I’ve fallen in love with gardening all over again.
As many of you know, 2014 was the first year I ventured into the world of deep mulch gardening.
Considering it’s October, I figured it was time to take final inventory of my experience and type out my thoughts and revelations (mostly because I know I’ll forget come next year…)
To sum it up?
Deep mulch gardening is the best thing that’s ever happened to my garden.
I LOVE IT. I will NEVER go back to bare dirt gardening. Never, ever, ever.
To read a little background on this my crazy mulching adventure and to learn more of the specifics of this whole deep mulch thang, check out this post where I talk about mulching for the first time, and then this post where I give a mid-summer mulching update.
For those of you who are curious about my final yields and such, here are all the nitty-gritty details—>
**IMPORTANT: If you are planning on using deep mulch, please make sure you are ONLY using hay or straw that has NOT been sprayed with herbicides of any kind! Read my sad story about herbicide contamination here.**
2014 Yields from My Deep Mulch Garden
Keep in mind, I have a rather small garden plot. We have plans to expand, but have to build a literal fortress around anything we try to grow (because of wild critters and our barnyard critters), so while putting in a second plot is on the “list,” it hasn’t happened quite yet! However, I had impressive yields, even from my small plot!
By far, this was the best onion year I’ve ever had. I planted two long rows of purple onion sets and one row of sweet yellow onions. The were SO happy and grew like crazy. My yellow onions were HUGE and just as pretty as the ones you can find at the store.
Now comes the sad part of the story… Our lovely turkey apparently has an affinity for onions, and wiped out nearly the entire harvest before I realized what had happened. So, I ended up with just one measly onion braid. However, that wasn’t the deep mulch’s fault, and next year I know to be extra-careful to leave the garden gate SHUT!
Peas & Beans
These were one of the few things I actually struggled a bit with this year. However, I don’t think the deep mulch is to blame. The early part of summer was very cool, and the pea & bean seeds really struggled to germinate. I replanted several times, but never ended up with a great yield. However, I still was able to harvest 3-4 gallon baggies of yellow beans to store in the freezer, so that’ll keep us in beans for a while, at least.
Beets and Kohlrabi
The beets were out of control this year! I ended up canning several batches and still have a bag in the fridge to eat! I mostly planted the white albino beets from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, but also did half a row of regular red beets. This was my first year of growing kohlrabi, so I just planted one row. However, it thrived in the deep mulch and we had more kohlrabi than we could eat.
This was an interesting experiment, since I decided to plant my pumpkin seeds in my failed hugulkultur bed from last year. I didn’t have high hopes, but poked a handful of seeds into the bed anyway and covered them in deep hay mulch as the plants popped through the compost. Much to my surprise, the pumpkins flourished and we ended up with 10-12 gorgeous Winter Luxury pumpkins from just a handful of seeds. I even had enough pumpkins to preserve for later, and I was able to enjoy my first pumpkin canning experience!
As I mentioned in my mid-summer mulching update post, my potatoes had a bit of a rocky start. Apparently, I covered them with too much mulch, and the shoots had a hard time poking through the thick layer of hay. Once I realized my mistake and removed a bit of the bulk, the green plants happily popped up and grew wildly. (Thankfully, potatoes are very forgiving, even after you try to smother them…)
In the past I’ve planted potatoes the traditional way: digging a deep trench, laying the seed potatoes in the trench, and then mounding more and more dirt as the potatoes sprouted. However, I decided to be a bit rebellious this year… I laid the seed potatoes on the dirt, but rather than mounding them up, I simply covered them with hay. I was holding my breath when I harvested them last month, half-expecting to be completely potato-less. But, the mulch came through for me again! I ended up with heaping boxes of gorgeous Yukon gold potatoes from just 3 rows. And the best part? I didn’t have to mess with mounding them this summer, and harvest was super easy– just pull back the hay and grab the spuds!
In the past, tomatoes have been my nemesis… I’ve had a few years where the plants seemed happy, but ended up producing dismal yields. I planted 8-10 tomato plants this year (mostly romas and Amish Paste tomatoes for making sauce) and surrounded the seedlings with hay mulch. Those few plants gave us boxes and boxes of tomatoes! Our crazy-early freeze forced me to harvest many of them green and ripen them in boxes, but regardless, I had enough homegrown tomatoes to make a full batch of sauce. This is a first for me!
Cabbage, Carrots, and Squash
I planted a few cabbage seedlings this year and they were downright picturesque growing happily in their mulch.
The carrots grew happily, although I did have some deformed ones. I’ve since been informed (by smarter gardeners than me) to amend the bed next year with kelp meal or wood ash to prevent the, er, unique formations. I think I also need to work the soil in my carrot rows a bit deeper.
As usual, I planted my squash too close together, so my zucchini and spaghetti squash had babies… Regardless, we enjoyed ample amounts of chocolate zucchini bread, and have several spaghetti squashes stored away for winter.
Wyoming can be desperately dry in the summers. In previous years, I would often water every single day, and my garden would still wilt and dry out. It was… annoying. And frustrating.
With my deep mulch, this year I only watered about twice per week. The hay kept the underlying soil moist and soft, even when everything else outside was blazing hot. This saved me a lot of time dragging hoses around AND seriously cut down on our water usage.
I know everyone has weeds, but in year’s past, we had weeds in epic proportions. My poor baby seedlings usually didn’t even get a chance to germinate before they were already getting choked out. It was vicious.
I would spend hours and hours each week weeding like crazy, but could NEVER get ahead of them. As a mom, a homesteader with lots of other projects, and a business owner, I couldn’t afford to spend that much time in the garden, and was seriously considering giving up gardening entirely. (Ask my husband–I’m not kidding!) I wasn’t enjoying it, and had a pit in my stomach every time I’d go out to check on the veggies.
Deep mulch made me fall in love with gardening all over again.
This year? I spent about 10-15 minutes every other day checking on the rows and pulling a few weeds here and there. Sometimes I’d add an extra handful of hay if a spot was becoming bare, or pull a bit of hay back if it had scooted too close to the seedlings. But that’s it. For real.
And as payment for my minimal time spent in the garden? I was rewarded with the most bountiful harvest I’ve ever experienced.
Our gardening season is complete and everything has been harvested. I left many of plant remnants in place and covered the entire garden plot with a generous blanket of hay for the winter. The plan is for the plant matter and hay to begin decomposing to create a whole new layer of nutritious-goodness for next year.
Come spring, I’ll pull the hay back from where I plan to place my rows to allow the soil to warm up, and we’ll start the process all over again. And for the first time ever? I’m actually looking forward to gardening season.
Where I Got My Crazy Ideas
This book by Ruth Stout (affiliate link) was the #1 driving force in my decision to use deep hay mulch this year. She was quite revolutionary in her time, and I followed many of her sassy suggestions to the letter. As crazy as many of her suggestions sounded at first, they haven’t failed me yet!
Other Gardening Goodies You Might Enjoy:
- I get all my heirloom seeds from Baker Creek
- How to Prep Your Garden for Winter
- My introductory Deep Mulch post (explains the process)
- 2014 mid-summer Deep Mulch update
What types of mulch have you used in your garden? Any stories to share?