Straw Mulch is Not Our Friend

This was my first year trying to use straw mulch in our garden.  So far it has been a disaster.

I haven’t even technically been using it as mulch yet, I just put down a small amount to help with my soil crusting.  It didn’t seem to help the soil crust much at all.  And in addition to that it has just been a huge pain in the neck.

We get windy days here in the mountains.  Depending on the season we can get quite a few, or not many at all, and the severity varies as well.  Over the last few weeks we have had about 2 very severely windy days and then a couple that were more “breezy.”  What happens to straw mulch on windy days?  It ends up everywhere EXCEPT in the garden beds.  And what is left in the beds is swirled into a big pile.

So we have been raking it up and re-spreading it on the garden beds over and over again.  Not fun.  Finally this morning I decided I am done with this.  It doesn’t seem to be helping the crust anyway, so we removed it all and put it in the chicken pens.  The chickens were delighted with the new plan.

I will probably try mulching again later in the summer to help keep plants cool.  Hopefully with a bunch of growing plants around it wont be able to blow around as much.  Plus we get less wind in summer.  I know tons of people use straw mulch and swear by its necessity in their garden, but whether or not it is useful in our garden (and our location and our climate) here is yet to be determined.

Today we will be doing another large planting.  The last big one of the season.  We will be putting in hundreds of bush beans (we are doing yellow, purple, and green this year), another round of lettuce and spinach for our succession planting, cilantro, and mint.  This is a week earlier than I normally put these things out, but the weather is supposed to be very warm this week, and with our short season an extra week is very helpful.  Next weekend the cucumber, marigold, and nasturtium seedlings will go out (after I harden them this week).  I use marigolds and nasturtiums for pest control in the garden.  And if we finish the last row of terracing and garden beds then I will plant the rest of the beans next week as well.  That will be the end of the planting season for us, except a few more weeks of succession planting the lettuce and spinach.  Hard for me to believe we are almost done with planting!  Now I need to get our trellises figured out.  We have a plan to try something new this year, I’ll let you know how it goes.

13 thoughts on “Straw Mulch is Not Our Friend

  1. Morning, as someone that uses between five to six thousand pounds of mulch , be it straw or old hay per year, I am a bit surprised, at least I was until I read your post, I am going to guess from what I read that you fluffed or broke up the straw?

    No fluffy straw, you want hard packed thick slabs of mulch, we like to make sure our slabs are ideally five to six inches thick when we lay them down, they will lower down to about four inches after a week or so, its a heavy thick mat, we had winds in the fifty’s and sixty’s, with gusts upward of 90, was taking out big tree branches etc, -never moved the mulch in the garden..

    Hope that helps for when you decide to mulch later in the season.. We often work and amend the soil, then lay the mulch in sheets, then dig though a small spot, plant the started plant, and just let them grow upward, that mulch sheet is big enough to cover the plant growing area and walk way etc.. we tend to use the big square bales so each sheet is 3 by 3 approx

    FG

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    • Thank you for adding in your expertise! I appreciate the help.
      Yes, we did a loose sprinkling to try to help the dirt crust and not inhibit the seeds that were trying to sprout. I’ve never used mulch before and my gardens have done great. But I was reading a cold-climate, high-altitude gardening book earlier this season that said that even with the lower temperatures, gardens in our climate could benefit from mulching. However, it said that we couldn’t mulch until much later in the season, after everything was well established and the weather was at its warmest. It said if we did it earlier we would be keeping the roots too cool. So I was planning to put it down in late July. By then we will have many fully established plants in the garden. So what I’m wondering is, do you ever put it down around established plants? And if so how do you add that thick of a layer when you have all these established plants so close together? We plant in a square-foot, intensive gardening layout because of our climate as well, so I don’t have rows. I might just have to skip the mulching plan altogether. Thanks for your advice.

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  2. We have nothing but mostly pines in the Piedmont of North Carolina. I love pine much. It just needs to be watered down to keep it in place for a week or two here. It slowly decomposes and really improves the soil here which is very much clay based. It also have natural anti-weed property, too. I produces some sort of hormone which inhibits seedlings of weeds.

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    • Thanks for sharing. We mostly only have pines here as well, so that could definitely be an option for us. Are you referring to the shavings, or the needles as mulch? Are there any problems with the acidity leaching into the soil?

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      • Needle I love. They matte down and slowly decompose. Our soil is acidic here where the pine indicate. This is why we are known for our camellias and azaleas! Pine bark is a heavier alternative or every wood chips. They decompose, too, and add organic material to the soil improving drainage and create at rich planting bed.

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      • ah, you square foot garden, no mulch is indeed the answer there, for my square foot gardens, I just do a weed and drop at the very young starting time and by the time you get everything going, I don’t even worry about it at that point.

        the kind of thick layered mulching that I do is for regular big garden planting and or ideal for dry land planting spacing, and or hill planting etc..

        As for the soil crust on the square foot dirt, work a bit more already pre-wetted peat moss in the soil to help with that, you said you have chickens.. let them do the work for you 🙂

        Each winter, I take one big peat moss bale, and I cut the top off of it and leave the sides/bottom intake (I have friends that made a box, but I never I have) and it becomes their dust bath spot for the winter, works awesome that way and they will add that peat moss to the chicken bedding, that way you can add more loft to the finish compost from the bird pens, when you shift it and use it to add to your square beds each year.. really makes a good difference to the compost.

        I do the same action by using the pigs to root the deep bed packs on the barn critters, light, loose compost.. awesome..

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  3. I do use pine needles as well, it is used to increase the acid in the soil level for things like the blueberries, I would for sure be testing your soil each year and using what is needed to modify the soil to a ph level that suits the majority of your plants that you are using in each bed.

    They sell electic (they use a watch battery) ph level test now, so easy and I have been using the same one for a couple years without having to replace the battery to date.

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  4. I use straw mulch but really only in summer to keep the heat off the roots of the plants and to keep some moisture in the soil. It definitely helps with that. Something tells me your summer is more like my winter and in winter I don’t bother with mulch. It’s seems a lot of messing about for little or no gain. And I don’t even have wind to contend with!

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  5. I used straw mulch last year, but it was a haven to the slugs so I ended up removing it after a month. I’d never had such a bad slug problem in my life as I did when I used straw mulch.

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