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Using hay for mulch and where to find it for free  RSS feed

 
Chris Dean
Posts: 108
Location: South New Mexico Mountains
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I initially posted this in the Homesteading forum...oops!  If a moderator is reading this I'd be obliged if you deleted that one--I can't seem to do it.

Most people who store their own hay in at least moderate quantities tend to have some rotting hay in their shed/barn.  It tends to get pushed to the back and sits there for years--they can't feed it to their animals and it's a hassle to get rid of it.  Luckily, rotting hay is a great mulching medium.  For most it would simply be a matter of asking if you can haul their bad hay out for them, and if they have a larger amount they might even consider paying you for it. 

The drawback, and another reason people are so happy to be rid of it, is this hay often smells bad.  You should wear something to filter the air you breathe and take a pitchfork--it might be loose hay.  If you hit the jackpot and find round bales of rotting hay you'll need some way to load and transport it. 

You need to pick the hay up when the barn is at it emptiest.  It will be next to impossible to navigate around a filled barn to get to the bad hay.  Hay tends to be used in the cold months and the barns are refilled at harvest, which is around May/June here in central Texas.  But you can scout around anytime and ask people when the best time to come would be--they might want you to get it now!

Some people discourage the use of hay in mulching, saying it is filled with seeds.  If hay has been grown and harvested properly there will be no seeds.  The harvester wants to cut hay before it has gone to seed.  When hay seeds it sends nutrients up into the seeds that have been building in the stalk, thus if it's already seeded most of the nutrients are in the seed head and the straw is mostly nutritionally useless.  Many people selling hay don't care about this and will instead try to get the tallest hay so they can make more bales to make more money.  However many people who grow and harvest their own hay will be more mindful, so it might be worth it to find people who grow their own.

Having said that you may end up with some seedy hay.  You can look at the hay and tell if it's saturated with seedheads or if there are just a few here and there.  I've sheet mulched this year with hay that had a few seeds.  Green shoots come up now and again through my top layer of compost.  About twice a week I'll pull them out by their roots.  For around 1000 sq ft this takes less than five minutes. 
 
Brenda Groth
pollinator
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Location: North Central Michigan
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this past spring i advertised to try to find spoiled hay and couldn't find anyone willing to part with any, so it must be difficult to find. Maybe cause people use those large round bales now, don't know..but i wanted it for my garden and couldn't come by any.

Even rye straw which used to be avail for $1 a bale is no longer around.
 
                                      
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Since we once got a bunch of hay with seeds we refrain from it altogether... it will probably take us years of fighting back the grasses that are now constantly coming up everywhere.

But like you said, if you find mindfull people, or can harvest it yourself it is fine mulching material.
in my experience a mulch that is mainly applied for soil protection works best with slow composing material like leaf litter, straw or if available reeds. But for building a sheetmulch with dung or fresh greens, hay will give a far better result. for a fast decomposing mulch that is constantly added on and also serves an important function in fertilizing (around plants with high demands) it works best.

Also for building a hot compost, hay is great, it builds up the heat faster.
and i thought that if your compost goes over 60/70 degrees celsius, grass seeds would be killed, but i dont have experience with hot-composting systems...
 
                              
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i posted an ad on craigslist offering to buy spoiled hay.  i got a lot of offers and quit a few people asking me to just come haul it off and i can have it for free.  the fella was nice enough to use his skid loader to drop a 1/4 of a round bail into the back of my pickup.

seeds im not to worried about.  i put the mulch on thick and nothing sprouts through 8 inches of hay.  what i AM worried about is broad leaf herbicides used on the hay.  i hope that buying old, spoiled hay much of these have dissipated.  ive read horror stories about peoples crops being ruined by produces like Grazon with a 533 day half life... arrrrggg...
 
                              
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stalk_of_fennel wrote:
i posted an ad on craigslist offering to buy spoiled hay.  i got a lot of offers and quit a few people asking me to just come haul it off and i can have it for free.  the fella was nice enough to use his skid loader to drop a 1/4 of a round bail into the back of my pickup.

seeds im not to worried about.  i put the mulch on thick and nothing sprouts through 8 inches of hay.  what i AM worried about is broad leaf herbicides used on the hay.  i hope that buying old, spoiled hay much of these have dissipated.  ive read horror stories about peoples crops being ruined by produces like Grazon with a 533 day half life... arrrrggg...



ive been reading about this a bit more.  from what i can gather (and i'd love to be corrected) it seems like the most likely type of hay to get these broadleaf herbicides from is 'high quality' hay for horses.  more common in square bales then round bales.  lower quality hay for goats, cows, sheep, etc. isnt fertilized, sprayed, irrigated as much.  contains more seeds and weeds though as well.  anyone able to shed more light on this for me?
 
Chris Dean
Posts: 108
Location: South New Mexico Mountains
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stalk of fennel:
I've always lived in cattle country with a few horses scattered around, though I've never owned horses so I can't say for certain about whether herbicides are used on horse hay, however from what I've read on the subject people always attribute the problem to horse manure so perhaps that's why.

But as for the round vs square bales I don't think there's any merit.  10 or 20 years ago everyone had square bales and then round bales started getting more popular and in many ways cheaper and easier to harvest and transport.  The ranchers around here that bale square do it simply because that's the machinery they still own.

I can say for certain that hay grown for cattle is almost always plowed, planted, and forgotten about until harvest.
 
john smith
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Location: western u.s.
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stalk_of_fennel wrote:
what i AM worried about is broad leaf herbicides used on the hay... like Grazon with a 533 day half life... arrrrggg...


The same would be true of straw, which means I won't be using any straw.

Straw: the dry stalks of cereal plants, after removal of the grain and chaff.
 
                              
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hozomeen wrote:
I can say for certain that hay grown for cattle is almost always plowed, planted, and forgotten about until harvest.


How about for sheep?
 
Travis Philp
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Joop Corbin - swomp wrote:
Since we once got a bunch of hay with seeds we refrain from it altogether... it will probably take us years of fighting back the grasses that are now constantly coming up everywhere...

...in my experience a mulch that is mainly applied for soil protection works best with slow composing material like leaf litter, straw or if available reeds. .


Even straw can't be guaranteed seed free. I've seen old square bales of straw with grass seed sprouting on nearly the entire surface of the bale.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Travis Philp wrote:
Even straw can't be guaranteed seed free. I've seen old square bales of straw with grass seed sprouting on nearly the entire surface of the bale.


*nods*

I still have wheat coming up from a bale I got for free two years ago. Threshing isn't perfect.
 
                              
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Joel Hollingsworth wrote:
*nods*

I still have wheat coming up from a bale I got for free two years ago. Threshing isn't perfect.


ive had problems with weeds in the past when using hay.  now i just use it apply it thicker.
 
Joel Hollingsworth
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Wheat growing from straw isn't a problem for me, but I wanted to point out that grain seeds are a part of the package.
 
Chris Dean
Posts: 108
Location: South New Mexico Mountains
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stalk_of_fennel wrote:
How about for sheep?


We'd feed sheep the same hay we fed our cows, and most people around here would do the same
 
                              
Posts: 63
Location: North West PA, USA
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I just bale any kind of weeds and the seeds don't seem to be a problem. I chop the weeds and try to make humus then that is added to the soil. Never had much luck with just placing it on top of the ground. I don't see weeds popping up as a problem because when I do some tilling they become green manure. I also see this as a form of bioconversion, a dynamic soil condition.
 
Brenda Groth
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saw a sign yesterday with square bales of straw for sale..will take truck over there sometime soon and see how much
 
                        
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Friends of mine bought some hay for their horses that they found out later had been sprayed with RoundUp to dessicate it so it could get baled safely before it rained. Every one of their mares aborted.  THere was no way to know..the hay looked and smelled and acted in every way like the hay they normally  put up themselves without any chemicals.

I dont know if other chemicals are used as dessicants  and I have no idea if there are any rules about feeding such chemically dried hay to animals intended to produce milk or meat.

Last year I bought a bunch of nice round alfalfa mix hay and the horses wouldn't eat it..of the 20 bales I still have about 10 mouldering away in the field...the guy swore he had used no chemicals on it  but I've never had a problem with horses eating hay I 've bought before..some emergency hay that looked much worse than this was gobbled up to the last leaf. I don't know exactly what I should do with the stuff that's left..normally I leave it to compost into the field but if it has some sort of weird chemical in it that seems like a poor idea.

 
                              
Posts: 63
Location: North West PA, USA
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Maybe burn it but it might be too wet....



Pam wrote:
I don't know exactly what I should do with the stuff that's left..normally I leave it to compost into the field but if it has some sort of weird chemical in it that seems like a poor idea.
 
Travis Philp
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Pam, what about feeding it to some red wiggler worms? They'll accumulate the pesticide in their bodies and crap out a much cleaner and richer substance for you. Just be sure to sift the worm castings carefully so that no worms get into the finished product.
 
                              
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Travis Philp wrote:
Pam, what about feeding it to some red wiggler worms? They'll accumulate the pesticide in their bodies and crap out a much cleaner and richer substance for you. Just be sure to sift the worm castings carefully so that no worms get into the finished product.


i wonder if there are any mushrooms that can be grown on the alfalfa.  even if you don't grow edible mushrooms i bet the compost from the spent alfalfa used as a growing medium would be much healthier.
 
                        
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Thanks for the ideas! I had never actually thought of worms for this situation. I've been trying to talk myself into vermiculture for some time now with little success. No question it is a valid and highly positive thing to be doing and equally no question I am a wimp and shudder at the thought of handling them.

So perhaps mushrooms...paul stamets says that oyster mushrooms took on oil saturated trash (material which could be broken down obviously)and converted it into humus so perhaps should look into this further. WIll have to wait for next year now anyway, it gets cold up here and neither mushrooms nor worms will thrive over the winter.

One thought is simply to drag the bales to the side of the field and  do a sort of hugelculture with them... this is about the only option for this year  Then next spring toss some worms AND some mushroom spawn in there, maybe in alternate bales, and see what happens? 
 
                                  
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Up until recently, I have been able to get organic rice straw for mulching my vegetable gardens and my fruit trees (after sheet mulching the trees with cardboard). This year, no one seems to have organic rice straw.....if all my fruits and veggies are organic, what is the downside to mulching with non-organic rice straw.  In general, rice straw does take a while to break down so it really doesn't go into the soil....but it does cover and mulch really well. Am I safe?
 
Aljaz Plankl
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Why not growing your own straw or hay mulch? You don't need much land for this! And many of you, as i can see, are having just enough land.

Non-organic straw is bad for your soil, for your veggies and for you. That's the most simple answer i can give you. This stuff is so heavily sprayed it's unbelievable. It takes a while to brake down, that's for sure, but all the bad things that are in the straw (a lot) are leaching into the soil.

You don't need to mulch vegetable garden from outside source. Everything can be produced on garden itself. You just need to become a friend with weeds and winter cover crop, both can be used for chop and drop. Also trying to leave as much vegetable waste in a garden. And not pulling vegetable roots out.
 
                                  
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Thanks Plankl.  I don't have room to grow anything else or would have tried that.  For the trees, I have plenty of oak and pine needles that I can put over the cardboard and that should work. It is all from my yard and has never had chemicals. What do you recommend for the veggie garden?  When I cut the veggies down to about 4 inches (leaving the roots in),  I usually put the tops in the compost for next spring, plant my cover crop and then cover everything with org. rice straw. If I understand you correctly, I would plant the cover crop and then just lay the tops of the summer veggies over the soil so it is not exposed to the elements.  Is that correct?  I try not to walk on or turn any of the soil.
 
Aljaz Plankl
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I can tell you for peas for example. When we harvested them, we just chopped and dropped the green stuff, leaving the roots in. In this way, small carrots in the same bed got the light and fresh mulch. Leave waste on garden, it can be your mulch, fertilizer and more. If it doesn't look good to you, just  cover it with some leaves or something available.
I sow cover crops where there is bare soil in fall. Mostly now in October when i can sow rye. Before, i do not care for cover crops, i just sow winter veggies or cover with mulch or let weeds grow where space appears.
When salad is picked in this late fall time, there is bare soil, which can not be replanted as it's to late. I sow rye or cover bare soil with available mulch (leaves, straw, hay, other).
 
                    
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two years ago I got 100 bales of spoiled hay,  last season I could not get any, had to skimp around with leaves for mulch.  I have never seen such weeds in any garden, especially one grass, dear God, make me as tough as that grass.  I finally gave up and mowed between the rows with the weed eater.  Unless you have a never ending supply like ruth stout must have had,  I would say beware of spoiled hay. 
 
Andrew Mateskon
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Pam Hatfield

raising redworms is really pretty easy. If you are interested in vermiculture as a way to condition soil, you will get plenty of vermicompost and VC tea from just kitchen scraps and garden waste. If you are interested in selling the worms or the vermicompost, you need to get into the garbage hauling business, they eat their weight every day, you can have a pound/sq ft of worms at high density and perfect conditions. What you could do, is line your vermicompost area with the old bales, and pile in your compostable materials and worms with some soil. The worms will break it down faster and create a better product than regular compost, as well as fix pesticide, metal, and toxin issues. They love manure too, but make sure you don't give them manure from animals that were recently wormed. I'm not sure if this applies to animals who regularly eat wormwood. They are doing studies on pathogen reduction in vermicompost of human manure as well, and results appear promising, but it is too early to throw worms in an outhouse and call it good.

On the other hand, Paul Stamets makes a pretty awesome advocate for mushrooms. The medium you have to grow mushrooms would be perfect, but you need to sterilize the medium before adding spawn if you want to eat the mushrooms. This involves a pressure cooker and a high strength plastic bag i believe.
 
Peter Ingot
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Aljaz Plankl wrote:Why not growing your own straw or hay mulch? You don't need much land for this! And many of you, as i can see, are having just enough land.

Non-organic straw is bad for your soil, for your veggies and for you. That's the most simple answer i can give you. This stuff is so heavily sprayed it's unbelievable. It takes a while to brake down, that's for sure, but all the bad things that are in the straw (a lot) are leaching into the soil.

You don't need to mulch vegetable garden from outside source. Everything can be produced on garden itself. You just need to become a friend with weeds and winter cover crop, both can be used for chop and drop. Also trying to leave as much vegetable waste in a garden. And not pulling vegetable roots out.


Sorry totally disagree. I tested this idea for several years in a garden which was over 50% grassy paths and verge. The grass grew thick and lush with the run off from the beds, but using only this I could deep mulch about a quarter of the garden. I would have needed an area of around 4 times my garden just growing grass for mulch.

Given the amount of work involved in making hay, and the amount of land it takes, I concluded that this was not a good, efficient, productive way to grow things. Sometimes vast quantities of spoiled hay become available (but it has to be really bad before my donkey will refuse it). Sometimes it's a harsh winter and everyone runs short of hay. Mulch is good, composting waste is good but systems which rely on permanantly deep mulching annual vegetables with annual inputs of hay (a la ruth stout) are generally not practical IMO. This is a small planet with a lot of people to feed, and having large areas of land growing grass which are off limits to animals, so that someone can mulch their vegetable garden is not productive. Many of us can do this kind of thing right now, but only because we are a small minority surrounded by waste. One guy I know mulches with nettles which his neighbour cuts. His neighbour is a commercial farmer who uses too much fertiliser, which makes his nettles a problem. Great for him, but we shouldn't be promoting this kind of thing as the solution for everyone in the future, because it won't be.

I finally settled on zero or occasional minimal till, just enough to remove weeds if hand pulling was not enough, and mulching the surface with composted manure, obtained from animals fed on the hay and grazed on the grassland (like hay mulching, just the nutrients are more concentrated, the layer of mulch is thinner, but still effective and the energy in the hay moves up the food chain instead of down). Certain weeds, such as chickweed actually love "poorly composted surface material" aka mulch.

I know one other organic farming project which tried mulching with their own hay (believing initially, wrongly, that hay and straw were virtually the same thing). They had vast areas of grassland and small gardens. They have now planted trees on much of their grassland (good), found their income from selling hay diminishing, found weeds coming up through the hay mulch and now mostly dig their gardens the old fashioned way.
 
Nic Foro
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Original post is over five years old but I'll bite.

One of the best places to find compost and or old hay is in feeding areas if you can convince the owner to let you scrape up the left overs. So far the best method I have found for sustainable mulch that is free or semi-free, is to use everything you can get your hands on that is bio-degradable in conjunction with no-till practices. If you have heavily wooded lands, it is worth it to invest in a good wood chipper and clear out all the scrub under the trees. Using grass and lawn clippings is great but it takes significantly more land than the garden space, even fast growing and tall grass still falls short of being effective on its own. I find myself mowing every foot of grass all over the farm and raking up all the leaves I can get, it is possible to get enough grass and stuff but it takes time. Newspaper can help too, its free in bulk at recycling but can get messy if it gets windy and its not covered up.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/d6k44iot2pg38mh/IMG_20160118_111601_728.jpg?dl=0

I mow grass with and without seeds, bails of rotted johnson hay, I've even used fresh johnson grass with seeds etc, I don't have any of it growing in my garden or compost so I doubt seeds even matter unless you are tilling it up.
 
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