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Friday PhotoEssay – May 30th

We have a big change to show off in the garden this week!

Yes, we have mulch! Doesn’t it look great? It always gives the garden an entirely different look and feel once we get everything mulched. We mulched everything except the areas where there are still seeds working on germinating. We even mulched between the rows of beans, chickpeas, and carrots. Any bare soil we covered with straw, as much as possible.

Many of our tomato plants are starting to bloom, and it seems like the weather (so far) is working in our favor to have great fruit set. It could be a bumper tomato crop at the rate we’re going! This is one of the ‘Opalka’ plants, and it doesn’t show up very well in this picture, but I’m pretty sure that this is one of the varieties that typically exhibits the “wilty” gene. I have an ‘Opalka’ plant at home that shows it a little bit better. The “wilty” gene is found in some varieties of heirloom tomatoes, and it causes the plants to have slightly wilted appearance to the leaves. I think it is typically most visible at about this stage of growth. There isn’t anything to be concerned about or do differently. The most important part is to not just assume that the plant needs more water! On these wilty plants, you want to be sure to check the soil moisture level rather than watering indiscriminately when the plant looks wilted.

The kale we have planted in the Italian garden is looking really good. It is ‘Nero de Toscano’ or Black Tuscan kale. You might also see it called Lacinato kale or Dinosaur kale. Some kale connoisseurs will say that this type of kale has the best flavor, sweetest, mildest, whatever of any type of kale. I don’t know about that, but to be totally fair to it, I would imagine those descriptors are best applied in the spring or fall when the weather is nice and cool. Kale in Kansas at this time of year is going to be pretty strongly flavored! I still really like this African Sweet Potato & Kale Stirfry (on the second page).

All of the vine crop seedlings are doing well, including our Indian gourds. This is one of the Bittermelon/Bitter gourd seedlings. The leaves look a tiny bit exotic – if by exotic I mean slightly different from other vining vegetables.

 The potatoes are flowering! They sure took their time coming up this year, but they have grown so fast since then. Potato flowers don’t necessarily mean a whole lot, although growing up we always figured that we could start “stealing” a few potatoes from under the plant once they started flowering.

Have a great weekend!

Mulching & Other Garden Tasks

After the three day weekend, you might expect we would have lots of projects around the garden. Not necessarily the case! We really had only one larger project to complete, since everything is planted and we aren’t ready to start harvesting anything. That big project was spreading mulch.

We had some really nice wheat straw to use. It makes the plants look even greener! We try to put about 3 inches of straw around most of our plants. We mulched the tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant today.

Here’s the mulched Pizza Garden. The garlic and shallots still have a little bit of straw left from last fall, so there was no reason to try to replenish their mulch. Things like beans and herbs we didn’t mulch, although we probably could have. The basil we left unmulched because it is still pretty small and it could use some more heat in the soil.

One of the effects of using straw mulch (or any organic material like leaves or paper) is that it cools the soil a few degrees. You don’t want to put straw mulch down too early, before the soil is nice and warm. We also left the vine crops unmulched for the time being, although we’ll put straw down in the vertical garden in a few more weeks. (On the other hand, that cooling effect will come in handy in a few weeks!)

The three biggest benefits of mulching are:

  • Weed suppression (who doesn’t want to have fewer weeds to pull?)
  • Moisture retention/even soil moisture (and we are VERY concerned about watering as little as possible here in Wichita!)
  • Disease minimization (many of the leaf spot diseases are caused by splashing soil onto lower leaves)

So go out and find yourself some mulch (if you haven’t already)!

Mulching & More

It was busy in the Demo Garden this morning, as we had a few finishing touches to put on things in preparation for our grand opening on Thursday. We got the tomatoes and most of the other vegetables mulched with straw, which really makes things pop. We also refilled and planted the Smart Pot from the last couple of years and continued with some cleanup of the Quiet Garden area.

We are using the nice, bright gold wheat straw mulch that is so prevalent here in Kansas. We put about 2-3 inches of straw around the plants and in any open areas of the beds. As the plants grow, it will be nice to have full soil coverage to help keep things moist.

We put a thin layer of mulch under the trellises in the Vertical garden as well. We had some leaf mold compost under there already, but the straw looks so much cleaner.

While the Quiet Garden area wasn’t affected by the renovation, the Master Gardeners have put in a lot of work in the last couple weeks to whip it back into shape. With a new bench, some different containers, new pave stones, and some Prairie Star Annuals, it looks like a brand new garden as well! (And the hardy palm is still there too…in the bottom right of the picture. Yes it is winter hardy!)

Another activity that we completed this week that I happily have no pictures of is that we scouted all the squash for squash vine borer eggs and squash bug nymphs. Since we didn’t find any, I have no pictures to share! Hurray!



One of our other big projects in the garden this week was mulching. I had almost completely forgotten about mulching, but the Master Gardeners were on top of it!

Our 3 bales of year old wheat straw easily mulched the three areas we have tomatoes, plus the peppers and the vertical garden. We put the mulch around the plants, about 2-3 inches deep.

Some of the goodness of mulch includes:

1. Cools down the soil a few degrees – this is a good thing as the summer gets hotter!

2. Keeps the soil more evenly moist – less watering, happier plants!

3. Suppresses weeds – less work for us. Hurray!

4. Helps keep disease off the plants and keeps the produce cleaner. Less spraying, washing, and rotten fruit!

If you can’t find straw, you can also use grass clippings (not treated with herbicides), leaves, compost, or wood chips.