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admin | Category: Modular Container Homes | 24.02.2015
Even with all those benefits, inevitably when I start talking about spreading mountains of hay on my garden, I get a number of folks who think I’m slightly insane.
If you want the FULL scoop on the plan, purpose, and process of deep mulch gardening, you definitely want to grab my free mulch ebook– it includes pictures and ALL the details. But today I’m specifically going to answer some of the most common objections and questions I get regarding this unorthodox method. A: As long as your mulch layer is thick enough (at LEAST 8 inches), you should NOT have problems with hay seeds. A: We have a decent population of bull snakes and rattlesnakes in our area, but I have never had issues with them in the garden. A: I wish I had a clear answer for this, but voles are not prevalent where we live, so I have not had experience with them in a garden or otherwise. Join over 67,000 others who get the weekly Homestead Toolbox delivered fresh to their inbox.
I started mulch gardening (because of your posts) not long after the last post of your three part series…and have loved it ever since!
I have been wanting to try this method but I already have such a problem with pill bugs eating everything I am afraid the damp underneath side of the hay will make them worse. Actually my experience is that pill bugs prefer to eat the decomposing mulch and will not bother intact plants and fruit when they have the mulch to live in and eat they are part of the ecosystem of mulch gardening. We are in cold Northern PA where we have a very short growing season and our garden needs all the help it can get.
I know a lady who swears by placing a board over her carrot seeds, checking them daily until they germinate, then removing the board.
On another note, my long-time farmer parents told me that hay is actually better because it’s cut before the seed head has had a chance to develop. I have been doing this with straw for years, the first year using a layer of newspaper under all. Lest you think the Prairie Homestead girl has it all together and things always run smoothly, let me be the first to assure you, they most certainly do not. After last year’s amazing harvest, I was dead-set on repeating the method again this year. I nervously waited for planting time and hoped and prayed I hadn’t led you all astray. After our monsoon rains finally stopped, I dutifully grabbed my bucket of seeds, threw the pitchfork over my shoulder, and headed out to the garden.
On the end of my pitchfork was the richest, moistest, most worm-filled dirt I had ever seen.
After I did a small happy dance, I proceed to plant every bit of my garden, without a rototiller in sight. My biggest fear I faced was the ground becoming rock-hard after winter’s worth of weather, winds, and snow. Last fall, I had made sure to cover every square inch of the garden plot with a generous layer of mulch, but I had no idea what it would look like when I uncovered it this year. In my previous traditional gardening efforts, by the time planting rolled around each spring, the exposed ground would be dry, crusty, and hard, with a complete carpet of weeds covering the whole thing. Task #1 was always to drag out the rototiller, work the soil, and plant as fast as I could before the weeds start coming back.
I had a few stubborn weeds popping up through the hay mulch as I waited for planting season to arrive, mostly wear I had allowed the mulch layer to become too thin, but that’s it.
And as I mentioned above, the traditionally dry, crusty soil was instead, moist, dark, and rich. We have had loads of rain, which I am sure would have resulted in a flooded out garden, but not this year. I can enjoying playing in the garden with my son and pick a few stray weeds here and there verses spending EVERY nap time weeding away. I also really LOVE the fact that there is no bare dirt-that just goes against our pasture-based farming methods. We live in the city so we don’t have nearly as many rabbits as some of you probably, but we found that if we planted hot peppers as a bordern and spaced periodically throughout the garden the rabbits stay away.

A good cat works too, but really sad when you walk out to dead baby bunnies on your front porch. I don’t have any experience gardening with humidity, so hard to say for sure about mold.
You might look for some books by Ruth Stout, the origninator, decades ago, of deep mulching and not tilling between years. I was wondering if you have issues with attracting Voles or field mice to your garden when you leave hay in it over the winter? We have bull snakes and rattlers here, and I haven’t seen any more snakes than normal in our mulch, so far.
I used Ruth Stout’s deep hay mulch method for one year, years ago and got snakes in my garden under the mulch and one was a big bull snake.
I have the same problem, but the Snow Fence (orange plastic fencing) supported by step-in posts around the garden keeps the chickens out. YES– you definitely have to fence out the chickens… they make a mess of the mulch! The price of this item includes a contribution to a Product recycling fund to ensure that waste electrical and electronic equipment is collected and recycled in a responsible manner. Won’t this introduce hay seeds into my garden and result in a whole lot of unwanted grass? I suspect this may have something to do with the nitrogen content in various soils or how long the garden had to age and mature. If you do deep mulch in an area with slugs, I’d love for you to let me know your experiences! Beyond that, the Queen of the Deep Mulch method, Ruth Stout herself, used cottonseed or soybean meal to fertilize. It's packed full of recipes, ideas, and homesteading tips you can actually use (no fluff), plus a copy of my very popular mulch gardening how-to guide. If we apply at the same rate we tried last fall (1 ton for ~400sq ft), it would work out to be about 45 tons to do our entire garden for the year. We dig out the roots the best we can (and burn all the parts!) and till deeply (12″) and then dig up any that we see coming up.
This is our second yr doing the deep mulch method and we love the time it saves us from weeding and watering too.
I find I do have to watch those rows more carefully and be on top of the weeding until the plants are big enough to be able to pull the mulch in closer.
Hay that is cut before it goes to seed is more nutritious and might be the solution to the abundant hay seed problem. So I covered my garden with a fresh layer of hay last fall, and began to scheme for this year’s growing season.
We’ve had *some* worms in the past, but this year, nearly every single time I dug into the earth I would pull up at least one worm. It’s still pretty impressive, considering in the past I would have had a complete carpet of weeds by this time with my previous method. If you are starting with grass or a weed filled plot, you put down cardboard first, then layer with straw. I live south of Houston, and I’m not sure if the hay would develop mold that would harm the plants. I personally haven’t had issues with weed seeds in the hay, as long as my layer is thick enough.
I do have moles which increase the cultivation of the soil during the winter but seam to prefer to move out into the field during the summer.
I also live in Wyoming and have the same issues with the dry, inorganic soil needing to be amended every year. I didnt get the mulch down before they started growing and I was hoping the same thing but they just kept growing. I personally was nervous about hauling in loads of wood chips, dumping on the garden, and then having to remove them all if it didn’t work like I had hoped. Just be cautious when handling or spreading moldy hay and be sure to wear a dust mask, as that stuff can really mess up your lungs.

I personally prefer not to use cottonseed or soybean meal, so I have been amending rows with finished compost as needed. But, we are doing it more to build up our soil as we are in an ancient riverbed and grow more rock than anything else.
We are currently doing a lot of container gardening till we figure this thing out with the wild berry brambles. It takes a couple of years being consistent to get a particular spot cleared, but it’s totally possible.
I have a question for you though- how do you plant your carrots (and other seeds that must be planted shallowly) in the mulch? I start putting leaves on as soon as they arrive in November and I just keep putting them on over and over. They’ve retreated from all of the ground vibration and are now concentrated around homes in my area. I had nothing to lose, considering my garden was completely overtaken by massive amounts of weeds, and I was getting ready to throw up my hands and add gardening to my list of massive FAILS anyway. It took me about three minutes to work an entire row with my pitchfork, and it was far from back-breaking. My pumpkins, lettuce, kale, and beans are sprouting (we were late to planting this year, thanks to one of the rainiest springs on record…), the onion sets, cabbages, tomatoes, and broccoli I transplanted have all happily taken to their new homes, and everything else is right on track.
I’m worried the Bermuda grass hay would just reseed and then I’d lose my garden all together!
So, I thought about trying your method but if I already have a Vole problem now wouldn’t this just make it worse? I am terribly (like petrified,) afraid of snakes and didn’t want to even go in the garden, so I quit hay mulching. I love the concept, but a bit wary of how much hay I would need to re-apply throughout the year to make it worthwhile. We have to same problem of the beds covered in hay needing to be redone before we can plant. If I can supplement with large quantities of manure & leaves and such, hopefully that will cut down on some of the hay usage but still give great results. If you are starting with a huge patch of pure brambles, you may need to consider hiring someone to help you get a start on it.
Our garden beds are 3 ft wide by 20 ft long, and I like to plant 3 rows of carrots and beets lengthwise in them.
Luckily, by the time planting time arrives, they do generally go away, unless it’s a rainy spring. I worry that my garden will be full of snakes that tunnel under the hay to cool off and there I am picking vegies with snakes literally underfoot! I know people would say some snakes are beneficial to a garden since they eat bugs, but I’d rather have bugs, at least I can get rid of them with organic spray. I like it so much because a freshly mulched bed just looks amazing with only green plants poking out that are supposed to be there!! However, once the plants get a bit bigger, I will pull the mulch around the plant, which reduces the weeding even further. The only thing I dislike about it is mulching AROUND established plants… like asparagus! Dandelions, plantain and those aggressive vines poke through but I go through and weed them out every so often. Then we had the most marvelous, permaculturey thing happened and a murderous stoat arrived.
Growing indeterminate tomatoes, cantaloupe, small watermelon, squash, cucumbers and vining zucchini on them. With all the rain (hot, then cold weather) we’ve been slow to start, but hopefully things will pick up!

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