Sunday, July 12, 2009

Be Afraid of Your Straw Mulch - Be Very Afraid

After cleaning the strawberry patch up first thing this spring, I tackled the job of mulching between the rows to keep weeds down, hold moisture, and provide "clean" paths for me to crawl on when I harvest the berries.

For the first couple of pathways I used up some old straw left last year in a pile at the end of the garden. When that was gone, I got a couple of bales of straw from some we purchased last fall (for mulch and poultry bedding) that we had stored under cover over winter. I used those bales to finish up my mulching in the strawberry patch.

It wasn't very long before I started noticing healthy, green sprouts coming up through the mulch that I had put down last . . . the straw we got last fall. In short order it looked suspiciously like a good stand of oats. (I'm sure the weeds would have been less thick if I'd not mulched at all!)

This is one of the rows where I used the old straw that had been left out in the elements. And had no seeds in it. Lovely. Nice mulch. Good mulch.

Well, sure as shootin', turns out our latest purchased straw did indeed have a lot of oat seeds in it . . . which to my mind, makes it pretty useless as mulch.

Because we're not market gardening this year, I have one corner of the field garden where I didn't plant anything. I kinda planned it this way because this area has always been the poorest soil in the garden and I wanted to try to enrich it this summer by sowing a green manure crop and tilling it in or just mulching it and then plowing that under. But Roy had the idea to use the space to lay out the oat seed-filled bales of straw, soak them down really well with water so the oat seeds would start to sprout, then cover the whole pile with a dark tarp which would cause the bales to heat up and kill the sprouted seeds.

That's what we've done and now the tarp is ready to be taken off. We'll stack the now seed-free (keep your fingers crossed) bales of straw outside at the end of the garden by the fence line and they'll be ready to use as mulch when we need them. Sounds like a good plan. Hope it works.


Erin said...

I had the same thing happen to me!!

MaineCelt said...

Oh, the subversions and tyrannies of mulch!

I know of one market gardener in Western Maine who lives in an old quarry with pathetic soil. She has set up a system of raised beds to grow heirloom garlic and tomatoes, her two most reliable crops. Here's how she makes mulch for the garlic beds: after using a mulching mower on her lawn, she empties the mulch bag onto her blacktop driveway in order to "bake" it into sterility. She refers to this mulch as "micro-hay." It is claimed to be exceedingly effective!

Mama Pea said...

Hi, Erin - We probably weren't the first to get this "surprise" and we probably won't be the last!

Mama Pea said...

Hi, MaineCelt - How clever . . . I KNEW there was a reason why I needed a blacktopped driveway!

RuthieJ said...

Wow, looks like you've got quite a few strawberries though.

Mama Pea said...

Ruthie - Yupper, I've gotten two large pickings off the strawberries to date and they are looking really good. We've had to water twice with the sprinkler to give the berries enough water (we're very, very dry right now) but that's a small price to pay for the scrumptious harvests.

Jennifer Jo said...

We have this same problem and I'm totally sick of it (my favorite mulch is composted leaves, but it's a complicated process to get them to our we plant weeds instead). I like your husband's creative solution---let us know how it works.

Mama Pea said...

Mama JJ - I will give a full report with pictures to see if my dear husband earned a gold star with this idea. At the very least, I don't think the mulch could possibly sprout as many "weeds" as it did before we subjected it to such cruel and unjust punishment! Stay tuned.