Thursday, June 4, 2009
We are trying a lot of new things this year as we try to get all the starts planted. Realizing that we weren't going to be able to break the sod or get enough organic matter to turn our very silty soil into something that can retain water and nutrients I decided to shop for some hay bales and was pleased to be able to find some oat hay bales for $1 each. Those were distributed about the same time the big thunderstorm came through but I was the only one that got wet. We didn't get enough rain out of the storm to do more than dampen everything.
It was exciting to see the big black clouds suddenly darken the sky. I rushed outside to get the hay bales off my trailer and into position before it started raining. Hay bales are heavy enough without getting wet. Then they are almost impossible to move. As it turned out we got some relief from the unseasonably hot weather with temperatures dropping down into the 60s for the first time in a couple of weeks. The good news is that taking a chance to get vegetables started a month earlier than normal seems to have paid off. They suffered from the heat a little but are starting to grow again.
Hay bale gardens are another way to break the ground, smother a lot of weeds and provide long lasting organic matter to the ground. First you start the rotting process by soaking the bales for the first three days. You want them to absorb as much water as they can. Then you start feeding and watering for the next few days 1/2 cup of ammonium phosphate or about a cup of blood or feather meal. I would be interested to hear if anyone has an opinion on which of those two would work best as a nitrogen source to keep the bales decomposing in a semi hot compost. You need to slow down the feed after that and stop no later than day 10. If the bales aren't hot on day 11 then you can start planting directly into the bales. It helps to have a supply of compost on hand to place around the seedlings and protect their root system until they get established in the bales. If your bales are really coarse you might want to put up to 2" of compost or potting mix on the top of the bale to help close it up. This will help retain moisture and decay more evenly.
I got three sets of bales set out in different parts of the yard. I still have the large patch in the bamboo grove that was planted with a daikon cover crop this spring left to deal with and will have to check and see which is easier-digging the daikon by hand or hauling another trailer full of hay.
I tried broadcast seeding a number of different cover crops this year and the daikon was by far the best, mostly because our soil is so hard and poor that fenugreek and soil builder(cereal rye and field peas mostly) mix just couldn't establish a good foot hold. I was able to mow the 3 foot tall daikon radish with my lawn mower which left the radishes in the ground. Daikon left large roots 6-8 inches long. If I put hay bales on top of that they will leave a very open soil structure to integrate the bales more quickly with the soil layer.