Fertilising - In Bed Fertilisers
A Green Manure bed basically is a bed that is sown with a mix of seed that is allowed to germinate and grow to a low, lush green growth, then is chopped up and dug back into the soil and mulched. Over the following weeks, all that luscious green plant growth composts down in your bed, adding vital nutrients and organic matter.
Green Manure mixes are readily available at your local feed store and larger garden stores. The seed mixes vary, but often are comprised of seeds such as wheat, rye, tic beans, peas, clover, oats. These will vary from area to area (particularly cold and warm climates)
If you can leave your bed to grow a green manure before spring, before you go and dig all that compost in, add some sheep manure and a light dressing of chicken manure. With the compost and manures dug in and the soil surface evenly raked, spread your green manure mix evenly over the surface then lightly rake the surface again. This will help the seed get in contact with the soil better, then give the bed a good water.
Although not compulsory, I strongly recommend you cover the bed with a netting of some sort, otherwise you will have made a very attractive food plate for every bird in sight! Make sure the seed remains damp but not soaking and in a few weeks, you'll have a green manure crop well on it's way.
Two weeks after sowing
When the green manure is around 40cm high, some plants may be just about to flower, it's time to dig it in. With a sharp spade, chop the growth up and dig it into the soil.
When you're all done, mulch the bed with your choice of mulch and, depending on when you do this, leave it until Spring, or few 3 to 4 weeks before planting. (Make sure you check how the composting is going before planting). The image that follows is the same bed mulched with Sugar Cane mulch.
Mulching a Vegetable Garden
How do you mulch a vegetable garden and why?
Mulching is a process where a range of different materials is used to cover the soil in a garden. When it comes to vegetable gardens, some care needs to be taken in the choice of materials used.
What does mulching do?
Mulching provides a numbe of benefits in the vegetable garden.It:
Insulates the soil
Prevents excess water loss
Improves soil health
Minimises weed growth
Insulate the Soil
When applied to the correct thickness, mulch insulates the soil. This helps to keep soil temperatures even. As the seasons change and night temperatures drop, the mulch helps retain some of the heat of the day. On the flip side, in the height of Summer, when the air temperatures are high, the mulch keeps the soil temperature lower. The only thing to consider here, is moving the mulch aside towards the end of winter. This helps the soil start to warm up earlier as Spring approaches. If left in place, it actually prevents the early Spring sunshine from reaching the soil and this can hold back development of some of your early crops.
Prevents Water loss
One of the greatest benefits of mulch here in drought stricken Australia, is that mulch helps keep the soil moist. By preventing the radiant heat of the sun and evaporation of water from the soil as air moves over it, moisture is retained and kept available to the plants. This year, my veggie patch endured Summer temperatures up to 45 degress C (113 degrees F)
Improves soil health
With the correct mulch selected, you can help counteract the drain on Nitrogen in your soil. As mulch breaks down, it is effectively composting your vegetable garden bed, but uses Nitrogen in the soil to do. By adding vegetable matter slowly as it rots and keeping temperatures even and the soil moist, beneficial bacterial growth and insects are encouraged to visit, most importantly worms!
Minimises weed growth
Weeds are the enemy of all vegetable gardeners. Wherever you garden, your soil (unless it's potting mix) will have some weed seeds already in it. If these are allowed to germinate and develop, they are competing for nutrients and water with your vegetable plants. Even worse, if they mature far enough to flower, they can spread thousands more seeds into your beds to repeat the process, so avoid this at all costs. By spreading mulch thickly enough, you will exclude the light from the soil, this is turn minimises the number of weeds that can get a start. The mulch also provides a blanket, that helps prevent airborne seeds from settling on the soil surface.
One thing to remember though, not all vegetable plants like mulch up around them, and in these instances, you have no choice but to gently hand weed to keep on top of them.
Types of Vegetable Garden Mulch
There are a lot of different mulches that can be used on a vegetable garden. These are the one's that I have the best over the years.
Pea Straw is a waste product from commercial pea crops (but is also grown for mulch and feed). Once the peas are harvested, the dead pea plants are gathered and compressed into bales of "straw". Crops of peas are also grown solely for the purpose of producing pea straw. The straw is densely packed and comes apart from the bale in "biscuits" that you need to pull apart and spread around. This is easier if done before planting.
Lucerne is a crop that is grown primarily as a feed crop on farms. Once matured, like other hay crops, it is allowed to dry, then is cut and baled. Like Pea Straw, Lucerne is densely packed and will separate in biscuits from the bale.
If you are lucky enough to live in a country that produces sugar cane crops (like I do), you should be able to find Sugar Cane mulch quite readily. This is a waste product of growing sugar cane. After harvesting, the remaining material is dried and chopped to produce a light and easily spread mulch layer.