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How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

Posted by euphony 8b (My Page) on
Mon, Apr 27, 09 at 15:54

So this is my first year using straw to mulch my beds. I've mulched most of my beds about 2-4" deep and like the results - it has a nice, consistent moisture content around soil level and there are already a lot more insects coming around. One problem I've been struggling with is how exactly I should go about planting. I've read that you just plant the seeds, "normally," which has led me on a lot of different paths. I've moved small patches of straw away and planted seeds in the soil, I've made little compost mounds in the straw and planted seeds there, and I've broadcast seeds over the straw.

To my dismay, most methods have proven fruitless, either due to my planting technique or from other factors. I had some success with making the mounds of compost in the layer of straw mulch, but don't favor this method because the compost mounds dry up quicker than I'd like and are just little spots of unmulched soil.

So my question is for any of you who plant seeds in deep mulch layers: how do YOU do it? It gets a little more frustrating for me when I'm trying to plant things with small seeds, like lettuce, which seem like they're being buried too deep (more than 3x the size of the seed deep, as I've been told many times as a general rule). In that case, I'm not sure what the best course of action is so I end up trying every method and wasting a lot of seeds (though I'm sure many will come up as weeds later on when I don't remember what I broadcast out).

I am now considering moving away larger areas of straw and then planting lots of seeds and then moving the straw back. I suspect that plants will generally push through the mulch layer or elongate enough to find the light through the mulch, but generally don't have that much experience with it other than in my reading.

Sorry for the long post. I've never had problems sowing before and so didn't even think that it would cause me so much stress. Each morning when I look out onto my relatively empty plot, I let out a small sigh of shame. At least my perennials are all doing well haha.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

  • Posted by anney Georgia 8 (My Page) on
    Mon, Apr 27, 09 at 17:49

Ruth Stout recommended "parting the mulch" like you'd part your hair with a comb to expose the earth beneath and then plant, leaving the earth exposed until the seeds germinate. Always plant in the soil itself. A heavy straw mulch also keeps the soil cool or even cold, and seeds do better in warm soil, so that's another reason to make the "part" as soon as possible, to let the sun warm it up. I'd make it at least 12" wide, too, so the straw didn't shade the sun's warmth or light.

Then, when everything is up and stabilized, she said you should move the mulch closer to the plants to prevent weeds from growing.

I loved gardening with a heavy straw mulch but I can't afford it now and use leaves instead. But you do need to understand the critical interaction of seeds, light, warmth, etc., to get it right.


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

Anney hit the bullseye! Ruth Stout was the pioneer of the year-round mulch method, and she knew her stuff! Part the hay, and when the plants are well established, pull it back again. FYI - 2-4 inches will not offer much week production. You will need at least 8 - 10 inches, which will mat down to 5-6 inches, to do the job properly!

Ron
The Garden Guy
http://www.TheGardenGuy.org
New Article & Journal Garden Entries.


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

Thanks for the responses! I did put down quite a hefty mulch layer (maybe 6-7" or so) and it matted down quite a bit to the 2-4" that I mentioned, so I think I'm at least on my way as far as that goes. I only read about Ruth Stout's method after I initially mulched and have been hesitant to put more down until I got my sowing issues resolved. Either way there's already the benefits of added moisture retention and insect life so I'm very excited! :)

Anney, I'm glad that you mentioned the pulling back a foot or so of mulch suggestion. It relieves my stress about the soil being cool with all of this mulch. I knew there had to be a way around having the mulch layer cool the soil too much.

I'm going to give this method a shot and I bet I'll have some good results to show for it! Thanks again.


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

I use a similar mulching style, so please permit me to tell you what I have learned.
1. The mulch can keep the soil too cool in spring, so parting the mulch only for a small place might slow your plants' progress.
2. Slugs and bugs love seedlings, especially small ones. I used to have problems with them coming out of the mulch at night to eat, and then returning to the cool moist mulch for the day. Too much heartache for me.
3. Gave up mulching from the get go for everything but onions and potatoes. Now I plant in pots and let the seedlings develop there before planting out. For some other plants, I leave the mulch off in spring and put it on later spring after things warm up.

Respect for Ruth Stout notwithstanding, I know that some people have complained about snail/slug/mulch problems. Cool moist shaded soil is slug paradise and seedling purgatory. Your mileage may vary. Good luck.


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

euphony: I have narrow beds and I pull the mulch back onto the paths and leave the beds bare for 10-15 days before planting so the soil can warm up. Regards, Peter.


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

I'm waiting until it heats up to mulch.


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

  • Posted by dicot Los Angeles (My Page) on
    Mon, May 11, 09 at 16:24

There's a lot to be said for starting the veggies in flats, where you can control moisture, temps and pests more easily, then planting out at the 4-6 true leaves stage. I've never had much luck with direct sowing into thick mulch.


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

toogreen,
An occasional dusting with diaametacious earth (gardening grade), right on top of the mulch takes good care of the slugs. When it rains or you water, it washes it to ground level, and when the slugs crawl over it, it cuts them to ribbons and they bleed out and die. Do that and you can mulch as much as you want and not have to give slugs a second thought.

Ron
The Garden Guy
www.TheGardenGuy.org
New rticles, ongoing gardening journal and
new photo album!


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

Ron,

You ever seen what DE does to earthworms? Try it and let us know your results. I like to go out at night after watering or rain and collect slugs with a flashlight. Great task to get kids interested in gardening. We then save them until morning and feed them to the fish in our pond. They love it. Also toads do a great job of controlling slugs so do what you can to encourage them to hand around. Ironically, here on our farm they seem to love the thick mulch layer as well. We have to be careful when digging.


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

Thank you for the DE advice. I had heard of DE and cannot buy it. Children like snails, but they will not gather slugs for me. Uhhh that's just gross... is what they say. I do not even really want to kill the slugs, I just want them away from my plants. You see, I am the problem.

Anyway, we do have frogs and toads, but more than anything, just by altering the mulch habits a little, it is night and day regarding slugs. A contributing factor is that I switched basically from other people's garden weeds and leaves to more of a grassy straw mix. I do not grow slugfest foods near sluggy environments. Let em chew on my garlic and onions if they like har har. It is dry this year too, which helps.


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

Wow, I thought this thread would have died out and so hadn't checked back for a little bit. I've been having some troubles with slugs where there's sparsely planted lettuce/spinach/beets, and I do not particularly like to hand kill them (though if I had fish, that sounds like a great idea for food). I have had good success with all my transplants into the garden, but would definitely like to direct sow a lot more. I was looking into Masanobu Fukuoka's seed ball method, but I'm not sure what kind of clay to use or where to get it. Since my last post I've pulled back the mulch around my beds to sow seeds, which I actually like a lot. Now there's a nice border of mulch matter around my beds that are still steadily decomposing, and the soil is good and warm. It was also a nice chance to peek at all the different bugs under the mulch layer. Now I'm considering finally investing in some diatomaceous earth for slug control. Thanks for reminding me of its existence.


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

The DE is the very best and easiest control for slugs. I don't know why more people don't use it!

Ron
The Garden Guy
http://www.TheGardenGuy.org
Informative articles, ongoing garden journal &
interactive message boards


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

I am using the heavy straw mulch method. After I rototilled the area I immed. laid down a very thick straw layer. When I am ready to plant seeds, I use a pair of scissors to actually cut the mulch layer. I move the mulch aside a little and plant right into the ground.

I am encountering straw growing heavily where I have mulched. Not grass, not other weeds, just straw leaves. I think it is winter rye, so I think the greens are rye leaves.


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

Just a thread stealing question does anybody up north zone 4 use this method I have straw mulch but I plan on pulling it or tilling it in I don't think it will woram up fast enough in the spring
any comments?


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RE: How to plant seeds in thick straw mulch

Never till an established garden. So either set the mulch aside or add it to the compost pile in early spring. A few weeks of bare soil will heat the soil up in the spring especially if it's getting direct sun for at least a few hours per day.


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