The last straw in the vegetable garden

My approach with our vegetable garden is to view it as a big experiment. I do a bit of research here and there, but mostly I dive in and cross my fingers.

We added two new crops this year that I view as experiments: asparagus and grapes.

Asparagus isn’t really a huge experiment. I know how it grows. We like to eat it. However, most people grow asparagus from crowns. I started ours from seed. This means it will be probably four years before we harvest any asparagus.

Nurturing our asparagus along is an experiment.

My very basic research on asparagus told me to wait until the ferns turn brown, then cut them down and top them with compost and straw. This weekend, I judged that the ferns were brown enough.

Asparagus ferns in fall

You can see that our asparagus are very spindly. I’m not sure if this is because they’re brand new, or because I planted them in the raised bed, which is filled with what we discovered is very poor triple mix.

Tiny asparagus spears

Either way, they need some coddling. While this bed could probably benefit from some compost, I’ll leave that for the spring. For now, I just covered the asparagus stumps with a healthy layer of straw.

Straw mulch in the vegetable garden

I also applied the straw to our other experiment, the grapes. I fully admit that I have no idea what I’m doing with the grapes. Despite the reading I’ve done, I’m not at all clear on how to prune them, trellis them or just in general care for them. So I’m making it up as I go along based on what I think I’ve read.

Our grapes are new and they’re a little exposed on the outside of the garden on the edge of the field. So I figured some mulch might help to insulate their roots.

Grapes mulched with straw

As often happens with me, once I get started, I got a bit carried away.

After mulching the asparagus and grapes, I thought, “Why don’t I just roll the whole bale into the garden and see how far it goes?”

I wasn’t entirely sure I’d be able to move the bale on my own, as Matt and I have always done it together up to this point.

It turns out I can. Not easily, but I can.

Mulching the garden with straw

Between hacking at it with the pitchfork and unrolling it, I covered about half the garden.

Straw mulch in the vegetable garden

Those big round bales are full of a lot of straw. And this one was quite old, so the layers were very matted together. It always felt like a major victory when a large flake or one full coil peeled off.

So that brings me to my third experiment: seeing if a thick straw mulch helps to control weeds. My fingers are crossed–my default approach to gardening.

Gratuitous Baxter picture: Dude’s ears very rarely stand up. But an afternoon outside and a garden full of sniffy straw are exciting–or at least halfway exciting. He looks so ridiculous that I couldn’t resist sharing a photo.

Baxter with one ear up

Anyone have any tips on growing asparagus or grapes? Do you use straw in your garden? Or a different type of mulch? Anything else I should do this winter to protect my little plants?

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7 thoughts on “The last straw in the vegetable garden

  1. So far your experimental process seems to be working pretty well! Between the straw now and compost in the spring, it sounds like you’ve got it covered. LOL – just heard the pun 😀

  2. Baxter is trying to wear his ears like Blitz!! Hahhaha
    I put straw on my strawberries and asparagus but I didnt put it on thick enough. Most has blown away. I didnt know I was supposed to cut back my asparagus until I was at my brother’s and noticed he had cut all of his. So I really feel behind the game right now.

    • I love that you say “wear his ears.” We use that expression too when Baxter “wears his ears” in unusual positions.

      I felt like my asparagus was still a wee bit green, so you may not be behind the game. This fall has been so warm that I think everything has been pushed back.

  3. I can’t tell for certain, but I suspect your bale of straw is actually a bale of hay, so you may end up with more weeds if the seeds in the hay were still viable. Your asparagus will be spindly for a while. In a few years the stalks will be big enough to harvest. I grew asparagus years ago and boy, it tastes SO good fresh out of the garden.

    I like the “dive in and cross your fingers” approach to gardening too. 🙂 Love the shot of Baxter.

    • You’re right. It probably is hay. It’s very, very, very old, so I’m hoping that the seeds have passed their prime. I’ve read some things about using hay as mulch and there are mixed reviews. Most posts say layer it on super thick and you’re fine. Fingers crossed that this helps and doesn’t hurt!

      Thanks for the asparagus encouragement.

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