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wood or straw

 
pollinator
Posts: 262
Location: N. California
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I live in California and often feel guilty about my water use.  I'm doing many things to reduce my water use.  One of the things is I want to start to convert the raised beds I grow veggies in, by putting wood or straw in the bottom.  This is tough because I'm lucky enough to be able to grow in my garden year round, so finding a time when nothing is in the bed to start over is tough, but little by little I'm going to try.  My question is do I use wood or straw in the bottom of my beds.  The straw I have to buy at 10$ s bale.  The wood chips I can get for free, but it is miscellaneous wood.  I don't know what kind, if it had a disease, or problem. I do have some wood that are small branches that are a combo of walnut, almond bay leaf wood.  This wood has been sitting for about 18 months.  The wood chips are fresh with sticks and leaves mixed in.  Maybe I should use both, what do you think?  I am open to other options.  Thanks.
 
master steward
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Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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Hi Jen, I'm trying to figure out how adding straw or wood chips under the beds would help conserve water.  Is it to simulate a hugelkultur bed?

Regardless, if you use straw, be sure to get chemical free straw that doesn't have persistent gick in it.
 
Posts: 23
Location: North Central Florida, subtropical zone 8b
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In addition to making sure the straw is clean...watch out for walnut. It can sometimes stunt growth of plants near it.

If you have sandy soil like mine in Florida, it could help retain a lot of water. If you already have drainage issues, it could make them worse.

Maybe try a test plot, with some buried and some used as mulch right next to it?
 
Jen Fulkerson
pollinator
Posts: 262
Location: N. California
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I like the MI Gardener on YouTube, and he puts straw on the bottom of his raised beds and he claims he doesn't have to water much.  
Yes I was thinking with wood it would be like a.mini hugel.  I was thinking I would have to water the same the first year, but hopefully the next few years  I would be able to water a lot less.
 
Mike Haasl
master steward
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Location: Northern WI (zone 4)
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Gotcha.  I think I'd be tempted to go with straw so that it breaks down faster.  Seems more soil-like to me to have that underground instead of wood chips.  But I'm far from an expert on the subject.

If straw is expensive or unclean, can you make your own?  I go down the road where the ditch grass is healthy and tall.  I cut a bunch and use it as mulch.  After a week or two, it dries out and looks like straw.  So maybe you could harvest tall grasses, let them dry and then use them?
 
Posts: 88
Location: Kitsap Penninsula, WA
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HI!

We have 12 raised beds in our kitchen garden (and I just had to sit here and count them in my head and honest to God, I didn't think I had built that many!), resting on top of gravelly, sandy, packed soil. In the winter, when it rains steady, drainage can be an issue, with pools of standing water in parts of our back yard where the kitchen garden is. In the summer, that area gets hot - I think because all the gravel collects that heat during the day and gently let's it off at night. For this and many other reasons, including vanity, I built all of our raised beds 12 inches high and variety of lengths. We also have 3 metal horse troughs that are 24 inches high.

I filled the whole bottom half of our raised beds with smaller diameter logs and bark from evergreen trees (not cedar, though). Everything from twigs to branches 3 inches in diameter. Then I filled in the gaps with leaf litter and huckleberry boughs. I then inoculated every bed with several scoops of bunny manure.  Then dressed the top half with 3/4 fish compost and 1/4 soil mix. These beds are thriving this summer, with minimal rain fall, and we only really have to water when I plant new seeds and they are getting started. I've even started mulching with pine wood shavings from the feed store around the beds with tomatoes, sunchokes, cucumbers and strawberries, just to save even more water.

My thinking, which seems to be borne out now in our second season of heavy rotation in the raised bed kitchen garden is that the logs and wood debris really IS helping conserve water and that to take it to the next level, I may start adding a bit of permanent mulch on the top in the form of straw or wood shavings to lock in even more water. The wood debris acts like a sponge - a little contained, not too diverse "hugel-ish" bed. Added bonus is that it helped use up the endless supply of wood debris from a clearing project we did and firewood splitting.

I also don't pull the plants. I just snip them off at the soil line and leave the roots in the bed. In the fall, as everything is harvested and seed is collected, I just nip everything at the soil line, top dress with compost, and leave it for spring. This year, I'll do all that and then add straw mulch on top of everything and leave it all until spring. I continue to be amazed at how the soil settles and everything decomposing under it and that I always have to add at least 2 inches of compost in the fall.

Anyhow - good luck and have fun!
 
Posts: 28
Location: Central Oklahoma
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My raised beds are about knee high. I put logs up to about 8" in diameter in the bottom and filled in with twigs and cow manure until they were about half full. I topped them off with red dirt mixed with compost. We have the lovely red clay and my garden sets on the old driveway but I haven't had any issues in five years. I normally don't have to water much but this year is taking more. I think my logs need to be replaced.
 
Jen Fulkerson
pollinator
Posts: 262
Location: N. California
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Thanks so much for all your information.  I started to think maybe I should just forget about it, but now I think I will give it a try.  I have 6 raised beds. 2 are 4X4 I got on clearance a few years ago. I didn't think they were deep enough so I bought 4 wood fence pickets and put them on top. A cheap fix that worked great. 1 is a wooden twin bed frame my niece was talking to the dump, 2 are roundish made with cement blocks about 9 or 10 and the last on is also made with the cement blocks, but it's rectangular 4'X14' this one is new this year because I wanted to grow corn.  I also have a1/2  whisky barrel and some large plastic pots.  It's amazing how much you can grow in a small space.  I grow my watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumber on trellis.  
The hardest part of this venture is finding the time, the summer garden is still producing, and I should start the winter garden stuff in September and October. Time will tell. Thanks
 
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