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How long must I solarize seedy straw?

 
steward & bricolagier
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I'm doing gardens in my neighborhood, for myself, a sharing garden, and several neighbors. I need to minimize/eliminate weeding and add nutrients, All I can come up with on short notice is bales of straw, BUT the "straw" turns out to be filled with seeds, looks like a rye grass. I was planning to lay about 2 inch thick bale flakes out neatly, leaving just cracks of planting area, soak the straw well, and plastic it to solarize it. Been brawling with the weather, temperatures are almost stable enough to plant, sun has been minimal. How long do I need to let it stay how hot to kill those seeds? Any guesses? What do I look for to decide if they are all dead? I don't dare plant till they are, but I want it going fast, the grocery prices here are going sky high. Not sure what kind of sheet plastic I can come up with, black would be better than clear, I suspect?

The planting cracks will get filled between plants with straw that by then I'll have decently rotted in a kiddie pool. Wish I had a place to drown the whole bales, but I don't. I'm doing quantity of garden space mostly done in a way I absolutely don't prefer, but it's expedient and can be mass produced. Dirt was broken loose with my tractor, planting cracks will be tenderized with a little Mantis tiller as narrow as I can (just one set of tines) and the mulch will fill all I can between things. Best I can do on short notice. I didn't expect this year to be this, I expected to be building our home, not putting in gardens at the rental house and neighborhood.

Thanks for advice!
 
Pearl Sutton
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Hm... actually I have 33 gallon trash cans I can drown straw in... And could borrow the big trash wheelie bins for a short while. Would be more work than laying it out neatly and letting it fry in place. Wet straw is heavy, and I'm feeling wussy these days.

I have solarized stuff before, but it was in the New Mexico sun, where it takes about two days to bring it close to boiling and kill anything.

I also have the option of very large pieces of black or white polyester cloth, I'm a dumpster diver, I found a bunch of banquet tablecloths a while back, they cover big tables, with lots of overhang. Not as airtight as plastic, but an option.
 
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Hi Pearl,

I have never solarized straw. Like you, when I have been in a "hurry" I have filled barrels with straw and filled them with water. I am at the latitude of Cape Girardeau. Frankly, it is down right chilly.  I don't expect much help from the sun for a while.
 
Pearl Sutton
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Went to my barn and dug around.  I came up with 6 33 gallon trash cans that were not otherwise occupied, and 4 big pieces of dumpster kill clear/white plastic (they wrap furniture in it,) each is bigger than a king sized sheet. I haven't unfolded them, I want to say they are doubled, so twice that size each. Perfect for the sunniest bed that will be ready to plant soonest! The back garden is taking it's time getting shaped and water controlled, it's hay bales (leftover from my chickens, who became hawk snacks) will get drowned. WHOO!

Still could use advice on how to tell if it's done enough. Missouri lacks the intensely screaming sunshine I am used to using for this.
 
Pearl Sutton
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Still would love a guess from anyone who knows how long this needs to cook. The bed ended up 50 feet long by 12 feet wide, covered several inches deep in seedy straw, then covered in plastic, weighted down. I wet the straw down before covering it, and added more water after it was done. The first pieces of plastic were starting the steam really well, working on it was hot, wet work.

The bed:



and covered:

 
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Just a guess really, but I would think any seeds would most likely sprout within 10 days, so to be safe I would give it 3-4 weeks?  
 
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Following/bumping because I, too, am dealing with some old, seedy hay & straw.

Solarizing is a great idea, and may be the perfect solution for me in the Texas sun & heat.
How long does it usually take to kill seeds in a hot compost? It would seem as if it would be a similar time frame with solarizing.

BTW, great looking bed!
 
Pearl Sutton
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Kc: Yes, in the Texas sun it's easy, I did it in NM a lot. I did it to weeds, in big piles.
Pile your seedy stuff, soak it REALLY well, cover with a sheet of plastic, make sure it's tight as you can on the edges, and let it cook.
I could kill 99% of the seeds in July (when it was 105 every day and solid sun) in a week. If I had really evil weeds, I'd turn the pile, soak it again, and give it another week.  

:D
 
Pearl Sutton
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ARGH!
I started this thread April 16th. It's now May 21, and we have had no sun. The day or two right after I put the plastic on were sunny, it got lovely hot, then the clouds hit. The grass and evil sharp seeded straw both are growing happily, and there hasn't been enough sun to kill them. It's even dropped below freezing, they are happy plants, all warm under their plastic.
Not a lot can be done that isn't an immense amount of work that I am too sick to do, just needed to vent.

In the back I drowned a bunch under water until it reeked and was mushy with anaerobic decomposition, then put it out in my paths. It's GROWING! I wouldn't mind, except the seeds are sharp, the kind that fill your socks and gloves with evil itchy things you have to pick out one by one. I pulled it off the paths, and am putting cardboard down as paths instead, not sure how I will hold that down, I have a bunch of pvc pipe that will probably get used as weights. Will re-rot it, I guess, not sure what else I can do. I'm not strong enough to turn piles if I pile it someplace, might cover it with an opaque tarp and let it sit piled.

Some of it was packed tightly in a trash can that I filled to anaerobic it, and the can leaked, it drained out, the straw got nice and hot, thought ok, it's hot composting itself, I watered it a few more times, then checked it. Sprouting. Anyone want a grass that will sprout despite any weather conditions?

Memo to self: Inspect straw before buying it. I am stupid, I assumed bales of "straw" were STRAW, not hay with evil sharp seeds.
 
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I feel for you. It's been raining here in NC for 5 days. Just got a flash flood warning on my phone. I'm on a hill so not my problem but not going to make it to the PO this morning. You do need goats! Fresh muck from the goat's barn is what I put down in paths I don't want grass or weeds in. Or I pen my Peking ducks in the area for a time. They can clear an area almost as fast as a tractor. Also recommend Oat Straw. Like wheat straw it does still have seeds in it but the chickens and even the bunnies love picking through it. Unlike wheat straw you don't get the sharp seeds and burs that some how always get inside your gloves.
 
Kc Simmons
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Pearl Sutton wrote:ARGH!
Not a lot can be done that isn't an immense amount of work that I am too sick to do, just needed to vent.



Hope you start feeling better soon! (*Virtual Hug*)
I hate when it seems things go out of the way to be complicated during the times you don't feel well enough, nor have the strength, to deal with them.

I haven't had the energy to pull weeds lately, so have just been throwing some mulch on them as I'm able to, though that may come back to haunt me if there's bermuda or crabgrass hiding out under it. It's still taking all of my time and energy to just get the normal chores done each day, and I frequently find myself saying "later" when it comes to the extra things that pop up with the gardens & animals.
Hopefully the weather will heat up enough to kill your new straw growth before it has a chance to set seed.
Try not to let it stress & overwhelm you too much. (*Another virtual hug*)
 
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If it's already sprouted, eg after being soaked, can you pull it out and let it dru till the spouts die? Then maybe most of the unwanted seeds will no longer be there. Where you laid it down in flakes (flat pieces of bale) , Ruth Stout said that when seeds sprout, flip the pieces of bale over, to cover the leaves and expose the roots.
 
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Pearl Sutton wrote:ARGH!
I'm not strong enough to turn piles if I pile it someplace, might cover it with an opaque tarp and let it sit piled.



Can cybil not help you with that?
 
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Not sure if you have chickens or not, but I have recently started spreading bales in the chicken run, letting the birds poop all over it and pick out the seeds. I can collect it in about a week, most of the seeds are gone, and it's enriched with chicken manure!
 
Pearl Sutton
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Skandi Rogers wrote:

Pearl Sutton wrote:ARGH!
I'm not strong enough to turn piles if I pile it someplace, might cover it with an opaque tarp and let it sit piled.



Can cybil not help you with that?


You have me mixed up with someone else. I have no help but my 82 year old mom, who isn't strong.
I have serious health issues, that are currently flared up very bad.
 
Pearl Sutton
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Well. This is an  interesting exercise. The straw the solarized well did beautifully, but it took so long due to constant rain, that the trees leafed out and shaded it. That area absolutely did not solarize. Peeled it today, after about 2 months covered, and this is what I have.



No clue what to do now. That crap has sharp seeds. Actual STRAW to cover it would be nice, but I'm not holding my breath (although I will check tomorrow.) Other types of mulch are non-existent right now. Except cardboard, and I'd have to rock it down. Might do that yet.... It's really unlevel though, and would be difficult to cardboard. Sigh.

BUT! The soil feels lovely, and the areas that are ready are excellent!  These poor plants that have been in pots are gonna be happy about this!!

Any wise ideas?

:D
 
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At this point in the season I'd probably just chop or pull the weeds out & plant the desired plants. Hopefully they will grow fast & out compete any more weeds.
 
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Pearl

You sound like you're getting strong and resolute again. Hope that's right, cuz that's great. <g>

You sure have an big organic problem child. Who woulda thought. But it's gotta start sunning good Real Soon Now and than maybe you can cook it for real.


Cheers,
Rufus
 
Pearl Sutton
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Skandi Rogers wrote:

Pearl Sutton wrote:ARGH!
I'm not strong enough to turn piles if I pile it someplace, might cover it with an opaque tarp and let it sit piled.



Can cybil not help you with that?



It was pointed out to me that you may have meant my tractor, Lady Sybil Ramkin... Apologies for missing that! I haven't been thinking clearly, serious health issues. Normally she isn't here at the rental, there's not room to park her well. She's still here right now because I really need to come up with time to work on a hydraulic leak, but she normally is at our property and runs the brushcutter etc.  Right now she is using real close to the same amount of gas and hydraulic fluid, that's an expensive messy habit.
So I can't count on having her around here when I need her. I may do piles that I cover, just not sure where I can do so. My best location here has poison ivy that I really don't want getting in my mulch.

I haven't gone out there yet today, just uncovered it yesterday, I'm going to look and see if  I can flip the bad spots over, without them just sprouting too. I can't pull out the sprouts (way too much) or solarize it more (I'm planting it, it's mid June, has to be done) so flipping it is my best guess, I'll know more after I get out there this morning and look at it close.

:D
 
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The one year I used straw for mulch it was full of seeds and a ton of trouble. I feel your pain! Since then I've used hay, which has worked great. Old, last year's round bales are abundant around here and farmers are usually glad to get rid of them. They will sell it for a song, or even give it away, and load it in the back of my pick up truck. The fact that they will load it is worth the money. A round bale seems huge but it goes faster than you'd think. I lay down cardboard first and pile on a generous amounts of hay. It keeps out weeds and holds in moisture. A win win! Hope you're feeling better!
 
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you want to use clear plastic to solarize, not white or black.  The idea is for the greenhouse effect to trap the sun ray's underneath where they reflect heat back down to the soil.  I use old greenhouse/high tunnel plastic

One or two sunny days under clear plastic is usually enough to kill annual grasses and weeds.  Longer for perennial weeds.

I remember when I started gardening, every article told me to "mulch with straw not hay, because hay is full of seeds".  Well every single straw bale I bought (and I've seen others use) has been FULL of viable seeds.  Rye grass, wheat, oats, barley, etc.

I not longer use straw in my garden for that reason
 
Pearl Sutton
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Davis Tyler wrote:you want to use clear plastic to solarize, not white or black.  The idea is for the greenhouse effect to trap the sun ray's underneath where they reflect heat back down to the soil.  I use old greenhouse/high tunnel plastic


I did use clear.

One or two sunny days under clear plastic is usually enough to kill annual grasses and weeds.  Longer for perennial weeds.


Two months didn't do it...

I remember when I started gardening, every article told me to "mulch with straw not hay, because hay is full of seeds".  Well every single straw bale I bought (and I've seen others use) has been FULL of viable seeds.  Rye grass, wheat, oats, barley, etc.

I not longer use straw in my garden for that reason


I thought I could get away with it. It was expedient. I wanted this area plantable 1.5 months ago.
Live and learn....
 
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