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Working the soil pays off

August 23, 2012
By Stephanie Bethke-DeJaeghere , Marshall Independent

This past week, I started to dig potatoes in earnest. We had planted three kinds of potatoes this year and yes, of course, like many years before, my husband and I were a little carried away with the number of seed potatoes that we had decided to plant.

This is the first year that I have ever seriously mulched our potatoes, and I can not say enough about not only the beautiful potatoes that we are now digging out of the garden but we are also investing in the soil in our garden to a degree that I have not done in many years either. In fact, I will be undertaking some sort of similar action with my flower gardens this fall in order to improve the soil in each of those gardens.

Proof is indeed, in the pudding.

My children probably thought I had lost it when I began exclaiming to them that they had to come and take a closer look at what was going on in the garden.

The soil that was being dug up with the potatoes was like black gold. I can not wait to rotate our sweet corn through this spot in our garden next year and see what kind of sweet corn we get out of it. It should be amazing! We had mulched the potatoes with round bales of corn stalks from last year's corn harvest. It took about two round bales to cover the area, but as I mentioned before, we had planted a lot of potatoes this year.

The rain that we were lucky enough to have received these past two weeks certainly helped to encourage further plant growth. We are digging about 3 pounds of potatoes per hill. A bumper crop even though we had limited rain.

Mulch serves many purposes in the garden. It helps to reduce soil moisture evaporation. This was certainly true this year. It also helps to maintain even soil moisture supply throughout the garden. It helps to reduce weed growth. I think we have spent less than 10 hours in the garden weeding this year. It helps to insulate the soil from extreme temperature changes (it certainly helps to keep the soil cooler on those hotter days this summer). It helps to prevent mud from splashing on crop surfaces. It helps to reduce fruit rots which go back to keeping soil off of the plants as much as possible. It also helps to prevent soil crusting and soil erosion.

The soil, especially if you pack in enough mulch to a depth of 6 inches or more, will not compact as much. It also helps with the freeze/thaw cycle which we struggle with every year in our area and if you get find some really pretty mulch; it makes your garden look nice and neat.

Straw, corn stalk mulch and hay maybe are not as pretty looking as wood chip mulch or something similar but it serves its purpose in the vegetable garden.

You can also use more synthetic material such as plastic sheets but the real winners are the organic mulches which are mentioned above along with grass clippings (as long as the grass has not been treated for weeds) and compost.

For more information regarding gardening, you can reach me at



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