Along with Joel Karsten’s Straw Bale Gardening presentation, another Homegrown Food Summit video that really got me fired up was Jill Winger’s “Mulch Gardening Secrets”. Since I had plenty of hay bales on hand for my “Hay Bale Vermigardening” project this spring, I figured it was the perfect time to test out this other approach as well.
Of course, as per usual, the idea has been to take this method one step further and to turn it into an official vermigardening approach as well.
For my first bed, I selected a pretty neglected and overgrown stretch of dirt sitting at the end of my long hay bale (and beside my “sandbox trench” raised bed)
The first thing I did was clear out most of the weeds. As you can see I wasn’t TOO worried about getting every last one (after all, everything would be buried under a fairly thick layer of mulch).
Next, I lay down a bunch of fall leaves (mixed with miscellaneous yard waste), happily donated by one of my neighbors.
Then came the thick layer of hay over top.
This was around the time I was first priming my bales (for the hay bale gardening project), so I still had some soy milk powder. I figured I might as well sprinkle a bunch of it over top of the new mulch bed – especially since we were expecting (and ended up receiving) a huge dump of rain. The idea was to kick things up a notch in the bed by making it a bit more interesting for the worms.
In hindsight, I wish I had mixed it with water first, since I ended up with globs of it throughout the bed after the rain – and even some bad odors.
The first plants I added to the bed (about a week and a half later) were 2 eggplants, 1 watermelon, and 1 curly kale.
Less than a week later, I added 3 pepper plants.
Much more recently, I added 6 lacinato kale (aka “dino kale”, “black kale”) seedlings.
As you can see in the next image, everything has been coming along quite nicely so far. I’ve added an additional layer of moldy hay, and will continue to layer more on as the plants continue to get bigger.
Looks as though things are in good shape down below as well. It’s nice and moist, and there seems to be a healthy population of worms (including plenty of Red Wigglers) – these have mostly moved in on their own (there would have been some in the coarse vermicompost I added in/around the planting holes as well).
Kind of cool to see the difference between the kale plant in the mulch garden vs the ones growing in bare soil in the sandbox garden (planted at exactly the same time, and all the same size originally). Obviously, tighter spacing in the sandbox bed would be contributing to that – but nevertheless, it’s safe to say that the mulch garden curly kale is doing really well!
Can’t wait to see how the dino kale does!
My next deep mulch bed was somewhat “accidental” (i.e. not originally planned). As some of you may recall, I excavated a vermicomposting trench bed so I could add the contents to my long hay bale bed. I needed some place to put 6 cucumber + 8 cherry tomato seedlings, and I suddenly realized that the (mostly empty) trench could make for a fantastic deep mulch bed.
The cucumber seedlings were looking pretty pitiful by the time I planted them.
But things have been coming along quite nicely since then.
The tomatoes (also very dismal looking when planted) have been bouncing back nicely as well.
Similar to the other mulch bed, I will be gradually adding more layers of hay to the trench over time, as the plants continue to get bigger.
All in all, I am really happy with the deep mulch approach so far. One thing I’d like to try, as a means of once again kicking things up a notch, is to periodically sprinkle (and mix) in some poultry feed (or something similar). I think the worms and other critters will go to town on on it, and it will be converted into nutritious plant food quite quickly.