Well, after clearing our the lettuce yesterday I had a nice patch of ground that was bare. Well, not completely, I had 3 inches of leaves as mulch around the soil. Let me back up a little. Back in March I put in the romaine lettuce, transplants from the green house. After a week or two, maybe early April I spread oak leaves (the small ones) all around the lettuce as a mulch. I think since April I have watered 3 times (not counting when it rained). The amazing thing is that the lettuce did great, and was not bitter (often happens from not enough water. So, with the lettuce planted so close together and the use of mulch I did not have to pull a single weed, and the water it conserved was amazing! I HIGHLY recommend you mulch your crops.
Back to corn. So, using the hoe I dug up the soil, it was held together by the small roots from the lettuce, but was very easy to break up because the mulching had kept the soil moist. After I had it well tilled I got about 8 gallons of manure (yeah, I know, you don't really measure dry ingredients by gallon, but think of a 5 gallon bucket) and added it to the soil and mixed that in. I wasn't sure how much nitrogen was in the ground, even with the addition of manure. So I sprinkled some bone meal (for strong roots for the corn) and some blood meal as some ready available nitrogen. I mixed that in. I than planted the corn. I left room for two watermelons to grow (just a small 4 inch space to put the transplant). I than spaced the corn about 4-6 inches apart. The area that the lettuce was in was as wide as the deep bed (4ft aprox.) and 3 feet wide roughly. So, I got in about 64 kernels of corn, or so.
The method I am using here is what some people call, the three sisters. That is the name the indians (native americans) called it. You have your corn that you plant. Than, you plant your beans, and the beans grow up the corn. Than you plant the melon/squash/pumpkin on the ground. The corn grows up, the beans grow up the corn, and the squash grow along the ground and block out weeds. Also animals don't like to walk on spiky spikes that sqaush have, so they won't eat the corn or beans. You first harvest the beans and than the corn, and than at the end of the season you harvest the squash. So, I am not planting beans here, because I am planting soybeans here in the fall, and don't want to grow the same crop in the same space twice in less than 3-4 years. (I practice good crop rotation, unlike most gardeners, no offense).
I am very pleased with the corn I am growing. I hope to get a good harvest, and it will add a lot of bulk to the compost!
Alright, on to mulching. The main reason that I mulch is to conserve moisture, the second reason is to keep down weeds. The best material in my opinion (and most organic gardners) is organic material. So, leaves, grass clippings etc. Now, a lot of mulch covers are plastic. The only reason for this is to warm up the soil and keep down weeds. The reason for using organic material is that it adds to the garden soil.
Probably the best thing to mulch with is fresh grass clippings that are slightly dried. You don't want them wet, because they stick to eachother. But you don't want them to dry either, or they lose the nitrogen content. But, most people do not have a readily supply of grass clippings. The next best options are bagged leaves (I picked up about 25 bags from around the neighborhood last fall, great for compost and mulching) and hay and straw. Unfortunately only fresh grass clippings will add nitrogen to the soil, leaves, hay, straw and newspaper only add carbon.
So, use whatever you have on hand.
It is best to mulch after a heavy watering, since it doesn't allow as much water into the soil. So water the plants heavily before mulching. It is best to mulch the plants when they are around 4 inches tall. You don't want to smother them, but on the other hand you want to use the mulch before the plant is done growing.
Well, I guess that is all for now. For more information on mulching, and a great site about gardening, go here: http://supak.com/mort/insects.htm