Our new garden got its next round of improvement yesterday. I cleaned out the lambing barn and, with lots of help from Ken, mulched the future garden beds thoroughly with the spent hay and bedding.
We mulched the bed areas and the path areas equally, since we want to discourage weeds in both places. We didn't have enough to mulch all three beds, but we have other spent hay in other areas that we'll cart in to finish the last bed. We just wanted to get the lambing barn cleaned out right away, since the first lambs are due in only 10 days.
Now we have several days of wet weather predicted, so that should help get the decomposition going. Even so, all this mulch will obviously not be decomposed soon enough for us to plant seeds directly in it any time soon, so I've been contemplating various solutions.
First, we could just spread a lot of good soil on top of this mulch. I'd probably want to use something similar to the compost/peat moss/vermiculite mix recommended by the Square Foot Gardening book. But I realized that even if we provided the compost ourselves, it won't be cheap to buy enough peat moss and vermiculite to cover this entire area as deeply as it needs to be covered.
Then I read an excellent article about straw bale gardening. The way I had seen this done before, you do pretty much what we're doing here: lay the straw out and wait a year until it decomposes.
But the article I read suggested that with a week of daily applications of water and high-nitrogen fertilizer, you could speed the decomposition process and be ready to plant much sooner. Interesting! I don't really want to use chemical fertilizers, but maybe blood meal would work as well. I haven't yet priced how much blood meal costs around here.
I still have lots of old plant pots stored in the garage, leftovers from my previous gardening efforts at our previous residence. I'm thinking that maybe I can plant in them, then nestle the pots down into the garden mulch to help them retain moisture.
It would be sort of a combination of the various methods, and would get us started in a manageable way this year, while we work on building up the soil quality for next year.