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Straw for mulch?

Posted by Fundybayfarm z5westernN.S. (My Page) on
Wed, Oct 12, 05 at 6:55

Hello everyone,
I am considering using straw for mulch and just wondering if any of you with a similar set up as I have, have ever used this? As most of you know, I have rows, 8 of them, plus 3 new ones that currently have fall rye growing on them, that are about 4-5 feet wide, and about 150 ft long. Some longer. I leave grass pathways in-between that I mow. My problem is sheep sorrel and other weeds that creep into the sides of the rows, and since it's just me doing all of this, it's very hard to keep up with. I am getting straw to put down on my crocosmia to help overwinter it, and thought about putting straw down the sides of the rows after their weeded to help cut down on labor in the spring. This is only the perennial rows I'm talking about, of course, but then might use it on the annual rows next year after they're planted. I know it makes the soil nice when you till in straw, and it breaks down well. I would prefer this, if it affectively keeps the weeds out, over putting plastic down and having to take that back up. I realize, too late, that landscape fabric would have been the route to take with the perennials. Thanks for any suggestions.
Cheryl


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Straw for mulch?

Cheryl, the 2 problems you might encounter with this are beasties using it for a winter home. FOr us it would be slugs. For folk where it snows it can be small rodents. Do you have good rodent eating cats? I use ducks to control the slugs in mine.

IT is one of my favorite ways to handle the problems you decribe...it breaks down into a good moisture retaining soil . I usually get a nice crop of wheat to go into bouquets along with the straw. Straw is also quite expensive here but if you have it available locally I would say go for it, atleast this year and see.


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RE: Straw for mulch?

Thanks. I just might encounter the problems you described, we do get plenty of snow, and slugs can be a problem anyway. I have no pond, so ducks would be out, right? Do you need a pond to have ducks? The straw I got yesterday was locally grown, and I think the 2.25 a bale was quite reasonable. All I know is I just can't keep up with the weeding along the sides of the rows. Not so much of a problem with the annuals, at least in the fall it can be tilled instead of weeded. It seems that by the time I get done with both sides of one long perennial row, it rains and once again, I have weeds growing! Anyway, I'll give the straw a try.
Cheryl


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RE: Straw for mulch?

Anyone else with any problems with straw mulch? Any input is appreciated.
Cheryl


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RE: Straw for mulch?

Hi Cheryl -

Straw makes a great mulch although to really keep the weeds down it works much better if you put down 5-7 layers of newspaper first, and then the straw. Last fall I put down only straw (very thickly) in an empty bed that that was free of weeds and by mid summer there were all kinds of things growing along with my cut flowers. Weeds that didn't come from the straw!
I have tried several ways to control the weeds around here - the beds that remained the most weed free for TWO YEARS were the ones I had put down the newspaper first and then straw. This fall I plan on manuring my beds, on top of the manure will go newspaper, then more straw.
The only problem I have come across using this method is that Voles like living under the mulch - they are active and hungry all winter long.
Good luck with your mulching, here's to a weed-free next year!
-Jeff


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RE: Straw for mulch?

Cheryl,
I used straw for many years but now think that wood chips are better for suppressing weeds and retaining moisture. I think it is easier to apply, cheaper and more effective. I get free chips from a neighbor who has a tree service business. I mainly use this on paths and over perennials. The city near where I live also sells shredded branches and brush which are much finer than chips for about $10 per yard. I use this as mulch for annuals and it mostly breaks down in one season and really improves the soil.

Decaying wood chips leach compounds into the soil that will tie some of the available nitrogen so if you use any wood mulch you need to also supply some extra nitrogen fertilizer.
Kirk


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RE: Straw for mulch?

I used straw mulch just one winter and will never do that again. We have snow cover for several months. The mice, maybe voles, just loved the straw. It was a wonderful place to live, hidden under the snow, nice and warm and dry in all that straw. They had season-long dinner parties under there, the menu being all my plants, often completely eaten, from the top down into the roots. In the spring the tractor and rototiller we had at the time didn't do a good job of tilling the straw in, just sort of bunched it up instead. My sister's walk-behind tiller (about as big as walk-behind tillers get) didn't do any better. My main objection was the rodents, though. In following no-straw winters, there has been a little rodent damage over the winter under the snow, but never the big losses of the straw winter.

Jeanne


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RE: Straw for mulch?

Since we have a tree business, wood chips are always available to me, but I don't find they work that great. Our chipper doesn't mulch them really fine, and the areas I put them in, I still got lots of sheep sorrel running all through it. There doesn't seem to be a good answer to this weed problem, except maybe round-up, but I'm not using that. I definitely don't want my plants eaten over the winter, and now I'm a little worried about the crocosmia that I HAVE to put straw over. Come to think of it, my neighbor uses straw on hers and also over her garlic, and has never had any problems, but of course she isn't planting in a field.
Jeff, did you loose many plants to these voles? (Is that the same as a mole?) That would be a very unpleasant surprise in the spring. Maybe I'll hold off on mulching the sides of the rows until spring when there won't be any animals trying to stay warm in it. Thanks everyone,
Cheryl


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RE: Straw for mulch?

Cheryl,
Moles go after the grubs and worms in your soil and the voles are vegetarian. I had lost almost 100% of the tulips planted a couple of autumns ago to the voles, and they weren't mulched with anything. Crocosmia should be fine without mulch put over them if your soil is fairly well drained and you have good snow cover. I have several varieties growing here and they come back and multiply well.
If you are afraid that you will attract rodents with mulch put down over the winter, why don't you do it once the snow melts in the spring? To really smother sheep sorrel I would recommend that you put down newspaper first and then the straw. I just read an article about using newspaper as a mulch and the ink used these days is soy based so there is no chance of contaminating the soil with anything toxic.
- Jeff


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RE: Straw for mulch?

Voles are very small, even smaller than mice. They look a lot like mice but have more pointed noses. The damage they can do over a winter is amazing. I think your decision to hold off on mulching the rows until spring is a very good one. I tried mulching in late fall (the plants were dormant already, so they wouldn't be inspired to grow until spring) with manure a couple of years, but a lot of plants rotted, probably because of our long, wet, cold falls and springs. I don't mulch at all in the fall any more, but I also don't grow anything that HAS to be mulched to survive here.

Jeanne


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RE: Straw for mulch?

A combination of cardboard and ground bark works well for me. The soil must be thoroughly moistened first, the cardboard is opened up and laid out leaving openings for the plants, and the edges overlapped. Cover with 3" of ground bark or chippings. It's not going to last forever, so you'll have to add more bark. You'll still have to do a bit of hand weeding around the bases of the plants themselves, but it's nothing compared to what it used to be.

I get cardboard either from furniture stores or a factory that does plastic injection molding (SIX ply!).

I've just discovered that there is a mill that gives away sawdust (green, from fresh lumber, not dried in a kiln), and I think I'll try that next, although there may be more of a tracking problem. (Although the chips do look nicer.)

Wood chips aren't really much of a nitrogen-robber since they just sit on the surface of the soil. If you were to mix them in, that would be different.

FYI, my Ford Ranger bed (not short) holds one cubic yard if leveled out to the top of the "gunwales".

Sue


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Voles?

Jeanne, I think those tiny rodents with pointy noses are shrews. Voles should be more the size of gophers, with stubby tails.

Sue


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RE: Straw for mulch?

Sue, I would be leary of the green sawdust, or any other. On another post I discussed the manure I got that was mixed with lots of sawdust. It was from our local exhibition. Even the manure doesn't break down in it, and when I top dressed some perennial beds with it in the spring, it became a water barrier. Just sat there all summer repeling the water. We could get a 2" rain, and I'd go out to that row, kick aside the sawdust, and it would be dry as a bone underneath. Now I know to put a lesser amount on the rows, (annual),and till it in, and only in the fall, when it has a longer time to mix in with the soil and break down. That stuff was so dry it actually "freeze dried" the manure. No kiding. So just be careful with that stuff, maybe try one area, not all your gardens just to see what you think.
Cheryl


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RE: Straw for mulch?

Thanks, Sue, I was indeed thinking of shrews. I've never seen either one here, just the damage they do. So I guess we have lots of those bigger critters - to go along with the gophers and ground squirrels, both of which I've actually seen.

Jeanne


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RE: critters

Thanks, Sue, I was indeed thinking of shrews. I've never seen either one here, just the damage they do. So perhaps we don't have voles, just gophers and ground squirrels, both of which I've actually seen. This leaves me wondering what makes the small, near-the-surface tunnels that are too small for gophers and ground squirrels.

Jeanne


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RE: Straw for mulch?

Jeanne -- I'll bet that the tunnelers are indeed voles.

Here is a link that might be useful: Voles


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RE: Straw for mulch?

I will not do straw again- It never toned down- stayed ugly yellow all winter. The infestation of tunneling rodents was remarkable. Never again.
Karen


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RE: Straw for mulch?

Thanks for all your input, I definitely will not put straw down this fall, but maybe in the spring, just along my edges to help supress the weeds, and putting paper underneath sounds like a good idea. Another option would be some sort of small rotitiller to go along the edges, but would have to make sure it could handle a few rocks.
Cheryl


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RE: Straw for mulch?

I used straw for mulch in my Veggy garden beds. Two weeks later I am growing straw!...all over!! What gives?? Is this normal? This is a pain in the tush. I was told by garden center this was the thing I should use.


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Voles, moles and bulbs

  • Posted by
    Dr. Matt Hogendobler 7/8
    (hogident@cox.net) on
    Wed, Apr 7, 10 at 23:09

I have just really had it with the voles eating all my expensive tulips. I know the pirates weren't squirrels or larger moles, because I had a tight wire mesh underneath the bed and a 3/4" mesh on top... only voles could have gotten to them. I recently received my crocosmia (lucifer and montbretia), acidanthera and babiana stricta bulbs, hoping for a little less competition in the yard... is this still another lo$ing battle? Someone suggested juicy fruit gum, which they cannot digest.


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RE: Straw for mulch?

swimclinic: If you got your "straw" from a garden center make sure it is indeed STRAW or if it is straw ensure that the "straw" was cut before the grass went to seed.

I get my straw from a farmer who grows rye specifically for mulching gardens. He cuts it before it goes to seed and I have never had grass growing from it.


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RE: Straw for mulch?

I have used straw for mulch many times, but not usually alone by itself. In the fall I collect all of our fallen leaves and chop them up with the mower. I combine that with used straw from the chicken coop, and also grass clippings from the summer mowings. So right now the main mulch in the cutting garden is grass clippings. In another month or so the chopped up leaves will go into the mix - and the used straw from the chicken coop. I've used "fresh" (non-chicken coop) straw as well, but I run it through the mower first so it breaks down faster. The beds are covered with this mixture through the winter. For annuals that get planted in the spring I uncover the row areas I need to warm up the soil a bit before planting. I've never seen voles here but we do have the shrews others were talking about. Thankfully their main diet is not vegetation. Our cats bring them to the back porch as "presents". :) There are still some weeds that pop up around the edges, but thats about it. The layers of built up mulch keep the rest at bay - and build good quality soil at the same time. If you don't have access to a lot of grass or fallen leaves - offer to pick others up from the curb. I cringe when I see all those bagfuls on the curb for the trash man to take. I've helped myself to many in the past! :)


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RE: Straw for mulch?

I have used straw a few times and am using it again this year. Cheaper than mulch. Cost was $5.50 a bale at Valley Field Farms in Lower Sackville NS. However, at the advice of my cousin in PEI, this year I am first putting down used carpet cut in strips, which I have salvaged from the curb side or gotten for free on Kijiji website. My cousin has used the method for years on her organic farm to control the weeds between her berry bushes (currants, gooseberries, etc). I found landscaping cloth to eventually be very difficult to pull up as weeds do grow through it. The carpet is reusable if I reorganize the garden. I have also used newspapers. No problem with rodents thankfully but there are many cats in my inner city neighboourhood who seem to just love my garden!


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RE: Straw for mulch?

I'm using straw as a mulch in my raused beds and the tomatoes don't seem to be doing that great, or any thing else for that matter. Someone told me that straw takes nitrogen from the soil and that might be the problem. My question to all of you is, Is anyone else useing straw (lots of it) as their mulch? What's your take on the nitrogen drain?
Thanks.


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RE: Straw for mulch?

I was researching mulch on the web and came across this thread. Thought it might be worth resurecting.

I have used straw as mulch for several years and have been fortunate enough to have no rodent or critter problem.

I have it in a 4 ft by 80 ft raised bed below my hedge of fig trees, around my blackberries, and also on the ground where I grow tomatoes and squash.

Using straw as mulch has cut my water usage by at least half, which is a big plus here in the desert.

If you till straw into the soil it may indeed rob nitrogen as it breaks down. But if you lay it on top, like I do, it breaks down slowly and doesn't appear to affect nitrogen content of the soil below.

Also, if you lay it down THICKLY... As in...4 to 6 or even more inches thick...very few weeds willgrow up through it. Those that do are easily picked, as the soil beneath remains moist and soft.

I have 10 bales spread around trees and vegatables in my growing areas. Straw costs me 7 bucks a bale here in Arizona, and I easily recoup that cost in water savings in three or four months in the summer.

This post was edited by Centurion_ on Thu, May 23, 13 at 20:39


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RE: Straw for mulch?

My parents farmed and always used straw for mulch. The key was to let it set out and get wet, let the seeds sprout and die. I like the idea of also layering with newspaper and cardboard. My fall routine is to drive around and collect as many bags of good leaves as possible, in order to use a mixture of matter. I collect chicken, alpaca, goat, horse manure and let it set on the perimeter of my garden. The person who had issues with his tomatoes may be mulching before the ground has warmed sufficiently. A thin layer of newspaper may keep the weeds down until it heats up and straw or a thicker layer can be applied. I just purchased a load(64) bales from a local farmer out of the field for $3/bale which I think is probably less expensive than bagged mulch.


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