For the last few years we have built an outdoor haystack. This serves as an emergency backup for the indoor stacks should we need additional animal feed in a really severe winter. Its primary purpose is to “store” mulch material for use in the garden in the spring, as there is little fresh to harvest at this time of the year.
We have grown potatoes using a hay mulch very successfully for many years now. A layer of well-rotted manure or compost is spread on a bed. The potatoes are laid on top then the whole lot covered with at least a foot deep of hay. While this method may not give the highest yields it is worth considering if you can lay your hands on plentiful mulch material. It is quick, adds plenty of organic matter to the garden bed and harvesting is very easy – simply peel back the now shrunken mulch and pick up the potatoes!
We usually use a lot of bracken as mulch in the garden in the autumn. However last autumn, we saved the majority of the bracken for use as animal bedding (far more than needed as it turned out!). The lack of autumn bracken mulch, combined with a heavy work load and a very wet autumn / winter that made working on the garden challenging, has meant that some beds are much less tidy then we would like at this time of year.
This has led us to resurrect a technique we used extensively when establishing the garden. Cardboard mulching gets untidy beds or even previously uncultivated ground into a fit state for planting with minimal effort on the part of the gardener.
Tall weeds on the bed are scythed down and left where they drop. Persistent weeds such as nettles can be pulled / dug out if necessary. The whole lot is covered with salvaged cardboard boxes, followed by a layer of muck / compost and a covering of hay to make it look tidy, keep in moisture and suppress weeds.
After a couple of weeks the bed will be ready for planting, slightly longer if the bed was very weedy. Obviously it will not be suitable for sowing seeds direct, but strong plug / pot grown plants are easy to establish.
One point to note is that mulching should be done when the soil is damp. Otherwise you risk trapping dry soil under a thick layer of mulch that will not easily be re-wetted, especially if there is cardboard in the layers.