I know it's December, and I really meant to post this in the fall, but better late than never to give an overview on how my first year of gardening here went!
I had a garden at our home in the city and it did quite well, so I knew I wanted to go bigger here. My garden here is 12' x 30'. I was originally going to make it 20' x 30', but once we started creating the space I realized that was way too big for our needs and my time to maintain it. Now it's the perfect size.
Since we still had some moldy hay bales left over from last year, I wanted to attempt deep mulch gardening. From what I had read, the hay holds the moisture in (meaning less watering) and prevents weeds from growing (meaning less weeding). It also adds nutrients to the soil as it breaks down, and over time you'll eventually have a no-till garden. Overall, it helps make the garden more self sufficient.
For full details and information on deep mulch gardening, check out the Prairie Homestead's blog post here (this is the best guide I found): http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2016/05/deep-mulch-gardening-faqs.html
First, we pulled the sod and filled the space with soil from a gravel pit that is close to our place. We got over 7 yards of soil for $30 (simply the charge for delivery), whereas a company I found with topsoil charged $30/yard... quite a difference! The soil is really great too, and I know it'll get richer over time with the hay.
Since there are so many deer in our area, we put a 7’ tall fence all around the garden with deer netting. We used 10' long pieces of 2x4 wood, and put them in the ground 3' deep. Hubby used a post digger for that. With 7 posts all around, he then stapled cheap deer netting I got last year (when I thought we'd have time to make a garden), from pole to pole. It's held up really good and hasn't sagged, so we'll see how it does over winter. He also made a proper door for me with a latch.
With the fencing up and the soil filled in, I gave it all a sprinkle of chicken poo tea. Since I have a nice big pile of chicken manure in my "compost pile" (aka the big mound of chicken manure past the coop), I decided to put it to use by putting some manure in a bucket, filling it with water and letting it sit in the sun for a couple weeks, stirring it occasionally. Be warned, it does not smell good, but I poured the "water" into a watering can, and it covered the garden space really well while giving it a boost of nitrogen.
Then I brought over 8 moldy square bales, busted them open and spread them out over the area. I've read that you're supposed to use about 10" of hay throughout, but mine was only a few inches for convenience, and I added more as needed. The moldy bales worked good because they didn’t blow away.
Then I put in all my stakes and twine to mark my rows, and pushed the hay over to expose the earth along those rows. I planted all my seeds and started plants, and as they grew I pushed the hay around the base of the plants. It's important to keep that earth exposed after planting, and not put the hay over top right away, otherwise the plants won't get the light they need and nothing will grow through the hay. Once they're sprouted, the hay can go around them.
It was all very experimental this year, so I didn't think I'd get much. Considering I got a late start in planting, combined with the endless downpours and storms (which resulted in some flooding and lost plants), I still got lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and zucchini.
In the fall I put my chickens in there to eat up what was left, including the bugs, and they gave it a little till and some fertilizer before the cold came. I could already tell that the soil had improved a lot from the hay getting absorbed. Next spring I'd like to add some compost and hopefully I’ll enjoy more veggies!