We got a very late start in gardening – when we were in Michigan and raising kids, we tried raising a garden. I still remember that photo that we took of the one lone ear of corn. The ground was apparently empty of neutrients because nothing grew – N.O.T.H.I.N.G. Of course, it didn't help that we had no idea what we were doing.
But three years ago we bought a house on an acre of land in Wisconsin that had an old overgrown fenced in garden with grape vines along one side. We tripled it in size last year and have been working on improving the soil.
Why Mulch With Straw?
1. The straw helps keep the moisture from evaporating rapidly from the soil in the heat.
2. The straw helps keep the weeds at bay by limiting the sun exposure to the weed seeds.
3. When the straw decomposes, it adds nutrients to the soil and invites worms – worms are good!
4. The straw provides a protective barrier for under vegis like squash and pumpkins.
5. The straw covers the dirt, giving a nice bed to kneel on and prevents slipping in the mud after a rain (side benefits).
6. It makes the garden pretty. OK, that's not a good reason, but it adds to my enjoyment of the garden…
I started with the walkway from the gated entrance because the ground was wet and hard to walk on after we watered the corn – my flip flops felt like surf boards and I was about to have a mud fight with my garden. The weeds were always very annoying to walk through, so it was a win win for me. Have I told you how much I hate weeds?
The worm casings and Olsen's coconut compost have really benefitted our tomato plants. We only water the tomatoes once a week by (afflink) soaker hoses (never with an overhead sprinkler!) and I'm suspecting we won't even need to do that now that the straw is down.
The weeds were running rampant between the rows of our other vegis. Since we've had a good amount of rain and sun and we water via sprinkler every day when it doesn't rain, the weeds thought they were in charge of our garden. I had to take matters into my own hands. So we decided to mulch…
How to Mulch with Straw?
1. Pull weeds first.
2. Layer straw about 3 or 4 inches deep around the plant but not right up to the stem.
3. Add more as needed. You can see where the straw has started decomposing already in the back rows (It's darker).
We just started mulching this year. I wish I'd known about it three years ago. I also save grass clippings, weeds and other organic matter from the yard like leaves and some pine needles. I throw them in my handy little weed hamper. This is a good repurposing…my boss told me about a weed hamper that she liked but when I went to Menards to take a look, it was $40! Um, no, too expensive for me. I've since found a (afflink) 10 gallon garden bag on Amazon for less than $15.
I used my DD's old clothes hamper instead of buying the one at Menards. Free is good. I like free. It was just sitting down in our basement unused – it works great for weed disposal. It's light and thin, so the weeds dry out and start to decompose quite quickly.
You can see below where I dumped it out to use the weeds for compost. It's my revenge for the weeds sucking up the nutrients in my soil.
I saved the weeds, let them dry out and decompose in the hamper using them as compost in one spot in the garden as an experiment. Last year it did it to a smaller extent and it was fine. I hate the thought of weeds draining my garden of nutrients, so I want to try to keep them in the garden rather than tossing them.
The darker section shows the weeds decomposing, the brighter green section is the most recent pulled section of weeds waiting for the sun to dry them out.
Once they are dried out and baked by the sun, I will cover them with straw to prevent weeds growing just like I did in the rest of the garden. It worked well for me. If you do this, make sure you do it before the weeds go to seed.
Here is a good article about using weeds in compost – she does a great job at giving you a step by step: http://organicgardening.about.com/od/howtocompost/a/Composting-Weeds.htm
Many Ways to Improve Soil:
1. We added 20 yards of Olsen's coconut blended compost.
- 50% ground coconut fiber
- 50% leaf and grass compost
- Superior water and oxygen retention
- Hormone rich and fungus free
- A completely renewable resource
2. We implemented direct composting.
3. We added 100% (afflink) organic worm castings around the base of each plant or into the hole as we transplanted.
4. We mulched with straw in between the rows of plants.
Learning as we go along has been frustrating because I want to know it all right now! We've made many mistakes in our gardening since we are quite the newbies, but there is no way to know it all from the very start. We forge on, learning from others and our own experience… and hope for the best.
This year we have 70 tomato plants and it looks like we're going to have a great harvest. Our first year we were hit by an early frost and lost 75% of our tomatoes. Last year the weather was not cooperative and didn't get a great yield of our other vegis, but fairly decent amount of our tomatoes made it to the canner. Love me some homemade salsa!
There Are No Guarantees
Our beans did great too, which was fab, but our pumpkins rotted before they ripened. Our first year we had a great yield from our grape vines and canned a bunch of grape jam. Last year we do no grapes, but it looks like this year they are back. It is frustrating to be at the mercy of the weather and even more frustrating to try to do everything right, but it's all about learning the area you live in, learning to adjust and how to work around the obstacles.
Know Your Area
Wisconsin has a very short growing season, so we have to start a lot of our seeds indoors and judge when the best time is to transplant the seedlings. We also have to keep a good eye on the weather, especially in the fall when we could get frost that will kill our plants and vegis.
All that said to encourage you to keep at it. Learn, grow, enjoy. It's fun and a great destressor. They say the microbes in soil act like antidepressents. I think I'm a believer!
How does your garden grow? I've told you about mine, so now it's your turn. Leave a comment below and tell me one of your fave garden tips and how your garden is doing so far this year.
UPDATE: We have laid down straw again this year (2017) due to the great success of last year. Some questioned whether the straw would bring in more weeds and I'm happy to announce that the time I spent weeding last year's garden decreased by 95%! I spent little time on garden maintenence compared to other years. Yes, we did get an increase in slugs that wanted to eat our tomatoes. The little buggers apparently like straw. But I used DE to ward them off and the losses of fruit was minimal compared to the time saved by not having to weed.