The mulched family garden at Prairie Road Organic Seed

How to mulch the family garden and our virtual garden tour!

The family gardens are mulched for the year! This is the task that signals for me that the big push is over--  we did it!

Wanna see? At the end of this blog is a link to our YouTube video-- a virtual garden tour of both family gardens.

The garden is all tucked in and we get to switch to maintenance mode. YAY! And of course-- continuing to enjoy the garden bounty!

Strawberries, lettuce, garlic and peppers in the south garden at Prairie Road Organic Seed
As many of you know, our gardens have a thick layer of mulch between the rows. The mulch covers the soil in a 4-6 inch thick mat between rows spaced 3 feet apart.
This mulch system has many advantages: it adds fertility and creates a perfect environment for feeding the soil microbes and earthworms, leaving them undisturbed to do their soil building work.  

Mulch also dramatically increases the amount of rainwater that soaks into the soil, reducing runoff and erosion when ya' get those hard driving rains.
We're expecting 100 degree heat this weekend! There's no black dirt exposed in our gardens. The mulch helps provide a cooling effect along with keeping the moisture in the ground and available to the plants.
AND mulch offers the user-friendly benefit of helping to control weeds!

The Mulch  
What you mulch with MATTERS!  You want to make sure you are reducing your work load and suppressing weeds, not adding them!  What do I mean by that?  

If you use hay or straw from a field that has been allowed to "go to seed," you will likely add to your weed issues.  You do not want to use grass that was hayed after the seed heads were formed.  No grass seed allowed!
Straw from a harvested field can also carry with it any weeds that may have matured and gone to seed when the grain crop ripened and was harvested.  Using that straw could inoculate your newly mulched garden with new weed seeds.

To avoid this hazard, we hay a small hayfield just north of the garden in early June. The grass is lush and green but no seed heads have formed. We cut, dry, rake, and bale the hay in small square bales that are easily handled in the garden.
Baling the hay next to the driveway at Prairie Road Organic Seed  Hay stacked in the barn at Prairie Road Organic Seed
Straw vs. Hay Mulch
Straw is the stem of a grain plant that has gone to seed. The plant has sent most of its fertility into that seedhead.
Hay on the other hand is in its prime-- in its most fertile form. We prefer to use hay over straw. You get to capture all that green energy and import that fertility into your garden-- where the magic happens.

The process
First step is to thoroughly weed the garden before mulching. Don't skimp on this step!
Pigweed in the garden during a weeding at Prairie Road Organic Seed  Weeding the garden at Prairie Road Organic Seed
Any perennials growing in your garden are the biggest concern. Mulching over them will just hide the problem until it becomes a BIG problem-- especially if the weed spreads by rhizomes-- through its roots. Make sure you get those dug out as well as possible before mulching.
Mulching the garden in June provides a window of opportunity when all the plants in the garden are quite young and the rows are easily mulched in between. It's growing fast now, so we work to get everything mulched by mid-June.

We carry in the square bale and carefully place them between the rows.  We set the bales with the twine knots face-up; we cut the two strings of twine near the knots, grab the knots and pull the twine out from under the bale, leaving it largely intact and neatly positioned between the rows.  
Bales between the rows at Prairie Road Organic Seed-- ready to mulch!  Squares of hay positioned between the rows ready to spread out at Prairie Road Organic Seed

The bale naturally wants to fan out and separate into sections from the baling process.  We take 4-6 inch thick sections and lay the squares of hay between the plant rows with each square stacked end to end right next to each other.  The hay strands are generally parallel to the plant row.
Watch our companion YouTube video here to see our process in action. AND I'll give you a tour of both family gardens after they've been mulched.
Stay cool everyone! Talk later!
Our best to you,
Theresa & Dan