Not all of our vegetables require mulch. But we have found that our squash and cucumber plants suffer in the heat if their hills aren't covered a bit with something to hold in the moisture.
Last year, we had great success in mulching our vegetables with straw. We purchased last year's bales from a community store for $4 a bale. Those bales were small and we could tell they were old. But like I said, the straw did a great job in keeping my tender plants cool and for the most part, weed-free throughout the summer.
So of course this year we decided to use straw again. So we visited another store in Mt. Airy. I won't name the store but it is a nationally known farm supply store. They had straw bales for $4.50. At fifty cents more, we found these bales to be about twice the size of the ones we purchased from the community store. They were fresh and smelled so good. We took them home and mulched the newly planted squash and cucumbers.
About 10 days later, little sprigs of grass started showing up in the hills. I visited the garden, pulled the weeds and walked away. Then a few days later, I went to check these hills again. Using my hands I raked back the straw from the first hill, all the way around. There was nothing but a thick layer of rich green grass growing all over the squash hill. I pulled it all, recovered the hill and walked around the garden inspecting the others for this same invasion. Unfortunately, it is there. It is everywhere the straw has been. . . .lesson learned.
I talked to my husband who took me to the garden center (the place I enjoy most because I worked at one myself for several years) to discuss other mulching options. I asked the lady there what I could use on squash and cucumber hills as a mulch. Her suggestion was pine needles or pine mulch. I told her squash and cucumbers were sweet calcium loving plants and asked if the acidity of pine would harm them. She paused, saying she was unsure and telephoned the manager. He said don't use it the pine would burn the plants. Aside from straw his only other suggestion was to use dead leaves. This won't work for us because we just don't have them after burning all the brush lately.
So we left the garden center and visited Lowe's to look at other options. Lowe's had the usual rocks, pebbles, bark, needles, straw, etc. The only other thing they had was Peat Moss.
We know if we attempt to mix peat into the soil of the already existing hills two things will happen. The soil will then retain more moisture. The plants will have been disturbed and may not recover.
The other possibility with peat moss is to wet it and apply it around the plant on top of the hill. We understand that applying it all over the hill isn't a good idea because once the peat dries it will form a crust that water cannot penetrate, causing the opposite effect to our plants that we are trying to attain.
I water by hand only. I don't use the water hose because water is a precious resource for us with our hand dug well and watering by hand gives me quantity control.
So, here is the plan.
We're going to rake all of the contaminated straw off of our plant hills. Yesterday my son and I mucked out the hens nesting boxes.. We'll take this used straw and line their boxes with it as well as their roosting area so we won't suffer a loss.
Then we'll take the time to remove every weed, grass sprig etc from those hills that we can see.
We'll mulch approximately a dinner plate size area on the top of each hill. Once this peat has formed the crust I mentioned, I'll cut a small portion of it about 1 to 2 inches around the perimeter of the stem. This will be similar to a plug that I can simply remove or lift long enough to water the plants then put the plug back into its original position to hold in the moisture and block out the heat.
I really hope this works because I can't spend the entire growing season trying different methods. I will try to remember to take pictures of this as we go, just in case it does work.