by Tom Tomas
Yesterday, while working in the garden, I was trying to think of a topic for this column. I dug a few hills of sweet potatoes, picked a half bushel of peppers for my daughter, and picked some green pole beans and a few tomatoes for supper. I got to thinking of how little work each of these crops took to grow, and how they provide most of the essential vitamins and minerals in any diet. Maybe they would make a good place to start.
Many people say they havenít got time to take care of a garden. Well, here is how to do it with very little time and effort except at harvest. With this method, you will not have to till the garden in spring or fight weeds prior to planting.
Right now, this fall and winter, mulch your garden spot with about a foot of leaves. I like to mulch my garden in the fall because it keeps the soil warm and allows the earthworms to work on the leaves much longer. About half the leaves I use are delivered to my yard by neighbors who are glad to get rid of them without a trip to the dump. The other half I have to pick up. They are already raked up and packaged in plastic trash bags, so that is not too much trouble.
In mid May, I move the mulch off of the beds and allow the soil to warm up for a week or so prior to planting. I then put my tomato and pole bean trellises and pepper cages in place.
After danger of frost is past, I plant the tomatoes, peppers and pole beans and leave the soil open for a week or two. By that time there are a few weeds, but they are small enough that they are smothered when I replace the leaf mulch. You must get the mulch back in place before the weeds get over an inch or so high, or they will poke through.
The leaves will have disintegrated quite a bit, so I add two inches of grass clippings over the top to make a good, tight mulch.
For the sweet potatoes, in the fall I build up ridges about a foot high and eighteen inches wide. I then cover them with a foot of leaves. In late spring, I uncover the ridges to let them warm up and plant the sweet potato slips in early June. They really like warm soil, so I wait until later to put them out. I leave the soil open for a week or two after planting, as I do with the other crops, and return the mulch when weeds are an inch or so high. I also add two inches of grass clippings over the top. Thatís all I have to do until harvest.
During the summer I water only as needed, which isnít often because of the mulch. I prune and train the tomato plants up the trellis. This takes a few minutes twice a week. The pole beans and peppers usually take care of themselves. Needless to say, there is no need to weed or fertilize as the decaying leaves feed the soil and the grass clippings do the rest. If the weeds start to grow in a spot where the mulch is thin, I just add fresh grass clippings before the weeds are an inch high. Not much work for a bountiful harvest. It is really true, I actually spend more time harvesting than working to grow the crop.
The key to the whole process is to mulch NOW. Even if the soil is frozen, mulch NOW. Get all the leaves you can. They are the best for this method because earthworms love them. Put them down first and add grass clippings or spoiled hay on top if you canít get enough leaves. The mulch should be about a foot thick. To keep the mulch from blowing, I let the sprinkler run until the leaves are thoroughly wet.
Try this on a small patch this year. Once you see how easy it is and how little time it takes, you will be looking for every leaf you can scrounge for your garden.
This method is a bit trickier to use with small-seeded vegetables like lettuce and carrots but it will work with a little modification. The secret to making it work is to start NOW.