The 3″ Thick Layer Of Hay
The 3″ thick layer of hay that I have surrounding my hills is keeping the soil under it cool and moist. Earthworm activity under it is right on top of the ground, eating the damp hay, and distributing their castings to fertilize the plant roots. You can’t do better for your garden soil than hay or straw mulch. The seeds in hay germinate when watered so I’ve got green mulch now. It’s oat hay so I guess I’m growing raised beds of oats. Straw has the seeds removed, which makes it much more useful in the garden. The oat sprouts are really easy to remove because they are on top of the ground, not in it, and you don’t even need a weeder. Just Pluck-n-Chuck. I leave them right on top of the hay and they dry out and contribute to the thickness of the mulch.
While sitting in the garden shade yesterday I observed a stalk of straw lift off the ground on one end and slide down a little hole in the ground on the other. It looked like a magic trick, but I’ve seen the stems and leaves of various plant material poking up out of the ground before, and discovered that night crawlers are at work. Earthworms are what we most commonly consider our garden tillers, but in a healthy, well mulched and composted garden night crawlers can survive and reproduce. I’m amazed at how dry and coarse the material is that they pull down their holes. I’ve seen oak leaf stems and small woody sticks jam packed into one of their openings in the ground. They must have teeth more impressive and tougher than their whole bodies.
I’m glad I planted lots of cabbage this year because the giant outer elephant ear like leave are helping me keep the Creeping Jenny out of my planting beds. Layering them down along the border is cutting off the light to the leaves and pushing the vines down on the ground. As they pale and weaken the slugs, pill bugs and worms devour them more readily. Continually adding more leaves keeps the mulch heavy enough that the plants can’t push it up. The moist dark environment underneath is benefiting the soil with all the decomposers exudites. The slugs and pill bugs are actually now in the beneficial category for the garden. There are no tender young transplants to eat so they work on the decomposing material. Mulch gives them shelter and food and the garden plants are left alone.