[Market-farming] Mulch

road's end farm organic101 at linkny.com
Wed Dec 5 11:49:02 EST 2007

On Dec 3, 2007, at 10:45 AM, TxBeeFarmer wrote:

> I'd like to try putting down mulch over my garden to reduce weeds and 
> help
> the soil.  It's about 3 acres, but I'm really not sure how to get it 
> done.
> Also not sure how to plant a garden on it.
> Let me explain a little about my location, the soil, and how the 
> garden is
> taken care of now.  It's in west Texas with a rainfall of approx. 17
> inches/yr. with very little or no irrigation because the water must be
> hauled in.  The soil is a sandy loam that tends to develop "hard pan" 
> if not
> plowed.  So, each Winter the stalk residue is shred down and disked 
> lightly
> to turn everything under.  In the spring, it's deep disked, then 
> plowed to
> create 36 inches rows.  Planting is done with a 4 row buster planter 
> on the
> bed.  Weeds are either hoed or plowed using knives or sweeps.
> The only mulches available are large round bales of oats, hay grazer, 
> red
> top cane, alfalfa, or similar.  It's not practical for me to get mulch 
> from
> town.  I don't have a dump truck and they don't deliver.
> So it looks like hay is my only choice.
> But, how can it be put down and how do you avoid growing a field of 
> whatever
> kind of hay is put down?  And how do you get it down?  Should I disk 
> before
> putting the mulch down?  Should the mulch go down in the Fall or in the
> Spring?  How deep should it be? How can I make rows and plant without
> covering up the mulch?  Should I row it up, put the mulch down, then 
> plant?
> As you can see, I'm having trouble understanding how this is done?  
> Seems
> the devil is in the details.
> Perhaps I'm looking at this all wrong.  Need some help here folks.
> Thanks for your help.
> TxBeeFarmer (Mark)
> West Texas Zone 7b

I was hoping somebody in closer to your situation would answer this, 
but it doesn't seem to be happening; so I'll put in what I can.

I can't help too much on most of this as I've never mulched with large 
round bales. I have seen people roll them out down the rows by hand, 
several people needed; this was after the crop was in the ground, the 
bales were being rolled out down the aisles between the crops.

There is some equipment made to chop up straw and blow it into desired 
location. I don't lay enough straw to justify buying the equipment, so 
I spread small bales by hand. I don't know whether it's designed to 
work with large bales, but large bales are common enough that I expect 
that some of it is. If you're spreading on the whole 3 acres, it might 
be worth the expense.

Whether you put mulch down before or after planting depends partly on 
the crop being grown. I think some people transplant out into mulch. I 
think most direct-seeded crops would have trouble coming up through it 
if it's thick enough to discourage weeds at all. Garlic will come up 
through straw, at least if the straw is shaken out some as you put it 
down; straw in this case is applied in the fall after planting. Straw 
on strawberries usually goes on over the top of the plants for the 
winter in this climate, but most of it needs to be pulled back into the 
aisles in the spring when berry plants start to grow again.

Maybe a no-till planter would work? Maybe you could roll bales out so 
as to leave a narrow gap where seed can go?

As to avoiding growing a field of hay: that's why around here straw is 
generally used instead. Is there any way you can get bales of straw 
instead of hay?

I do think that, if you can find a way to do this, it'll help a good 
deal with the lack of water, as well as with soil tilth.

In my experience, weed growth is slowed down at first, but if you have 
significant weed pressure weeds will eventually come up through the 
straw. They'll be a lot easier to pull, though. Thicker straw 
discourages weeds better.

-- Rivka; Finger Lakes NY, Zone 5 mostly
Fresh-market organic produce, small scale
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