The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Straw mulch

Loading straw in the truck
Spreading straw mulch in the gardenWhen Mark came home with 18 bales of straw, I thought he was being a little decadent.  Who needs 18 bales of straw?  Me, clearly.

First, I just mulched the garlic beds as I put them in, but then I decided to go ahead and mulch around everything else.  After a careful weeding job, I put straw around the edges of any of the cover crops and winter crops which hadn't quite covered their beds.

My new goal is to have every bit of the garden either under mulch or cover crop for the winter.  I know from experience that every little bit of energy you sink into putting the garden to bed in the winter is repaid threefold by less work in the spring.  Autumn leaves did a pretty good job last year, but since then I've read that a high carbon mulch promotes a higher fungal to bacterial ratio than most garden plants enjoy, so straw seems to make more sense as a vegetable mulch.

Truckload of strawAbout halfway through my mulch campaign, the unimaginable happened --- I ran out of straw.  "Mark, I only have four bales left," I said sadly, and Mark rolled his eyes, refrained from saying "I told you so", and instead sent me and my father (currently visiting for the weekend) out to the feed store for one more truckload.  I feel even more decadent now, but I'm looking forward to an even more healthy garden in 2011.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I am on the same page with the mulch and cover crops! We've converted one of our old vegetable gardens into a wildlife garden and I'm planning to start a cover crop in the other. We're also about to start sheet mulching almost a quarter of an acre to start a garden in the coming years. I'm not sure how we'll work it out, but we'll probably have it on rotation, with at least a quarter of it planted in a cover crop through the year.

Since I'm still in school and we've got the toddler, trying to process a lot of produce is a little tricky at times. This way at least I will be building up the soil while we aren't growing, so that when we're ready to manage a much bigger garden, we'll have knocked out much of the prep work.

Comment by Sara Sun Oct 10 16:04:45 2010
If I wasn't the world's most impatient person, that's precisely what I would have done when we first moved to the farm. I think that anyone who puts in a year or two with kill mulches and/or cover crops is far smarter than folks like me who dive right in. In fact, in my most problematic area of our forest garden, I hope to get enough leaves to put down a heavy kill mulch this winter and just start over, building the organic matter in the process to help with the heavy clay soil and waterlogging problem.
Comment by anna Sun Oct 10 18:58:07 2010

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