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5 April 2008

Mulching the vegetable garden

Hanno and his son, Jens, drove over to the farm country west of here yesterday to buy enough hay to do both our families all year. Jens and Cathy live close by and when we told them we saw cheap hay being sold on the road we took to collect our chickens, we all decided it would be a wise move to buy as much as we could fit in Jens' pickup and our trailer. The real sweetener was that the bales cost only $2 each. During the recent drought mulch bales were selling anywhere between $6.95 and $10. The rains have brought prices down, but even so, $2 was too good to pass up. We ended up with 30 bales which were divided equally between our two families.

We use hay or straw on our vegetable garden, in the worm farm and in the chicken coop. These 15 bales will see us through the year. It's being stored in our shed.

Mulching the vegetable garden has a number of benefits:
  • It provides a cover for the bare soil that will help keep the moisture in, and therefore reduce the amount of water needed for the garden.
  • It helps reduce weeds. Weeds need sunlight and bare soil to grow. Covering the soil with mulch cuts outs out both those requirements.
  • It insulates the soil surface against extreme heat or cold.
  • It helps maintain an even soil temperature.
  • It eventually breaks down to add organic matter to the soil, therefore increasing soil fertility.

When you apply mulch to your vegetable garden make sure you don't let it sit too close to the plants, as you'll rot the stems of some vegetables. However, this rule doesn't apply with tomatoes. It is helpful to go the other way with tomatoes. Push the mulch right up to touch the tomato stem as high as it will stand, and keep it moist. This will enable the tomato to send out more roots into the mulch. You'll get a stronger plant and more tomatoes doing this.

We always weed and water before we apply mulch. You'll find if you do that, you're giving the soil the best chance of producing bumper crops for you. The water you apply will stay in the soil longer, the temperature will remain fairly constant and you'll create the best conditions for growing healthy vegetables.

I'll be out in the garden today tending the chooks and worms, no doubt I'll also help Hanno mulch the garden. There is always something to do outside at this time of year. I have tomatoes to tie, the seedlings planted last week need some comfrey fertiliser and I have new seedlings to plant out. Hopefully the potatoes will be planted today.

I phoned Margaret, our chook lady, last night. It's bad news I'm afraid. None of the eggs has hatched. In fact Margaret said a few of them exploded under the broody! She's not sure why but thinks the fertile eggs exploded, the infertile eggs, which she candled, didn't. I feel sorry for the little bantam brood hen who was hoping to have a family of chicks to raise. After all that sitting and clucking, nothing. It's tough dealing with the disappointments of backyard farming. The joys of it are truly wonderful, but as is the nature of all things, the good is balanced out and you have to also deal with some harsh realities. This is real life being lived here - it's not meat and eggs on polystyrene trays with little thought to where they originate from. Real life is sometimes sad and doesn't always go as planned.

We are still hoping to increase our flock to around 20 hens. There are 12 there now so I might phone the woman we bought the other chooks from and take another trip out to pick up another half dozen.

Another week almost gone. I hope you have a great weekend and spend time doing something you love. Thank you for dropping by and for the comments left this week.

ADDITION: I found a very interesting blog that I want to recommend to you. Sadge is a reader here and I found her blog when I was visiting some of the new people who left comments. I really enjoyed reading about her life, her home, her memories and her natural environment; I hope you do too.


  1. Rhonda, we have a gorgeous Australian childrens book in our collection here I'd like to recommend to you and your readers for telling life as it is on a farm. It's called, "A Year on our Farm" by Penny Matthews and illustrated by Andrew McLean. It tells the story of a typical farm through each season from a childs point of view. This includes a cranky gander chasing the children away from the goslings, the crutching of sheep, learning to milk a cow and three of thirteen of Vanessa the chook's chickens dying.

    It's an Omnibus Book from Scholastic Australia, first published in 2002. This book would apply equally well to kids living on productive land wherever they might be in the world - suburban or rural. Lisa J

  2. I just wanted to pop in to say that I really enjoyed your post on keeping house, and living simply, a day or so ago. As well as your guest blogger on simple living. They really spoke to me, and answered some questions I've had bumping around in my heart.


  3. Oh my gosh! If I was jumping up and down excited before, now you're going to have to pull me down off the ceiling. What wonderful things to say! Thank you, thank you, ever so much.

  4. I am so excited about gardening. In a few weeks it will be time to plant here. We were suppose to get our garden plowed this past weekend but it rained us out. We are hoping for next week. Thanks for sharing this great info.

  5. Wow that is an impressive load Rhonda. We have had trouble buying straw here even though it is a farming district. When I go to the freeway to get my son from the bus I buy some straw at a produce store there.

  6. I never knew that about, mulch and tomatoes. I'd always kept the stems clear like everything else. Thanks for the great tip!

  7. Sorry to hear about your eggs Rhonda! I wish I could send you up a fluffy so that you would always have someone to sit on your fertile eggs for you!

  8. one year we mulched with hay, only to find it was not as weed free as the sellers promised and our garden sprung to life with lots of weeds due to the seeds in the hay !


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