow

In order to lay the mulch, we first need to 'skritch' and weed around the plants.  Certainly a thick enough mulch will suppress many of the smaller weeds, but tougher weeds will potentially grow through it.  It's just better to do a quick weeding first. 

Then, we need to lay the drip tape before the mulch.  Typically, we lay the drip tape as close to the stems of the plants on the South side as we are able.  This is important so we know where to put the stakes when we cage the tomato plants.

Middle rows weeded, North rows still wanting attention.
This year, the tomatoes are in a field that is wetter in the North half than in the South half.  As a result, the tomatoes in the South half are well ahead of those in the North half.  Most of them should survive, though we have already removed 8 to 10 plants in the North rows.

This matters because we will protect the plants that are showing more strength first rather than spend time trying to "rescue" the weaker ones.  We've learned that this is usually the best approach on our farm to get the most out of our work time and our fields.  Sometimes, you just have to admit that some plants won't make it and aren't worth the time.  So, if we found that we couldn't complete the field, it is better to not complete the area where the plants show that they are weak and may not make it.

There are small peppers and eggplant in the North most row... Really!
This year, we chose to move more tomatoes to the high tunnel and removed one pair of rows from the field.  This allowed us to put some peppers and eggplant into this field.  It's an attempt to 'hedge our bets' in case something happens in one of the field that holds these crops.  See - we do learn as we go.

Drolet in his natural habitat
It has become a tradition that Denis plays an integral role in the tomato mulching and caging process.  One of these days, we may give the story of how we started with straw mulching as compared to how we do it now.  Let's just say that it is much better than it was.
Tomatoes mulched, eggplant and peppers weeded. TADAAAAAAAAAAA!
We did, in fact, complete the field.  In addition to these tasks, we got the basil transplanted as well.  It's a good feeling. 

We mulch tomatoes for several reasons.
   1. mulch keeps weeds down
   2. mulch maintains a more consistent moisture level around the plants
   3. straw mulch will add organic matter to the soil
   4. mulch prevents soil splash onto tomato leaves - many tomato diseases are spread by soil splash onto leaves and the plant
   5. mulch makes picking easier for the person that harvests the tomatoes (usually Rob)

Even better, our rotation has been modified to move the garlic so that it gets planted in this field where the basil is.  Basil usually dies off in mid-September.  Garlic gets planted in October/November.  We heavily mulch garlic with straw.  The straw in the tomatoes doesn't break down all the way during the season - so we can pull it from the tomatoes to the garlic in late Fall.  Sounds like a winner to me!

And, finally - we interrupt this regularly scheduled blog post for some day lily flowers.  Thank you for your attention.

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