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Some questions about mulching with straw  RSS feed

 
                            
Posts: 27
Location: Southern California, Zone 10
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I've mulched part of my land with old straw that sat over the winter in the chicken run.  (There's some additional stuff in there--kitchen trimmings and yard waste that have broken down--so it's kind of a straw/compost mixture.) There's more straw/compost in the run, and I was thinking of raking it all up and using it as mulch, and putting a bunch of new bales in the chicken run so I can do it all over again next year.  The benefits will be using the straw to keep the soil moist over our long hot summer (I'm in a Mediterranean climate--90-100 degrees for months with no rain; irrigation is under the straw), and adding the broken down stuff to my soil, which is quite poor in organic matter. 

But I'm concerned about a couple of things with this approach.  First, is there anything in straw that's bad for the soil as it breaks down?  Is it high in any particular nutrient and lacking in others, for example, such that my soil might end up unbalanced if I continue to mulch with straw?  Second, I usually "compost in place" by spreading yard waste and kitchen trimmings around, but the straw would prevent that stuff from being incorporated into the soil.  Is it best to rake the straw back to put yard waste/kitchen scraps on the soil and then replace the hay?  Or maybe it's be better to simply throw that all in the chicken run, let it break down in there together with the straw bales, and then rake out the straw/compost mixture again next year?  Is there a benefit to having things break down in place rather than adding the compost from off-site later?  (In-place is certainly nature's way of doing it, and nature's way is usually the best way.  But nature doesn't rake back and replace mulch that came from off-site, and throwing it all in the chicken run might be easier....)

If anyone has thoughts on this (or other factors I have failed to consider), I would appreciate hearing them.  Thanks very much!
 
Isaac Hill
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Posts: 356
Location: Beaver County, Pennsylvania (~ zone 6)
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Pretty much any bio matter is better than nothing, but the key is diversity. Put as much and as many different kinds of bio matter on your land as you can! Sounds like the straw mulch will have a pretty good combination of N and Carbon with all that chicken shit and random compost though, so I wouldn't worry.
 
                            
Posts: 27
Location: Southern California, Zone 10
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Ah, yes, diversity is important.  Your response gave me an idea -- perhaps I will put straw and different types of hay in the chicken run.  In theory, it will sit out over the hot summer, get watered in fall and winter when it starts to rain, any seeds in the straw that want to sprout will sprout, the chickens will eat the sprouts, and then when the weather dries out again I can use the decomposed hay/straw mulch on the garden.  We'll see what happens....

Thanks for the response!
 
                            
Posts: 27
Location: Southern California, Zone 10
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"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.  In practice, there is."

That's the quote that popped into my head as I stood at the feed store counter figuring how much hay and straw I wanted for my chicken run/mulch project and discovered there is a pretty massive difference between the price of hay and the price of straw.  In theory, I want lots of different hays in the chicken run.  In practice, I want a little more of my hard-earned cash in my pocket.

I have a lot more straw than hay now, which was not really the plan, but there you have it.

No matter what, the garden bed that got mulched with the old hay from the chicken coop seems to be thriving -- lots of worms and rotting leaves and stuff.  Anything alive in my soil is an improvement, so hooray for old straw!

 
Joe Romani
Posts: 1
Location: Ocala, Florida
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I know this is an old post but I was wondering if you had any feedback as to how the straw mulch worked. I am facing the same problem of large quantities of straw bedding that isn't composting quickly and wanted use it as a way to keep my raised beds moist.
 
Kelly Custer
Posts: 11
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I like the idea of mulching the chicken coop with hay and letting them eat the sprouting weed seeds, and fertilizing it, before using it in the garden. As for adding kitchen scraps and compost to the mulched garden a bit at a time, I've done it around my wood chip mulched front yard, by pulling back the chips and putting down pulled weeds and whatever, and covering up again. It decomposes well, and you can see improvement in tilth where it was done.

PS, Henevere, I'm really wondering why Permies gave me your last name? Is "McCoy" a St Patrick's Day Permies virus?
 
Casey Homecroft
Posts: 20
Location: Ohio, Zone 6a
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I mulch with straw in my garden (because I happen to have a bunch of it), and have been pretty pleased with the results. The only thing I would caution about if mulching with hay is that, depending on the quality of the hay, there could be varying amounts of weed opportunistic plant seeds in it that could get introduced where you don't want them.
 
Alex Ames
Posts: 406
Location: Georgia
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ruth stout used hay on everything. Emilia Hazelip used straw and even sheep wool. I think it is
important to cover the ground. I use straw and leave crop residue on top of the beds and cover it
with straw. It is working and I will abandon composting at some point, doing it all in the beds.
 
Casey Homecroft
Posts: 20
Location: Ohio, Zone 6a
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I need to amend my previous post (about mulching with straw) for two reasons:

1) I just finished one of ruth stout's gardening books, and she is now one of my new heros. What a great lady! Her system of mulching with hay worked for her really well.

2) I decided to try mulching with some hay myself. We feed big round bales to the cows, so I gathered up a bunch of the "leftovers" that had accumulated in the bottom of the big feeders. It's a mixture of some dry hay and some really wet, starting to rot hay. A bit of it toward the bottom was already starting to turn into what looked like rich, moist soil, and was full of earthworms! In other words, some really good stuff. I put this on a few of my garden beds about a week ago, and when I pulled the mulch back to plant peas this week, I was amazed at the improvement even in such a short time. There were earthworms, spiders, and threads of fungus under there, and the soil was cool and moist (even though it's been hot and dry for the past week).

I'm a convert and will be mulching with old hay from here on out.
 
Alex Ames
Posts: 406
Location: Georgia
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Ruth Stout video on youtube shows her at an advanced age but you get some nuances that are probably not in print.
Her solution to "weeds" is to add more hay. The video shows her going around and identifying things to leave and when
she deems it "it is a weed! Out with it!"

Mollison recommended going around with wet newspaper and putting that on
troublesome areas and then mulching over it. He also recommended throwing hay over into the chicken area and letting
them eat the seeds and add "manurial content" to it before it goes into the garden. Either way there are two pretty good
ways you can use the readily available hay that you have successfully.

 
Cris Bessette
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Posts: 801
Location: North Georgia / Appalachian mountains , Zone 7A
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Henevere McCoy wrote:"In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.  In practice, there is."

That's the quote that popped into my head as I stood at the feed store counter figuring how much hay and straw I wanted for my chicken run/mulch project and discovered there is a pretty massive difference between the price of hay and the price of straw.  In theory, I want lots of different hays in the chicken run.  In practice, I want a little more of my hard-earned cash in my pocket.





The basic difference between straw and hay is that straw doesn't include the seedheads of plants, also is generally cleaner / more consistent- (if the sign says "wheat straw" then that is going to be 90% of what you get, hay is basically anything that came up in a field. )

Regardless that hay is cheaper- it causes more work for me with all the alien weed seed that inevitably is sown.
Would I rather put straw down and be done with it, or pay less for hay and spend more time weeding? I last used hay a few years ago and I am still pulling up weeds that I have never seen on my property before haying.
Not to mention inevitably hay has thorny plants included and tears my hands up...

 
please buy my thing and then I'll have more money:
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