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Cultivating Questions Grow Your Own Mulch Part 3

Cultivating Questions Concerning the Bio-Extensive Market Garden

by Anne and Eric Nordell of Trout Run, PA

GROW-YOUR-OWN MULCH – Part 3

To weatherproof more of the market garden in 2011, we tried a variation on the grow-your-own mulch system we developed for producing winter squash in the fallow fields (see Part 1 & 2 in the Summer 2008 and Spring 2010 SFJ). We discovered it was possible to mulch row crops like tomatoes, peppers, carrots, onions and leeks by moving windrows of rye into the pathways. Although awkward to handle at first, we soon got the hang of picking up an 8-10’ length of twisted rye straw in our arms and walking it from the fallow lands into the adjacent vegetable field.

Cultivating Questions Grow Your Own Mulch Part 3

The first photo shows a cover crop of six foot tall rye that has been mown at pollen drop and raked into windrows with the team. We used 10’ wide swaths of rye for mulching each side of the winter squash planted under the row cover. Over the rest of the field, we windrowed 5’ wide swaths of the cover crop to mulch the vegetables conveniently planted along the edge of the adjoining produce field.

Cultivating Questions Grow Your Own Mulch Part 3
Cultivating Questions Grow Your Own Mulch Part 3
Cultivating Questions Grow Your Own Mulch Part 3

The next three photos show recently transplanted leeks in the process of being mulched with the windrows of rye; the homegrown straw holding enough soil moisture for the un-irrigated alliums to survive the following seven week period of brutally hot, dry weather; and the grow-your-own mulch providing complete soil protection from Tropical Storm Lee.

Cultivating Questions Grow Your Own Mulch Part 3
Cultivating Questions Grow Your Own Mulch Part 3

Due to a limited supply of cover crop rye and the scorching conditions this past July, we went to the trouble of recycling mulch from our harvested strawberries and garlic for our first plantings of fall broccoli and lettuce shown in the last photo. We thought this very labor intensive effort was worth it to save these dryland crops from the drought and to save us from harvesting in the mud after receiving 12” of rain in September.