Mulching with hay and a garden update (for later referencing)

Every year I try and post some pictures of my garden so that I can look back and see what progress I made and how it came out. Last year I missed finishing since my daughter got married and I all but quit caring for the garden and barely even canned anything.

This year…hopefully will be different. I even purchased a new canner (an All American I blogged about here) to facilitate canning speed.

Every year we mulch our garden when we first plant. After that…we weed. Last year I had some leftover hay that needed to go and I heavily (very very heavily) mulched my tomatoes. And only my tomatoes. Surprisingly, we barely pulled any weeds in that particular part of the garden. There were a few grass clumps that got large by the end of the season but nothing major (remember I said we all but quit since we got caught up in a wedding).

Because of that experience with the tomatoes, this year we are mulching everything very very heavily. So far I have purchased 3 round bales. I have half of the third one left since purchasing it over a week ago. They were $30 each. The first round bale made the initial cover of the rows back in late March early April when we began planting. The second bale thickened everything up as we continued planting and things sprouted. We used it to fill in around plants and tighten up the rows once the seedling got a bit taller. My third bale is actually to fill in a few thin spots we left open for things like *sweet potato slips that take longer to get started and the occasional thin spot we see developing elsewhere as time goes on.  Our belief is that we will probably need one more bale. *(sweet potatoes slips are usually a pain in the rump. They are slow until it gets really hot and so you hoe hoe hoe until they can be their own mulch….this has saved us tons of time alone just with the sweets)

So you ask yourself is $120 really worth it.

And my answer is absolutely yes. I have all but pulled NO weeds this year. A few….but not many.  My hours in the garden have been spent watering (we are dry dry dry) and edging some beds I want permanently edged and of course mowing paths.

Putting down the initial hay did take a while but in no way does it compare (not even close) to the first couple of weedings you do after spring rains.

This may be the best summer ever. Ever! (for gardening anyway)

If I could go into fall without having to completely tear my beds apart (or till) because weeds just got the best of me I would consider that to be more than worth my financial investment. However the hours in the sun not spent with a hoe……well that’s worth it too.

I’ll try and keep this project updated so that it will be documented as success, failure, or somewhere in between.

Here are the pictures of some of my beds that are in my designated fenced area.

I have cucumbers, various hot peppers, fennel, daikon radish, thai basil, 6 varieties of tomatoes, zinnias, 4 types of cowpeas, 2 types of edemame (we had a cold snap and I had a slightly lowered sprout rate on these guys unfortunately) in the pictures you see. I also have okra, corn, sweet potatoes, tomatillos, thornless blackberries, raspberries and a bed of other herbs in this area. I know it doesn’t look like much…but I can easily fill at least 500 canning jars from this fenced area alone if I keep up with it.

The hay is very thick and I took the time to tuck it in between the plants once they became tall enough.  There are a few weeds that we need to pull from in between them still but hopefully that will reduce once the plants actually get large.

Also, we are still fighting to a certain extent pernicious weeds like johnson grass and bermuda grass, just not quite as badly. I do think that darn bermuda is probably just sneaking in under the hay, but it would be there no matter what so…..

Lastly, I have used hay as a winter cover crop for many winters and all I see from it is improved soil, not extra weeding as many think or warn of. Not above the norm anyway though do be careful about plants like thistles or such that might be in the hay. The farmer we get our hay from is a pretty good hay maker and we rarely find pernicious weed seed heads we feel we not only need to pick out but must pick out and burn or through in the trash can.

So I have to ask, what do you have to lose by trying?




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10 Responses to Mulching with hay and a garden update (for later referencing)

  1. wow! what a great garden. I will definitely try the hay!

    • Monica says:

      Hay works great and is a low cost alternative to some other things. I really like it but for years didn’t use it, or didn’t use it enough, since everyone (everyone!) has to make the “it will put more weeds in your garden comment”. If only I knew 20 years ago what I know now :-D

  2. pobept says:

    Grinning, mulch no matter what type you prefer to use is worth every penny.

  3. Last year I got 250 square bales of spoiled hay, delivered, for $200. It was a terrific investment! I used hens to trash sod and manure it, then moved them and plunked down a fat layer of hay. This spring I renewed the hay, and in the part of the bed I’m ready to plant I put in 25 bare root aronias. (The bed is 80X20 crescent shaped and creates a separation between what I think of as the front yard, and the front field.) Used the rest of my chickens on a bed destined to be garden – about 100X75. Housed them (and my guineas) in hay bale structures. Now more hay over that area and it’s fabulous… ground soft and lots of worms. Hoping to have time to plant, but the chickens are free-ranging and I have to get them fenced first. When I do plant, the ground will be perfect. Getting the same results that you are – a few big clumps of grass, but nothing much. Planning the same treatment this summer on a 300′ X 6′ row on the south side of the driveway – I’ll mulch again with hay, but then cover that with a thick layer of wood chips – spring or fall of 2013 I’ll plant a row of trees in that bed along the drive. If I get hay this year I’ll put a few in the orchard – they’re a choice nest for mice, and empty mouse nests are a favorite nest the following year for bumblebees. After the bee year I’ll break them up and spread them around the trees (but not close to the trunks, so it doesn’t provide cover for voles.) A lot of value in a bale of hay!

    • Monica says:

      Fabulous deal…especially since it was delivered. Don’t forget too that for those areas were you will plant trees and such (even areas were you might have sweet potatoes etc) you can also save boxes and put them under the hay. Really helps kill off grass and such even faster. I usually use boxes were I am going to put pricier mulches around my peonies and along my home. However this year I came up with a load of boxes and my second bed of sweet potatoes is covered in that in addition to hay.
      There definitely is a lot of value in a bale of hay. Just goes to show that old (very old) saying about hay is true: “when you purchase hay you are buying another farmers land” I think most people think that means you get to “use” some other persons property to feed your animals. I now realise it means you are actually purchasing the fertility of their property and bringing it to yours. Their loss…your gain.

  4. I have 2 round bales that were delivered for my horses, but were horrible hay. Horses simply can’t eat hay that smells like silage and is molding. As we do not have a tractor, and these are not net wrapped, moving them has been impossible. I’ve left them in place hoping they’ll rot down quickly. But perhaps, if I use a mask (I have mold allergies), I can actually break them down and use them as mulch! Thanks for the idea!

    • Monica says:

      Hi Oregon Sunshine,
      I forgot to write a quick segment on moving our bales around without tractors and will do that for those that do not read comments.
      However you are on the right track. We cut the strings and “unwind” the bale. Putting heaps of it into a large cart that is pulled by our lawn mower and/or a larger wheel barrow. Once you get it small enough you can roll it…but until then we have to peel it off. Unless it is one of those smaller rounds (every hay guy wants to think his rounds are a 1000lbs…but most aren’t even close as you well know!)
      Usually….usually but not always….. round bales that smell like silage are usually damp on the inside as you know. That means we often don’t have the same “flying mold” problem that we do with squares. Of course, a mold mask is always a good option—I too have diagnosed mold allergies (along with a few other plants/foods/chemicals). You can always open it up and let it lay around for a day then move that part, open some more, move more the next day etc etc. Or leave it over the season until this next spring. By then it will be gushy on the inside (where gloves since it’s kind of gross) and will still make great mulch.

      • We tried that. Unfortunately, these bales are more than 1000#. So even with 2 of us, we can’t move them. :(

        Worse, when my husband touched them, he instantly broke out into hives- something he’s never done before. Something is honestly wrong with this hay. I’d have returned it, except we don’t have a way to load it back up. So, it sits. *sigh*

      • Monica says:

        Bummer about the hives.
        Generally moving them is not what we do until we peel off at least half the bale. We just cut the string and begin peeling them. Easier when they are “swirl side up” but also possible the other way (round/hump side up I guess you would say). Either way “flakes” peel off of them. Obviously you have to touch them to do that and if it gives your husband hives then he won’t be the one doing it.
        Sometimes with smaller bales we can roll them with two people but often we have to reduce them a bit first.
        Good luck

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