Transplanting Seedlings into Hay Mulch


Advantages and Costs of Mulching

In spring we plant several crops into hay mulch to help control weeds, including reducing the "weed seed bank," (the "deposit" of weed seeds in the soil that will grow in the future). "One year's seeding, seven years weeding." Few weeds other than perennial grasses will come up through a 4” layer of hay. Mulches of natural materials keep the soil damper, which can mean higher yields and less need to water.

Organic mulches keep temperatures lower in summer, an advantage for cool-weather crops. (Plastic mulches raise soil temperature, an advantage for crops that like warm weather). To avoid cooling the soil when using organic mulches for warm weather crops, it is often best to wait for a month after planting out, remove one round of weeds, then roll out the mulch. Mulches also reduce rain splash, which helps prevent fungal diseases.

Organic mulches improve soil structure and add some organic matter. The earthworm count at the end of the season can be twice as high as under plastic mulch.

Broccoli transplant one week after planting into hay mulch

Broccoli one week after transplanting into hay mulch. Photo by Kathryn Simmons

It is possible to spread hay or straw over a double layer of newspaper. Only half as much hay or straw is needed, compared to mulching with straw alone, and the final result is only half as deep. This is an advantage when transplanting small plants, which can get lost in deep organic mulch. We avoid using glossy paper with colored inks, because of concerns about toxicity of the inks and the paper coatings. I believe the colored inks used on regular newsprint are not toxic.

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