Sunday, February 15, 2015

alliums: the plants of winter

Life's in motion in the greenhouse! Onions and leeks are up and stretching towards the sun.

my favorite sweet onion
Outside, it's in motion too. And that meant I had a problem in my garlic bed. The oat straw I had purchased last fall to mulch my garlic was full of oat seed, so by mid-winter I had a lawn where my garlic should be.
poor garlic bed
It was the nicest cover crop on my entire farm, but it was choking my garlic! Today, I took advantage of the gorgeous weather we've been having and spent a few hours with a hula hoe and my hands, clearing away the mulch so the garlic could breathe.

[insert sigh of relief]
Mulch serves several good functions for the garlic bed. It insulates garlic from freezing temperatures. It chokes out unwanted weeds. It protects the soil from erosion and nutrient leaching during the long, rainy winters. And it holds in moisture and reduces the need for irrigation when the days are dry.

this is what good mulch should look like: just garlic and straw
But mulching has some bad qualities too. It keeps the soil from warming when the sun is out. It harbors pests, like slugs, cutworms, and voles. (Slugs and cutworms don't eat garlic, but they love other things I'll be planting later.) It can hold too much moisture, encouraging disease and rot. If it's too thick, it can even make it hard for garlic plants to find the sunlight.

Ack! Where's the sun?!
And, in cases like mine, it introduces weed seed to the farm that otherwise wouldn't be there! Luckily, oat grass isn't the most difficult weed to pull. At this point, unless I see a big freeze coming in the forecast, I'll be leaving the mulch in the paths!

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