The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Straw mulching makes plants happy and healthy

straw mulch in a truck with Anna in front

straw mulched garlic
Got another load of straw bales today.

I was a bit leary of the tailgate not staying closed and only purchased 15 bales instead of squeezing in 18 like previous trips.

Mulching the garden with straw
has turned out to be a major time saver for us. I know some folks are worried about weed seeds that sometimes come with a bale of straw, but from our perspective it's worth a few weeds when you can see and feel how much healthier the plants seem to be.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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in an ideal world, straw should be seedless since it's only plant stalks & has been threshed. This year I bought a round bail of prairie hay from a neighbor even aftern being warned hay has tons of seed: I say less than 5% of what I laid down sprouted grass. It's been worth it's weight in gold by keeping nearly all the weeds down. I've got about ~400sq ft of growing space and can weed it all in 10 mins, once a week.
Comment by Phil Tue May 31 21:06:46 2011
How much are you paying for bales in your area?
Comment by Jeremy Tue May 31 22:39:43 2011
I love what straw does for my garden, not just the plants but the earth as well. My soil isn't the best, but in each part where I've mulched with straw, the tilth has improved. And straw seems to beget worms, too.
Comment by Debbi Wed Jun 1 06:37:41 2011

Phil --- You're totally right. I think that most people who complain about weedy "straw" are confusing it with hay. We do tend to get a few sprouts, but they're grains and easy to rip out of the ground. Good to hear that even hay (at least prairie hay) isn't very hard to deal with.

Jeremy --- Way, way too much --- $5.50 per bale. That's mainly why I have a big expanse of wheat growing in one chicken pasture --- in hopes of making my own straw. :-)

Debbi --- I think that real gardeners are actually growing earth, not plants, and straw definitely helps with that.

Comment by anna Wed Jun 1 07:13:39 2011
That's what I just paid at my local farm center ($5.50). I'm hoping to find some farmer direct pricing. There seems to be a lot of wheat around us this year, so maybe I'll get lucky.
Comment by Jeremy Fri Jun 3 22:41:08 2011
If you've got people growing grains around you, buying the straw locally is definitely the way to go! I'd take a look on craigslist first. We live a long way from most grain operations, so I think most of our straw is trucked in, unfortunately.
Comment by anna Sat Jun 4 08:18:06 2011
Prairie hay is the premium around here, and has alot more seeds but I don't have a problem at all. It's a lot cheaper and easier to come by than straw in Oklahoma, because commercial agriculture revolves almost entirely around beef.
Comment by Phil Sat Jun 4 17:57:23 2011
Hay's cheaper than straw here too, and I've considered using it but been scared of the weed issue. Sounds like I should give it a shot on a few test beds.
Comment by anna Sat Jun 4 20:21:04 2011

Wouldn't heating hay make any seeds unviable? I can think of at least two possibilities;

  • boil it in water.
  • heat it in an enclosed space (e.g. drum) so it doesn't burn.

Both should be able to get rid of any harmful organisms next to making any seeds unviable. The flip side of the coin is that it would also kill any benevolent organisms. And it uses energy. The second method would require much less energy, given the high specific heat of water.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Jun 5 13:15:45 2011
The most garden-friendly way of heating to kill seeds is hot composting ---just build a pile with the right blend of carbon to nitrogen, add water, and let it heat up on its own. Of course, the result is much smaller than what you started with and is compost instead of mulch. That's probably what I would do if I had a lot of spoiled hay (unless I decided to just give it a try as mulch.)
Comment by anna Sun Jun 5 15:21:48 2011

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