by Thomas N. Tomas
One of the best ways to recycle organic matter is to use it as mulch. Mulch will protect the soil from erosion, control weeds and conserve moisture.
One of the most common mulch materials available to the gardener is grass clippings. If they are dried out like hay, they can be applied liberally to the soil around established plants. If the clippings are fresh, they should be applied to a thickness of one to two inches. If you apply them too thickly, they may heat up and damage your plants. I like to apply about an inch and a half in June, and another layer later in the summer if the first layer rots down enough to allow weeds to germinate.
Now is the best time to mulch warm season crops like tomatoes, squash, peppers, cucumbers and melons because the soil has warmed up and they are starting to bush or vine out. First cultivate the soil to eliminate any established weeds. If the mulching is thorough, you should not have to weed again this summer. If you are like me, you will have enough to do harvesting your vegetables without weeding.
If herbicides or other pesticides have been applied to the lawn, it is best not to mulch the clippings from two mowings after application. The pesticides may damage garden crops or contaminate them with residues. Wheat straw may also carry herbicide residue, as standing wheat is often sprayed to control weeds prior to harvest. Check with the farmer who supplies your straw to be sure that herbicides have not been used on the crop. Alfalfa hay or prairie hay are excellent mulch materials and are not likely to have had any herbicide problems.
The mulch will not only keep down weeds, cool the soil and conserve moisture, but will build organic matter in the soil as it decomposes. It will encourage earthworms and other beneficial insects to build up your soil. It also provides excellent habitat for spiders and ground beetles, which can control many problem insects.
Try a little mulch this summer. It will make life simpler for you and encourage more life in your soil.
Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society: Home Gardening