A couple of years ago I blogged about how great straw mulch was in my veggie beds, but I stopped using it because I got so much wheat and grass seeded into my beds that it became unmanageable.
This spring though, I was having trouble with weeds in the long tomato beds along the back fence, so I turned over the soil, put down a layer of paper weed cloth, and mulched with a couple of inches of grass clippings I begged off the nice older man who cuts the lawn at the Baptist church on my corner (he told me he hadn’t sprayed for weeds). That was working so well, and keeping the soil so moist that I started looking at my other beds. I only used the paper in one other bed, the one in the foreground of this photo, because it’s got the zucchini plants in it, which means a lot of bare soil was going to be exposed. That one too is holding moisture really well.
It was also this spring that my stepmother kept telling me about some online videos she’d seen from someone who used hay for mulch, and almost never has to water. I hadn’t thought of hay, probably because as someone who grew up around horses it seemed wasteful to use it for mulch, but when it went from 40 degrees to 90 degrees in a week’s time, and everything started keeling over from the dry heat, I decided to give it a shot.
So far, I love the hay mulch! It’s much softer and easier to work with than the straw, and I can’t help but think all those green bits are going to be good for my soil. It’s keeping the seedlings from burning up (I’ve got some lettuces, arugula, beets, herbs, and beans coming up. I know, it’s the end of July, but we’re at least a month behind this year). And I had some extra, so I lined the paths with it, which makes them really nice to walk on barefoot … since we only get about 3 months of nice weather a year, I just can’t bear to put shoes on. I am watering daily, by hand, in part because I like seeing what’s going on out there, and in part because there’s so many tiny seedlings coming up that I don’t want to burn up. Once things are established, I might start with a weekly, or bi-weekly soak and then just leave them alone.
I’m also experimenting with dry farming the tomatoes this year. I haven’t watered them at all — we’ve had a few thunderstorms that seem to be doing the trick, and they’re growing just fine. I might have to soak them this weekend, but I’m experimenting to see how they’ll do in their raised beds with their heavy blanket of mulch.