Using lucerne hay as mulch

30 Nov

When I first started my veggie garden I used lucerne to mulch, mostly because it was readily available from Bunnings. At $25 a (smallish) bail it wasn’t cheap, but the benefits were enormous. It suppressed weeds, protected the soil and added much-needed nutrients. Lucerne is high in nitrogen,  so it breaks down quickly to enrich the soil with extra organic matter. The drawback of course is that it breaks down fast, so needs to be topped-up regularly.

Over the past 6 months however it hasn’t been available. Instead there has been a proliferation of cheap sugar cane mulch. It is cheap at $16 a bail, and breaks down slowly so it doesn’t need replenishing as often. I assume people must love it for that reason, but I was getting pretty sick of it really. I had mulched under my artichokes in January, and now in late November it still hadn’t broken down. The soil was looking depleted and crumbly.

Here’s where I am super-lucky that my parents live in a rural area. I asked them to keep an eye out for lucerne, and they came through with the goods. They brought down a huge bail of lucerne hay, sourced from their local stock feed place for the bargain price of $15.

They brought it down over the weekend. It wasn’t exactly like the lucerne mulch I used to get because it isn’t chopped up. It comes off the bail in sheets/layers, and for that reason it is more difficult to spread out.

But for $15, I had enough nitrogen-rich mulch to cover most of my veggie beds. I went crazy around the banana tree in particular, because I really, really want fruit this year – did you hear that, banana?  It’s putting out new leaves before the previous ones have even unfurled, to I think it’s looking good.

I’ve heard that unlike sugar cane, lucerne tends to carry more weed seeds. I think I can live with this considering the benefits, but I’ll let you know how I find it.

9 Responses to “Using lucerne hay as mulch”

  1. veggiegobbler November 30, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

    I’ve just planted some lucerne seeds in a spare veggie patch. I read that it was a good manure crop and also that chickens like it. So glad to hear that it’s a good mulch. I was planning on chopping it up and spreading it on the beds.

  2. the green backyard November 30, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    I have been using sugar cane mulch and I don’t think it’s very good. It seems to lock together and not let water penetrate the soil. I am going to scrape it away and use lucerne. I think you can buy it pretty cheaply near where I live.

  3. Frogdancer December 1, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    Lucky you! Lucerne is dear here.

  4. Frogdancer December 1, 2011 at 7:02 am #

    Forgot to add, I tend to use pea straw.

    • L December 1, 2011 at 8:06 am #

      I would guess that pea straw is very good too? Is it cheaper than lucerne? How does it compare to sugar cane in price and speed of breaking down?

      • the green backyard December 1, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

        What is Pea Straw??

  5. Lilian December 1, 2011 at 10:01 pm #

    I use sugar cane mulch – I quit lucerne because of the cost (exorbitant in Sydney). It goes into the chicken run and into the coop. I like it because it’s already all chopped up. When I buy lucerne I never buy the pre-packed ones (ie from Bunnings), I get it from our feed store in bales (that was when I used to buy it). I tried straw but it got slippery especially in the dry. Usually when it’s browned up in the chicken run (from rain and composting – when I see the uneaten wheat sprouting from it) I rake it out and put it straight into the veggie patch. If I do put it in garden beds I usually put a layer of cow manure under it first and then use the sugar cane mulch on top of that (similar to the concept of lasagne mulching and no-dig gardens). It does need to be watered in well though. I’m finding that with the current bout of rainy weather coupled with some hot muggy days, the sugar cane mulch has broken down nicely. But I must agree with you that lucerne as a feed/mulch is unsurpassed when it comes to veggies.

  6. Ross Cleary January 9, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    I grow lucerne so obviously use i t also as a mulch on my gardens. When we bought the farm, the gardens were a desert, having been left to fend for themselves through years of drought. Just spreading lucerne around brought worms back and plants regenerated. The effect on young tree growth is amazing. To my mind, while there are a number o effective mulch products around, no other mulch comes close to lucerne in its fertilizing and soil improving qualities

    • L from 500m2 in Sydney January 10, 2012 at 8:56 am #

      Thanks Ross for the comment. The main issue i’m having with the hay is just how ‘stringy’ it remains, even when it’s mostly broken down. I far prefer the lucerne mulch, which has been chopped up finer, but there is a huge price difference between the two. I must try the lucerne around my young fruit trees.

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