I finally winterized the garden, plucking the last plucky tufts of grass, planting garlic, and pulling all the limp and slimy frozen plants- the dead squash plants like dirt-smelling octopi and the wiggly tomato root networks like Medusa wigs. I took down the remaining trellises and spread still more hay. For the second time this year the garden looks like an unkempt haypile.
It was very satisfying to have such a warm day in November, to be patiently separating grass shoots from the bunching onions in the warm sun while Mucky lay dozing near me, standing up in alarm when I knocked the dirt off my trowel. I have a soft spot for bunching onions, since they produce endlessly like bamboo and return year after year, lasting well past frost. I planted these from seed, so they won’t get firmly established until next year. Now they’re delicate and spindly and faintly pungent, and the grass is trying to hide among them like cuckoo chicks, pretending “no, I’m an onion!” It takes time to sort them all out.
I’m happy with the soil. It can’t decide if it’s sandy or clayey in places, but it’s rich with worms pulling the straw down, and more loose and black than I had hoped for first year soil. I’m looking forward to building it more with compost and leaf waste, and expect it to be very impressive a year from now.
I’m opting for not turning the dirt at all, at least in most of the garden, letting the worms and roots do the work, avoiding compacting it anywhere, and planning to topdress it liberally.
Regarding my choice to use old hay, which is abundant and available, for mulch instead of more highly recommended straw which has no seeds in it: this year at least I can report excellent results. The hay is not seeding itself wildly. It does seem to introduce grasses, but they are sparse and challenged and start out so fragile and weakly rooted that it is nearly effortless to stay on top of it. Even neglecting it all for months at a time when I travelled; I have never weeded less. Completely unlike trying to conquer grass when it grows up from beneath, when you can pull and struggle, and suspect that the grass has a vast sub-surface network rivalling the complexity of the London Underground and it plans to completely defeat you (it will).
Therefore, my field tests indicate: old hay as mulch is a success.