Saturday, April 11, 2009

A bale of alfalfa hay will fit in the back seat of a sedan

I spent two long afternoons earlier this week weeding and mulching the veggie beds. I took lots of pictures when I finished, admiring my hard work.

Then I found out today that hardwood mulch is not good for veggie gardens because it gets into the soil and robs it of nitrogen. Grass cuttings or leaves are recommended for mulching tomatoes, but we have no grass and most of our leaves are already in the compost pile. What to do?

Alfalfa hay to the rescue! Leaving my usual three-mile diameter ant path comfort zone, I headed to Callahan’s General Store to buy my first bale of hay. Not only does it deter weeds, it keeps the soil cooler and adds nitrogen to the soil as it decomposes. And it smells good. While I was gone, husband Kurt removed all the hardwood mulch I’d applied the other day and turned some compost piles.

The alfalfa bale was extremely compressed, so we pulled it apart and chopped it up with hoes (and eventually a saw) to make it easier to spread.

The alfalfa hay mulch looks allot shaggier than the hardwood mulch, but I look forward to seeing how it works.


Anonymous said...

Wow, Iris, I've read that hardwood mulch is the mulch of choice for my flowers because it adds acidity to the soil. Now you're telling me it steals nitrogen? What should I mulch my flowers with then? My horses used to love alfalfa hay, it was their special treat. The garden looks great.

Iris said...

I think hardwood mulch is probably fine for flowers, if it's just sitting on top of the soil.

My understanding is that if pieces get into the soil, they use nitrogen to decompose.

I use hardwood mulch around my flowers and shrubs, too.

Lancashire rose said...

I read that too, but have always used the hardwood mulch. I don't find it decomposes very much as I water from underneath and we don't seem to get much rain. The following spring I rake up all the mulch and remove it and use it somewhere else. Not very much gets into the soil this way.
I am interested in the alfalfa though. How does it compare pricewise.
Your hardwork has paid off and the vegy beds look great.

Flapjacks said...

my friend fuligo came from the hardwood mulch in the hill country garden soil from the natural gardener... and you what i think about him...

Iris said...

Thanks, y'all.

Lancashire rose,

That alfalfa bale cost $13 and covered (at approx. 2" deep) our nine long skinny veggie beds, each of which measures about 2'x 9'. There's also enough left over to cover at least one more bed of that size.

Eeeyooo--fuligo! Hope I'm onto something good w/the alfalfa.

TexasDeb said...

I think if the hardwood mulch is labeled "aged" or "cooked" it is fine - that means it is not brand new and won't pull too much nitrogen out (I think that is right...).

The alfafa looks kinda cute though and ought not heat up the soil so fast since it isn't dark. And at that cost it seems to be much less expensive than the several bags of mulch I guess you'd use.

Good work. If Callahans runs out of alfafa bales this year they may have you to thank!

Katharine said...

Ha, ha! I fit a bale of pine straw in the trunk of my honda civic last weekend and was very proud of that. I have also found that hardwood mulch isn't the best for veggie gardens. In addition to the nitrogen thing, I have found that it gets pretty compacted and invites mold/mildew since it doesn't try out very well. I like the pine straw mulch because it is light and air can circulate around the soil but keeps a lot of weeds down. I've never used alfalfa before and was thinking of using it in part of the garden this year. Thanks for the post!

SomeLikeItHot said...

I put alfalfa straw on my vegetable beds. I read the same thing you did about the nitrogen. I also read that straw is a cooling mulch, so perfect for our summers. The only issue I can see with you using hay, instead of straw, is that with all of the water, you may be pulling a good amount of alfalfa sprouts from your beds. The straw contains very few seeds, so if you can find it would be a good alternative as well. It's cheaper too, since it doesn't have the nutrients of hay (can't be used for feed). I know someone who will probably have more organic alfalfa straw available this fall if your interested.

The garden looks great! Can't wait to see your progress.


Iris said...


I guess I won't mind TOO much if I have to pull some alfalfa sprouts--at least they're edible. Thanks for that info!

But yes, I am interested in the alfalfa straw in the future--thanks! Can you email me the info at my SocietyGarlic {at} gmail account?

Anonymous said...

Alfalfa hay has some specific nutrients that are good for horses, though it must be used in smaller quantities. It's quite rich for horses, so it must be limited in a daily ration or else the horses can have digestive disturbances (loose stools). I guess I can't picture that it would look good in my landscaping in the yard - I love the neatness and background that dark mulch creates that makes the flowers pop.

SomeLikeItHot said...

The Alfalfa is just growing now, but I'll send you an email when the straw is ready. He only charged me $3 a bale, not bad. I've been pulling a couple sprouts out, even with the straw, and it's not too much trouble. I'm in the garden anyway :)