Straw substitutes?

MaryRowe
MaryRowe Posts: 736 ✭✭✭✭

Is anyone else having this problem? I usually give all my garden beds a good thick coat of straw in the fall, but this year there is basically no straw available around here.

This is a rural area, and many farmers grow extra hay for sale--though not nearly as many this year as usual and it's pretty expensive--but nobody sells straw. The straw bales usually sold at the feed stores and elsewhere are all shipped in, and this year they just weren't. I often get straw bales for little to nothing from obliging store managers when they take down their fall displays, but this year nobody had straw bales in their displays--they couldn't get them either. A family that runs a year-round fruit and vegetable stand on the outskirts of town did have a few bales for sale--at $10 each!!! (Last year I thought the going price around here of $4 each was outrageous....)

So I've been gathering up my leaves to use instead--no point begging the neighbors for theirs though. They are all gardeners too, in the same fix, and need their leaves for their own gardens. I've been mixing some cut grass with my leaves to make them go further, but I don't want something that will turn into a heavy mat after the first snow.

So it looks like I will have to settle for a thinner covering than usual for my garden beds this year. I'm at a loss for any other good substitutes to straw. Might have to start growing my own grain in future.....

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Comments

  • You can use hemp shreeded for pet liter. Wood chip could work to it will not rob the soil of nitrogen if applied on top.

  • nksunshine27
    nksunshine27 Posts: 343 ✭✭✭

    i did dry leaves one year and in the spring burned them my strawberries loved it

  • Slippy
    Slippy Posts: 117 ✭✭✭

    Funny you should write that, Mrs Slippy went to our nearest Feed & Seed place where we usually buy local Wheat Straw and (Bermuda) Hay. Nothing. So she went to 2 Home Depots and 1 Lowes in town and all were out. One HD had some small 2'x2' bales but they were some pre-packaged nonsense. I guess left over from Thanksgiving where people decorate their front porches etc.

  • MaryRowe
    MaryRowe Posts: 736 ✭✭✭✭

    Thanks for the suggestions! At least there are some other options to think about that had not occurred to me.

    Right now the situation around here is really frustrating. I've been hunting a good source of bulk wood chips locally for some time...still hunting.....And after Laurie alerted us in a post to the Canadian company Terrafibre a week or two back, I ordered some hemp bedding from them while they had their sale going, for the chicks I need to get in the spring. But that is the only good source I have found for shredded hemp. On sale it was a good price for chick bedding, and of course will eventually end up on the garden after the chicks have made their contribution to it, but a bit expensive to buy just for mulch.

    I had not thought of Tractor Supply--the nearest store is about an hour's drive from me but I have found good buys there in the past. I just checked online and that particular store doesn't have any kind of straw in stock just now, but it looks like I can order some compacted straw and have it shipped to the store--no shipping charge if I do it that way, serious shipping fee if I have it sent to my house. So it looks like best option is to plan a trip with a long enough list to make the drive worthwhile, then order Tractor Supply's compacted straw and give it a try. Thanks for that suggestion--I never would have thought of it!

  • JodieDownUnder
    JodieDownUnder Posts: 1,483 admin

    @MaryRowe not sure if it’s a thing in the USA but here in Australia, sugar cane mulch has become very popular. Comes compressed in plastic bag type bales (yes I realise the plastic packaging is not great) weigh about 20kgs and cover about 40sq mts. I use the organic brands and find it works well. Your leaf mulch would work well, if you have enough. Mixed with animal manure would make great compost.

  • MaryRowe
    MaryRowe Posts: 736 ✭✭✭✭

    @jodienancarrow sugar cane mulch is a new one to me! I did a quick online search, and it looks like it is popular in places like Hawaii and Florida where they grow sugar cane commercially and people have contacts to get it directly from the growers. The only online sellers I found though were Australian companies. That's really too bad--you'd think the US growers would be more active in developing that market. (I'm in Missouri--way too far north to grow sugar cane around here...)

    Yep, looks like this year I will be relying mostly on my leaves, mixed with a bit of grass to stretch them further. I've got most of my beds covered, but only about to one-third the depth I would normally put on.

  • burekcrew86
    burekcrew86 Posts: 248 ✭✭✭

    I do the fall leaves from our trees. We shred them with the lawnmower and then apply a good 3-4 inch layer of mulched leaves. Love the decomposed leaves added to the soil.

  • JodieDownUnder
    JodieDownUnder Posts: 1,483 admin

    @MaryRowe do you know any farmers with a barn or hay shed that needs cleaning out. All that loose hay that accumulates on the shed floor can be raked up and utilised in the garden. Win win, they get the shed cleaned out, you walk away with gold!

  • Merin Porter
    Merin Porter Posts: 1,026 admin

    @MaryRowe are you using straw to protect overwintering plants, or just so that it breaks down over the winter to amend your soil? (I realize it might be both.) This may not be of any help, but if you know any folks who keep chickens and use the deep litter method, you might be able to get their broken down litter from them if they don't use it in their own gardens. My go-to for overwintering my garden is to put down layers of cardboard and then top them with the litter from my chicken coop. That litter starts as wood shavings and then gets broken down and mixed with chicken poop over the course of the year. Since there will inevitably be some fresh chicken poop in there that's still too nitrogen heavy to apply directly to plants, I find that spreading that litter in the fall and letting it rot overwinter works pretty well for me.

  • MaryRowe
    MaryRowe Posts: 736 ✭✭✭✭

    @jodienancarrow now that you mention it, it would be worth asking around to see if anybody around here still does their hay that way. They might on some of the smaller farms. Most farmers around here have equipment that literally rolls the hay up into massive circular bales. They are so big and heavy they can only be moved mechanically, and are generally left out in the fields in long rows covered with tarps till needed.

    @Merin Porter I am protecting overwintering plants in some beds, it's just cover and soil amendment in others. I follow Ruth Stout's method (that oldie-but-goodie "Gardening Without Work") of growing in deep mulch to avoid tilling, weeding, etc. So I like to pile the straw on deep in the fall.

    I had chickens till a vicious raccoon gang struck last June, (will be starting chicks again in the spring), and the last of the litter from my poor girls' coop is already on the garden. My chicken-keeping friends use their litter for gardening too. This year, with no straw around, we are all frantically scrounging for garden mulch....I do agree with you 100%: wood shavings plus chicken poop breaks down into fantastic fertilizer, and it's best spread after the last harvest in the fall to break down over the winter in the garden.

  • Suburban Pioneer
    Suburban Pioneer Posts: 339 ✭✭✭

    This is a long-term solution that needs room to implement, but Oikos Tree Crops (www.oikos.com) sells plugs of Chinese SilverGrass that you may be able to grow and cut down in the fall to supply your own replacement for straw. The variety they sell is sterile so it won't form seed and become invasive. Each grass is supposed to grow 6' - 8' tall and 6' around. It's an unusual grass higher in nitrogen than carbon, I think ( at any rate it's the opposite of the main chemical composition of most grasses), and has been used experimentally with great success in chicken coops and horse stalls because it breaks down more slowly than normal varieties of straw. I planted three plugs last spring in a very dry, difficult spot and two have so far survived our brutal spring and summer, though they didn't grow a lot. My guess is that they developed some good root systems, though, and will come back better next year with some TLC. Anyway, they've very ornamental when fully grown so might be an option if you have physical and aesthetic room to grow some large grasses. If nothing else, they would stretch whatever leaves or regular straw you could find.

  • marjstratton
    marjstratton Posts: 1,132 ✭✭✭✭

    I know it isn't the best but I use lawn clippings when my husband mows the grass. Some seeds sprout but I just have to be on top of pulling the newly sprouted grass. It is still better that trying to pull up all of the deep rooted weeds that like to come in if I don't get things mulched.

  • MaryRowe
    MaryRowe Posts: 736 ✭✭✭✭

    @Suburban Pioneer I had forgotten about Oikos Tree Crops--I bought some plants from them a few years back, then just sort of lost track of them. Just checked in now, and there's a notice up that the nursery closed in May because the owner was retiring. The website is still up and you can still sign up for the newsletter; it looks as if the owner may continue the business in some form. But every plant I checked is shown as out of stock, so I guess they aren't doing any business right now, That's really too bad. They sold a wonderful range of stuff, and a lot of it you just can't find elsewhere.

    I like your idea of growing a straw substitute though. I'll go hunting for Chinese Silver Grass, or maybe something else that would work.

  • Suburban Pioneer
    Suburban Pioneer Posts: 339 ✭✭✭

    WHAT??!?!?!? CLOSED??!?!? OMG, I had NO idea that I hadn't ordered from them since May..... I'm usually on their site hunting for something every few months and I was going to grab another silver grass from them to replace the one that died during our summer drought. AAAAUUUUGGGGHHHHHHH!!!!!!!! There is NO substitute for Oikos! OMG am I glad I just went ahead and ordered their Nearly Wild asparagus and planted it this spring. That stuff has gone crazy in one season and is currently throwing up male spears - at less than a year old! They'd better last through winter and our crazy springs, now, or I will be CRUSHED. Now, please excuse me while I go cry...

  • vickeym
    vickeym Posts: 2,100 ✭✭✭✭✭

    If you have a lot that needs to be mulched you might check with some of those farmers with the big round bales of hay. Often the big round bales are cheaper than buying multiple small ones. I have used it in the past, though I recommend putting down some weed cloth or something first as it usually contains a lot of seeds.

    You might even be able to get one of them to drop it off at your place if you don't have a way to haul it and your not too far away. I get one big bale then just pull it apart and use a bucket or wheel barrow to haul the loose stuff to where I need it.

    The $10 a bale price would be good in my area. We pay that much and more just for the straw.

  • Suburban Pioneer
    Suburban Pioneer Posts: 339 ✭✭✭

    LOL! My husband tolerates the stack of square bales in our back yard, but he'd have a heart attack if he saw one of those huge round things sitting in out there!! Besides, I'm going to go more towards leaves for mulching as they don't carry seed and seem to do a good job of suppressing weed and grass growth for a longer time in the spring and early summer. Don't know why, but that was my observation this year so I'm going with it!

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    I have no good source of straw or wood chips, so I have always made do with a layer of fall leaves. We have more leaves than than we know what to do with, so we can make the mulch layer as thick as we want.

    We don't have a leaf chopper, so we use whole leaves. They work well, but when spring comes we have to remove any undecayed leaves from the beds and move them to the compost pile.

  • Suburban Pioneer
    Suburban Pioneer Posts: 339 ✭✭✭


    Same here. I've investigated leaf mulchers several times, but anything that seems to work for more than a few bags in a typical manicured yard (according to actual users and reviewers) is way too big, complicated and expensive for us. So I use them whole, as well. I just leave them decay in place because I have such a need for moisture barriers. That was a little awkward for the first two years, but now in some areas I have enough plants that it's not easy to notice once the growing season gets underway. The potatoes, in particular, seem to love the leaf mulch. I haven't started harvesting them, yet, but I expect that, despite the really bad growing conditions this year, they'll be a pretty good crop. Several of my fruit shrubs, and roses, two young fruit trees and several veggies croaked, though. Just couldn't take the heat and drought despite a good mulch cover. The walnut sapling succumbed to the late spring frosts and I couldn't plant several veggies because the heat came on to late for them (but boy was it a sudden blast furnace when it finally got here.) Even my big patch of oregano struggled this year, although that stuff can take almost anything. I'm going to do as much leaf mulch this year as I can get my hands on because it seems like there's no such thing as too much mulch on the ground any more.

  • VermontCathy
    VermontCathy Posts: 1,980 ✭✭✭✭✭

    We probably generate something like 100 bags of leaves every fall. They have to be removed from the lawn and dumped in the woods anyway. We put some as mulch on the garden beds, and let the rest slowly decompose into leaf mold at its own pace.

  • marjstratton
    marjstratton Posts: 1,132 ✭✭✭✭

    I have been using my grass clippings and straw from our own field for mulching. No problem with imported weeds. They are all the same weeds as we have anyway. We have been putting it on thick enough that we really haven't had any problem with weeds sprouting. We grew all our potatoes this year with grass clipping mulch and they turned out good. My one tomato that I planted it that bed is still going gangbusters. My other tomatoes that I planted in pots didn't do very well.