rosiegirl
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mulch, water and dirt questions (with photos!)

i've done some searches, but i keep getting totally conflicting messages so I'm hoping you guys can help me (again)!

1. mulch: i have a raised vegetable bed (4x10) with 3 tomato plants, 3 cucumber plants and 3 squash seedlings (but will probably thin out to fewer than that).

the soil is, i think, pretty good. really good potting soil with lots of good compost mixed in (bought). the top seems to be getting dried out as the days get hotter here (just east of nyc). should i be putting a mulch on top to keep the soil moister?

i keep reading conflicting things about mulch. i know i want to keep the soil warm and i don't want to mess with that, but I'm afraid it's getting too dried out. i have cedar wood chips and i've read that they might not be good for tomatoes? but then, of course, i read that you can use anything.

so, to mulch or not to mulch? wait to mulch? do it now? do it never?

2. watering: i am struggling with how often and how much to water the plants and very new seedlings. the tomatoes and 2 of the cucumbers were bought as plants and i planted the squash and one set of cucumber seeds directly outside. how to i know how much water is too much?

do i water the areas between the plants? i've been just watering the plants but then the rest of the bed looks so dry and is starting to crack.

when i first started the garden (a week ago) the soil was nice and uniform. now it's very clumpy and dry between the plants. do i fix that? how?

3. planting herbs: i have basil, oregano and sage right now. i was considering adding the basil to the vegetable bed by the tomatoes but i wasn't sure if there was room. what do you guys think? (photo below!)

can i just place the rest of the herbs in a long pot together in front of the vegetables? or should they have their own pots?

thanks!

the garden the first day. note nice moist soil!

[img]https://farm4.static.flickr.com/3409/4638941583_4a09d9df0a.jpg[/img]

the garden a week later. the soil is clumpy and dryish (although wetter around the plants).

does the soil look okay?
can i plant basil in front of the tomatoes or am i out of room?

[img]https://farm5.static.flickr.com/4026/4639562052_c9e4470344.jpg[/img]

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jal_ut
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I see some Lawn. Gather the grass clippings and use for mulch. You can put them on green. A mulch will help hold the moisture in the soil.

Water: Yes, you need to water the whole bed. Your plant roots will reach out to every square inch of the bed. I prefer to give the garden a good drink, then no water for a week. It makes the roots go deeper looking for water.

Yes, you can plant the basil. The tomatoes may overtake it, but you will still get a harvest.

Have a great garden!
Gardening at 5000 feet elevation, zone 4/5 Northern Utah, Frost free from May 25 to September 8 +/-

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rainbowgardener
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Re: mulch, water and dirt questions (with photos!)

[quote="rosiegirl"]
1. mulch: i have a raised vegetable bed (4x10) with 3 tomato plants, 3 cucumber plants and 3 squash seedlings (but will probably thin out to fewer than that). Yes the 3 tomatoes can stay, but that isprobably too many squash and cukes

the soil is, i think, pretty good. really good potting soil with lots of good compost mixed in (bought). the top seems to be getting dried out as the days get hotter here (just east of nyc). should i be putting a mulch on top to keep the soil moister? Yes, definitely mulch to hold in soil moisture. Will save you lots of weeding, too!

i keep reading conflicting things about mulch. i know i want to keep the soil warm and i don't want to mess with that, but I'm afraid it's getting too dried out. i have cedar wood chips and i've read that they might not be good for tomatoes? but then, of course, i read that you can use anything.

Wood chips are ok, I've used them myself in the past, but greener mulch would be better -- grass clippings, hay, pulled weeds, coffee grounds (better mixed with other stuff than just by itself), etc.


2. watering: i am struggling with how often and how much to water the plants and very new seedlings. the tomatoes and 2 of the cucumbers were bought as plants and i planted the squash and one set of cucumber seeds directly outside. how to i know how much water is too much?

Your new seedlings and transplants don't have very well established root systems yet, so they need frequent watering. If it is hot and dry and your soil is well draining, it's hard to water too much. But it is too much if you have standing water/ puddles that don't disappear with in a couple minutes.

do i water the areas between the plants? Yes, you want the to encourage the root systems to spread out into all those surrounding areas. If the surrounding areas are hard and dry, that won't happen as much.

when i first started the garden (a week ago) the soil was nice and uniform. now it's very clumpy and dry between the plants. do i fix that? how? Water and mulch. If it's pretty dry and clumpy might be a good idea to loosen it up again with hoe/ trowel, before you lay down the mulch

3. planting herbs: i have basil, oregano and sage right now. i was considering adding the basil to the vegetable bed by the tomatoes but i wasn't sure if there was room. what do you guys think? (photo below!)

Definitely go for it. Put the basil in the outside edges or corners so they won't be as shaded by the tomatoes, when the tomatoes get bigger.

can i just place the rest of the herbs in a long pot together in front of the vegetables? Yes

thanks! yvw RBG
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tedln
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Rosie, mulching a garden bed is something many gardeners do and many don't. Those who do, usually do it to retain moisture. Some do it because they believe it is more attractive. I don't mulch because I want to be able to look at my soil and determine how moist or dry it is. If it is mulched, I can't walk by and look at the soil. If the soil looks dry, sometimes it is only because the top is exposed to sunlight and air which does dry the top layer. If mine looks dry, I use a small garden spade and dig into the soil about two inches and see how dry it is where the roots are living.

Most gardeners recommend saturating the soil with water at least weekly. If you are growing tomatoes, I don't recommend it because the extreme cycles of wet and dry are one of the things that induce the availability of calcium to fluctuate resulting in Blossom End Rot. I use a battery powered timer on my watering line to cycle water on and off daily to maintain moist soil. I don't want my raised beds to be wet, only moist.

I believe a raised bed should be evenly moist. Not have moist spots and dry spots. You have to remember that while your plants are growing above ground, the root systems are also growing and spreading below ground. Your entire bed should be kept in a condition that is healthy for the roots.

When it comes to watering, you need to remember raised beds are entirely different than growing in the soil. In raised beds, you not only have the plants consuming moisture, and the normal evaporation that occurs in any garden; you also have moisture dropping out the bottom of raised beds. Water will always seek it's own level and will soak into the underlying soil beneath your beds. If you have lots of organics in your bed, it can retain some moisture and possibly even wick some moisture from below, but you can't depend on the wicking action in dry weather.

Ted
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rosiegirl
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thanks for all the responses. so much to learn. hopefully, as the years go on, i'll ask fewer questions and be able to answer more!

ted...that sounds good. so if the top is pretty dry, it's safe to water every day on the hot, dry days?

rbg...thanks! do you think i should cut it down to 2 cucumber plants? are they going to just get too big?

i don't really have access to grass clippings (a gardener cuts our lawn and the grass gets mixed with other lawns in the neighborhoods that are covered in herbicide), but i can see about hay. i have cedar chips leftover from a new tree and blueberry plants that we mulched so i figured i'd ask!

as for watering: definitely do not have standing water when i water them so i guess we're doing okay.

basil: i
was mostly worried about the basil interfering with the tomatoes, but as long as there seems to be room, I'm going for it!

jal...thanks! i just had a couple of bags of cedar chips so i thought about using them. if that's not good, i'll try to get some other better mulching material!
i'll definitely plant the basil in the bed now and put the other herbs in another pot.

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farmerlon
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Here in Tennessee, I mulch just about everything, just about all the time. Of course, I am in a warmer zone than you are, so our results may vary.
But, I would think that once you're into late spring and on in to Summer (and your soil has warmed by then), your garden would benefit from mulch.

Also, the mulch will virtually eliminate those soil moisture problems (dry and cracking) that you're observing.

Best of luck!

tedln
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Rosie,

These are my two 4' X 8' tomato beds from last year. Each bed contained four tomato cages for a total of twelve tomato plants per bed. Each bed contained twelve summer squash plants (six on each side of the bed) and I also grew basil from seed planted in the bed. The only problem I had was needing to cut a few squash leaves back early so the Basil could get some sunlight.
[img]https://i291.photobucket.com/albums/ll308/tedln/2009%20Garden/IMG_1704.jpg[/img]

I don't really recommend growing that crowded. I do it simply because I want to. The points I am making are it doesn't sound to me like you are over crowded, and yes; the Basil does fine with the tomatoes and squash. I did buiild a planter box this year for my herbs and planted basil, lemon thyme, sage, and lavender. All are doing well together.

Ted
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Joyfirst
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If you soil is very rich(and it seems from you decription, that it is), then you can plant closer than in a regular soil. Of course, you still have space consideration, because some plants get huge. I have a small plot and I plant veggies really close to each other, but I always make vertical support for cucumbers, peas and other vines, so they take much less space. My cucumbers are planted just a few inches from each other.

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farmerlon
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tedln wrote:These are my two 4' X 8' tomato beds from last year. Ted ...
Those are some nice looking beds!

What is the purpose of the "green netting" that you have around the tomatoes? ... is that for support, or to keep a pest at bay?

tedln
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farmerlon wrote:
tedln wrote:These are my two 4' X 8' tomato beds from last year. Ted ...
Those are some nice looking beds!

What is the purpose of the "green netting" that you have around the tomatoes? ... is that for support, or to keep a pest at bay?
The netting insured more tomatoes for me and fewer for the birds. It worked, but this year I decided to just share with the birds. I have lots more tomatoes planted this year and there will be enough for everybody.

Ted
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rainbowgardener
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My tomato bed has deer netting (black not green) all around it and over it like that. It is to keep ground hogs, raccoons, squirrels out. Without it, I would never get to eat a single tomato. I wouldn't mind sharing with the critters, if they would share with me, but they don't!
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rosiegirl
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thanks again, everyone!

farmerlon...do you think untreated cedar mulch will be okay?

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farmerlon
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rosiegirl wrote:thanks again, everyone!

farmerlon...do you think untreated cedar mulch will be okay?
hmmm?... I am not sure. I usually mulch with grass clippings in the veggie garden, and wood chips around Blueberry bushes, Strawberries, Blackberries, etc... .

My wood chips come from assorted tree branches and shrubs on my property; but I have not had any Cedar in there.
It seems that I recall hearing/reading that Cedar can emit a substance that is a growth inhibitor; but I am not sure about that.
You might want to research that some more [or hopefully, someone else here on the forum will give us some more info] before using lots of Cedar as a garden mulch.

As you indicated, UNtreated is important when it comes to wood products around the garden (that's my opinion). I don't use any treated wood, for any use, in my garden area.

tedln
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I don't hesitate to use treated wood in my garden. I wouldn't use treated mulch because it wouldn't decompose as quickly. When I use mulch, which I usually don't; I want it to decompose over time the same way compost does. If I need it, I'll just keep adding more mulch as required.

A few years ago, the chemicals used to pressure treat wood were determined to be possibly harmful to the environment. The government made them stop using that product. They started using a product that is basically a solution using copper as the preservative. It's not harmful and if some of it does leech from the wood to my garden, that is great. Copper is one of the trace minerals many of my vegetables need.

Of course everyone has their own opinion and should do what they feel is right.

Ted
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Ianpeterson
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Growing your own vegetables and fruits is one of the crucial acts of green living. Composting is the perfect way to cut CO2 emissions while helping to get the most out of your garden.

garden5
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You should water the whole thing and do it rather consistently so your tomatoes don't crack.

The reason some say not to mulch with wood chips is that they take longer to break down and pull some of the nitrogen from your soil in the decomposition process. You better bet is to go with grass or (since you don't really have access to that) some hay. Mulch helps to retain water and keep the weeds down.

Definitely go for the basil on the edges of the bed. They are reputed as being good companion plants for tomatoes, though I can't remember why (prevents harmful insects?).

Enjoy a great harvest.
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