I shouldn’t even be writing this, I should be out there mulching. But my back is tired and my thighs ache from bending over to spread hay on the ground around my precious planties. The zukes, cukes, potatoes, winter squash and green bean beds are all set, and I will continue mulching the rest of the garden on Friday.
This year is my “make it or break it” year with veggies. It’s our 6th year of CSA. I love to grow beautiful veggies and I love to eat them, I love to harvest the bounties, love to hear how our members enjoy them, love a gorgeous, lush garden, love taking the fertility from our animals and turning it into healthy soil and nutritious food. But on this scale, growing for 15 CSA boxes a week, I am not loving it. For most CSA vegetable farms, this quantity we do is a drop in the bucket, many of them crank out hundreds of shares EVERY WEEK. All I can say is- good for them. It is just not my cup of tea. Those professional CSA farms are usually highly skilled and highly mechanized. They know how and which pieces of equipment to use in various scenarios, they are not doing it all by hand. That mechanized agriculture is how the probably all of the food in your cupboard and fridge is produced, and there is NOTHING wrong with that. Large quantities of food need to be produced to feed everyone. I think I am confessing I bought into the small scale myth, thinking we could handle doing a small scale CSA, all by hand.
Now, if all we did produce on our farm was vegetables, that’s all we’d do all day. We’d learn and evolve into using more equipment to save our bodies from the treacherous, hard and repetitious work involved with large scale gardening. But our gardens are merely a drop in OUR bucket of the work to do each day. We have ducks, eggs, ducklings, pigs, calves, chickens, geese, turkeys, and a goat to be tended, fed, watered, fenced, gathered, harvested, and there is always soap to make. We are an animal centered farm, and that’s what I love. Weeding in the gardens? Not so much, but it has to be done. Enter mulching.
Last year we got almost 400 bales of hay off our 8 acre hayfield, and in previous years we had a big herd of goats who needed a lot of that hay to eat over the winter. We had to be kind of stingy with our hay stack to last until the next hay harvest. Now, with just one goat, over the winter we used our hay primarily for our duck and pig bedding. Hay cutting time is coming up in less than a month and we realized the other day that we actually had almost 1/2 the bales left.We were so used to having to be stingy with the hay in previous years that we’d had quite a lot left.
Hay is an incredibly valuable commodity on our farm, it comes from our land and it’s chemical free. We could keep storing it under the tarp ( but it’s located where we are planing to build our studio/temporary home), or sell it or…. we could put it back on our land in the form of mulch in the gardens. We’ve never had the luxury of “extra” hay before! I was very excited about this prospect. Not so much in the action of spreading the mulch, which is quite tedious, but I realized today that spreading mulch on every bed just once is far and above better than lamenting about all the incessant weeding, and feeling super discouraged about over grown veggie beds where all you can see is thistles, quack grass and other invasive non-edibles.
So we went to town. The potato beds are thickly mulched, as are many other beds at this point. More to go. When I was starting to homestead in 2004 at my old place (OMG that was 10 years ago!) I mulched my little garden with 100 straw bales. I was a big believer in the Ruth Stout method, and that’s also what my Mom also taught me to do. The soil stays moist and the plants you plant into mulch do better because of that and the lessened weed pressure. I had some slug problems because straw hosts them very well, but that’s better than looking at a weed infested garden, honestly. The only weak point with a heavily mulched garden is with the plants you must direct seed, but you can always mulch and then rake it back to do that. Mulching won’t kill the weeds or completely smother out the really invasive rhizomes, but it will keep them in check and keep the gardens at least sort-of looking tidy. Mulching might just save me this year, and save my love of “large” scale CSA gardening.