Using silage with Bokashi as mulch

Photo: Jenny Harlen

The other day we managed to get home our annual hay bale, always a good day around here!

We live in the country and on every field you can see a pile of these white silage bales looking much like a pile of UFO eggs. Each one weighs some 500 kilos, inside the tight plastic skin is a tightly-rolled bale of hay. The farmers make them directly on the field during the summer and use them for animal fodder in the winter, during the time they stand there the hay ferments which stops it rotting and makes it a good food source. Here in Sweden they’re white, I assume it’s a way of keeping them a bit cooler but also helps disguise them during the six months of white winter we have here.

The thing is, many of these bales turn bad. The plastic fails, the rain gets in, they start to rot. Which means they have no value whatsover to the farmers as they can’t be used as fodder.

But they are the best thing ever if you’re a gardener and can get hold of one! Just ask for the most rotten bale the farmer has on stock — and if he could give you a hand getting it onto your trailer with his tractor!

Here at home we use a bale a year in our veggie garden and around the house when we’re starting up new garden beds or trying to restore some corner or other. It works just brilliantly in combination with Bokashi and the fermentation that the bale has been through means you don’t get any weed seeds out of the hay.

Yesterday the rhubarb bed got a much-needed topup. We have a 5 meter wooden box with some 5 rhubarb plants. The soil has been sinking lower and lower and they haven’t had any real fertilising for some years. I started by spreading out a couple of buckets of Bokashi (would have used more but that was what I had on hand) and then topped it off with a 10 cm layer of hay from the silage bale.

Embarrassingly quick and easy. No digging at all. On the other hand we’ve had a family of crows giving us a hard time this spring, picking through all our garden beds looking for lunch, so I’ll keep an eye on that. In worst case it’s just to throw over a berry net.

The other problem with mulching, at least for us here, can be snails. I’ve had problems in this bed before so early this spring I removed all the winter mulch and have had the bed bare since then while the snail hunt was on. Think it’s fixed now, but I’ll lay out a handful of snail pellets (organic) to be sure.

One of the reasons why it’s good to use Bokashi in combination with mulch like this is that it balances out the carbon-nitrogen balance. If you just lay out a lot of browns (like this silage) there’s a risk the mulch may steal nitrogen from the plants. But with a layer of Bokashi under the mulch there should be nitrogen enough for everyone. If you don’t have much Bokashi to put under you could always kickstart the nitrogen with Bokashi liquid, nestle water or some good old diluted urine.

We’ve been doing this hay-bale thing for a few years now and I just love it. It’s such an easy way to top up a bed (like this one) or to get a new bed going. We’re too lazy to dig round here so when we’re starting off a new bed (whether for veggies or flowers) we just lay out some newspapers, spread out some Bokashi, dump a few buckets of coffee grinds (that we get from the local café) and cover the lot with silage. Smells like a bit of a farmyard for a few days but turns pretty quickly into the best soil.

And if you have a long winter like ours it’s great to have a pile of old silage on stock to cover all the beds for the winter. Gives your worms a warmer place to be and keeps them working longer, and when you remove the layer in the spring (if you do) you’ll be surprised how little there is left.

I know not everyone is surrounded by lakes and fields like we are, but for what it’s worth this is what we do. Maybe you have some other resource where you live that’s cheap and easy to get hold of and could do some good work on your veggie patch?

Love to hear your ideas!